Using Curves on Adjustment Layers
When I saw the picture below, by Fionabev, in our member gallery it took me back to the old camera club days when we would sweat blood in the darkroom trying to make our muddy black and white landscapes into dramatic masterpieces. Building up the contrast by using special paper and over heating the chemicals, dodging and burning during the exposure to bring out the dramatic sky which somehow got lost and then burning all the edges to hold the subject in.
|The picture on the left is a straight conversion from the original color shot. In this particular case the original shot was almost all gray before I started so there was nothing to be gained using the channel mixer. However I would recommend that, whenever you convert to black and white from color, you use the method outlined in this channel mixer tutorial. The picture on the left is the finished picture, it has more contrast, shows more detail and the darkened edges help to hold the subject in and give it a frame.|
So what we are going to do first is build up the contrast a bit to give the picture a more 'punchy' look. To do that we add a 'curves adjustment layer'. It is possible to use the curves tool directly onto the photo layer, but a much better method is to apply the curve as a separate layer so we can make further adjustments later, if we want. Click the adjustment layer icon at the bottom of the layers palette and select curves from the menu. A new layer will be added and the curves box displayed. If you have not used the 'curves' tool before, have a look at my tutorial on contrast for an introduction.
Here is the curve that I applied. Because we are now in 'grayscale mode' the curve appears 'upside down' to the way you see it in RBG mode, the shadows are up at the top left and the highlights are down in the bottom right corner. This curve brightens the picture and also steepens the main part of the curve, building up the contrast, bringing out the texture of the stone and getting rid of the muddy grays that you always seem to get when you convert color pictures to black and white.
Next we use the 'quick mask' tool with a very large soft brush to mask the center of the picture. To learn how to use the quick mask tool have a look at this 'quick mask' tutorial. With the center selected clicking on another 'curves adjustment layer' as before, gives the layer 'curves 2' above, you can see that the center of the picture has been masked. This time when we make adjustments to the curve only the edges of the picture will be affected. I applied two masked curve layers on this picture because I wanted the bottom of the picture darker than the top, which as a general rule is a good idea.
If you go back up to the top right picture you can see the finished result. The burning of the edges is not very subtle in this picture because I need everyone to see what I have done. In a 'real life' situation you might prefer to be a little less heavy handed with the darkening of the edges and make a smoother transition.
Click here to watch a video tutorial on curves.
Scaling your files.
Balancing those pixels.
Dealing with color casts.
An introduction to Adobe Camera RAW.
Advanced use of Adobe Camera RAW.
Using the unsharp mask.
Masking parts of your picture to edit certain areas.
How to build accurate layer masks.
A must for landscape and building photographers.
Using layers in Photoshop.
How to make a better job of changing images from color to black & white.
Playing with contrast and tones to give a more dramatic effect.
How to shoot and process HDR pictures with Photomatix Pro software.
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