thesecretWhen creating a black and white photo, sometimes basic grayscale conversion may not produce the most optimal results at first click.

To go beyond basic black and white, here are some tips for optimizing your workflow to produce a beautiful b&w conversion using the advanced features in Topaz B&W Effects.

(Don’t own Topaz B&W Effects? Download a free 30-day trial here.)

1. Adaptive Exposure

The Secret to a Better Black and White PhotoTo the left: Basic black and white conversion. To the right: Adaptive Exposure and Regions sliders increased.

To overcome muddy tones, the adaptive exposure tool within Topaz B&W Effects is essential.  The Secret to a Better Black and White Photo

With this tool, you can increase the dynamic range in your image, furthering its depth and dimension. The higher the region number, the more the tones and detail will be disbursed throughout your image, giving you more contrast and detail.

You can quickly create an HDR-like look with the adaptive exposure tool, or keep it subtle for a light boost in tones.

2. Zone System

The Secret to a Better Black and White PhotoSpeaking of exposure adjustments, the Zone System in Topaz B&W Effects is a great tool to use while you are adjusting the tones in your image.

Access this feature by clicking on the ‘Z’ icon in the top right corner of the interface.

Originally developed by Ansel Adams and Fred Archer, the Zone System view lets you see which zone a specific area of your image falls under (shadows are 0-3, midtones are 4-7 and highlights are 8-10).

Simply click on a number to get a visual representation of where a certain tonal zone is located in your image. The goal is to strive for a balanced graph, where neither side is heavy-weighted.

Say your image is underexposed; the Zone System might look something like this, where the data is weighted on the left side in the 0-2 shadows region:

The Secret to a Better Black and White PhotoAs you work with the adaptive exposure and basic exposure adjustments, keep an eye on the zone graph to see how it changes. You’ll want a more balanced histogram that looks something like this:The Secret to a Better Black and White PhotoTo get the results above, I stacked multiple exposure adjustments on top of each other by pressing the Apply button, which can be found in the quick tools panel. The Secret to a Better Black and White Photo

3. Quick-Toning

The Secret to a Better Black and White PhotoImage © Keith Franklin

The Secret to a Better Black and White PhotoAdd tone to go beyond basic black and white conversion. Quick toning options include: Selenium, Gold, Copper, Sepia, and Antique Dye.

You can access the quick tone tools by clicking on one of the teardrops located in the quick tools panel on the right side of the interface.

The Secret to a Better Black and White PhotoClicking on any of these options will automatically bring up the adjustment panel so that you can further refine the settings to your taste.

Apply two tones on top of one another for a cross-processed look. Further refine the tone in your image with B&W Effect’s Quad Toning feature.

Tip: If the tone is too strong, reduce the Tonal Strength slider.

4. Smart Brushes

Not your basic brushes, the smart brushes in Topaz B&W effects contain edge-aware technology; you can selectively apply detail, for instance, to an eyeball without affecting other areas.

The Secret to a Better Black and White PhotoOther local adjustment brushes include: dodge, burn, smooth, and the ability to add a splash of color back into a black and white photo.

Tip: Increase the Edge Aware slider to 1.00 for a more precise selection.

5. Topaz Clarity

Topaz Clarity is your secret weapon in contrast control. Clarity brings out the detail in your image without actually sharpening it. Use Clarity alongside adaptive exposure to further boost the contrast in your image.

After grayscale conversion with B&W Effects and a contrast boost with Clarity, the black and white photo was then brought back into Topaz B&W Effects for additional adjustments, where a matte look was created along with an applied sepia tone:

The Secret to a Better Black and White PhotoHere are some additional before and after examples of images that were enhanced with B&W Effects (and some with Clarity too).Mountains Before copyThe Secret to a Better Black and White PhotoThe Secret to a Better Black and White PhotoWhat can you create? Tweet us @topazlabs your results or share them on our Facebook page!

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