Programs such as Topaz B&W Effects offer the ultimate experience in digital black & white conversion and development, making it easier than ever to create beautiful black & white photography. As compared to traditional darkroom photography, there are many benefits to digital b&w conversion over the old ways. 

One is that film photographers would often spend a full day using manual techniques in the darkroom to edit a single photograph; the digital editing process speeds this up to where developing an image may only take an hour or less. In addition, the chemicals required to develop a film photo require that safety precautions be taken to avoid skin reactions and breathing issues.

And then there’s the fact that processing your digital photography is usually much cheaper than chemically processing it.

With a range of incredible features to choose from, read on for the seven that you must know about in B&W Effects

1. Simulated dark room effects

Vintage Vehicle in Front of Vintage Building.Dynamic Cyanotype Conversion with Preset (Cerulean Cambridge Dynamic)

While experimenting in the dark room with different chemicals can be quite a fun process, sometimes getting it right can take hours on end and can be costly. In B&W Effects we’ve made it easier for digital photographers to apply antique processes to their image with eight collections of simulated dark room effects. From Albumen to Cyanotype to Platinum, bring old processes back to life with B&W Effects.

To compare and contrast presets, be sure to click on the grid symbol (3×3 tiny squares) adjacent to each collection name to view them in grid view mode.

2. Zone Mode

A feature introduced in version 2.1 of B&W Effects, the Zone Mode is a visual aid that recognizes the various tonal values in your image on a scale of 0 (pure black) to 10 (pure white). Originally developed by Ansel Adams and Fred Archer, the digital zone mode detects the shadows (0-3), mid-tones (4-7) and highlights (8-10) in your image. This visual aid is especially helpful for determining where the image is over or underexposed.

Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 10.22.40 AMPhoto © Rui Caria

To bring up the Zone Mode click on the ‘Z’ symbol in the top right corner of the interface. You’ll then see a histogram appear with the numbers 0-10 underneath it. Click on each number to see where that specific tones appear in your image (or you can click on a part of the image and it’ll bring up which value it is under Zone Mode).

In the example above, zones 0-3 were selected, in which you can see dominate the lower half of the image, indicating underexposure. Which brings me to the third feature you must know about.

3. Adaptive Exposure

This is where the ultimate control over black and white conversion comes in. Located under ‘Conversion’ in the right side of the user interface, use adaptive exposure to correct exposure, balance lighting and redefine tonal values.


Basic exposure is what it is…basic. And there there’s the magical adaptive exposure feature that changes the highlights, low lights and mid-tones of your image. If you’ve ever used our plugin Topaz Adjust, this is the same technology and algorithm from that program, which allows you to enhance both detail and depth and can create HDR-style looks. By increasing the regions slider, you are changing the way exposure is disbursed across your image (see here for a useful tutorial on understanding regions).

Don’t forget to check ‘Process Details Independently’, which allows you to adjust exposure and details separately from each other.

4. Quick Adjustments

Quick Adjustments

The quick buttons are great for immediate enhancements where you have the ability to change brightness, contrast and adaptive exposure, as well as access the dodge and burn brushes.  In addition, you can apply a range of color filters. Version 2.1 of Black and White Effects also introduced quick toning, with options for Selenium, Gold (Blue), Copper (Red), Sepia and Antique Dye.

5. Local Adjustments – Color

working5afterWarm Tone with Transparent Selective Color

B&W Effects is often referred to as “Black, White and Beyond” because you have the ability to add color elements into your photo. And while many of the presets found under the effects panel contain colorized filters (i.e. the blue filters in Cyanotype), you can also bring back the image’s true color using the color brush.

Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 11.45.29 AMCool Tone with Selective Transparent Color

Increase the Edge Aware for precise edges. For instance, if you want to bring back the color in flower petals, you’d want the Edge Aware increased all the way to 1.00. For more muted, less saturated color, reduce the opacity slider before brushing over the image.

6. Finishing Touches – Grain

Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 12.02.52 PM

Grain sometimes receives negative connotations as it can be confused with digital noise. However, true grain contains no chroma (color) noise or banding artifacts, which are two of the negative aspects of digital noise. Film grain is a result of the crystal grain structure present in the film, the size depending on the type of film used. High-ISO digital noise is a result of the camera’s sensor and is pixel based, but can also be created by over-processing the image.

In B&W Effects, true film grain has been simulated and you have ultimate control over how it is applied to your image with twenty different options and the ability to control grain size and contrast. Just remember, the higher the number next to the grain type, the more gritty it will be. Ilford Delta 3200 and Kodak TMax Pro 3200 are the grittiest film types you can choose from, while Efke KB 25 and Rollei Pan 25 are your smoothest grain options (with a whole lot in between). 

7. Finishing Touches – Borders

robynaber_olga_topaz-bw-traditional-resizedPhoto © Robyn Aber

Borders are a fun way to finalize your image, making it your own. Choose from twenty-six darkroom inspired borders, from burnt edges to grunge to the classic thin black or white border. And if you want to apply the border to a color image, simply go to your local adjustments panel and use the color brush with an opacity at 1.00 and edge aware at 0 to brush back in the original color.

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