(Created by Pro Photographer Tony Sweet)

Since the release of Topaz B&W Effects many questions have come in regarding its features and capabilities. So I thought I’d answer some of those questions though examples and share some additional insight into the program. Now, I’m not going to compare B&W Effects feature by feature with the many other black and white programs, there are professional reviewers out there…so I will leave all that good stuff to them. 😀

However, I will tell you what I think is unique and fresh about it and explore some of the features that are most asked about…plus a few others that I think you will really like. Keep in mind though, the best way to really get a feel for any program is to try it out and see how it fits your creative style and workflow.

Black, white and beyond…

Topaz B&W Effects takes traditional black and white photography enhancements to the next level by integrating some unique and fun tools that open up the creative possibilities of black and white photography, allowing you to create a new aesthetic in this colorless medium. Color plays an important role in image detail and appeal, so when you remove it things like structure, lines, detail and composition become of the essence.

So, we aimed to create a tool that would change the way you see AND process black and white images and help enhance your image essentials. The versatility of the tools allow you to apply detailed, stylized and HDR-like effects, as well as apply historically-accurate black and white looks. In addition to traditional black and white conversion, it also integrates a variety of creative effects such as Simplify, diffusion and posterize – which open the door to new styles of B&W.

(Created by Topaz User Brian Donegan)

Options and Flexibility

Topaz B&W Effects is the brainchild of the many Topaz users that sent in requests and feature suggestions to us over the years. It was designed to be a great option for those new to black and white photography as well as a great supplement to any existing black and white workflow; integration for B&W Effects is similar to that of Topaz Adjust.

For many users, Adjust offers a quicker and easier way to create HDR-like results from a single image, while more seasoned users apply it as that final touch for already HDR-merged images (created with great HDR programs like Photomatix and HDR Efex Pro). Creatively combining Adjust into an existing HDR workflow allows users to give their image that extra edge and that WOW factor. B&W Effects was designed to be supportive in the same way; as a user, you benefit from powerful and versatile conversion and enhancement tools that can work alone or along with your other image enhancement programs.

Unique Features

Once your initial color to black and white conversion is complete, there are a variety of adjustments that you can make to perfect the tonal range, adjust detail, reintroduce color add boxers, grain and more. These flexible options are what sets B&W Effects apart. Let’s take a look at some of these features and how they can impact your work.

Stage-Based Layout
Like many users, I enjoy the simplicity and intuitiveness of B&W Effects’ layout. The left side of the interface offers 8 collections with over 200 presets for quick, 1-click workflows. Then, for those that want more control and flexibility over adjustments (or that want to understand more about how each element works to create an effect) the right side of the interface features individual slider controls. The adjust sliders are broken down into sections that walk you through each step of the workflow. You can use or skip any of the adjustments (in the sub-tabs) or even enable/disable them using the local checkboxes included for each.

Adaptive Exposure – Which happens to be my favorite!
Originally a feature of Topaz Adjust, the controls in Adaptive Exposure work to bring out detail. Here, you can add more localized contrast and control how that is dispersed throughout your image, allowing you to enhance texture, detail and depth. This also makes dynamic and painterly HDR effects possible. The gritty, grunge look can also be achieved using Adaptive Exposure.

You can also eliminate detail by lowering the Detail and Detail Boost sliders. The Detail slider is going to affect larger details, while the Detail Boost slider will affect the smaller details. I urge you to use the Detail Boost slider sparingly to avoid busy and over-sharpened side effects.

(Image created by Topaz user Keith Burrows)

As I (briefly) mentioned before, the library of 200+ presets are divided up into 8 collections that each simulate a different type of black and white style.

The Traditional Collection simulates traditional Silver Gelatin black and white processing with adjustments made to exposure contrast paper tone and more.

The Toned Collection simulates realistic toning of a Silver Gelatin print. Based off of common tones used in a wet-darkroom.

The Stylized Collection offers highly-stylized effects for a variety of creative and artistic black and white looks.

The Cyanotype, Albumen, Van Dyke Brown and Opalotype (non-silver, non-traditional processes) are all based off of historical printing processes (Thank you Nichole!).

The newest collection – Platinum Collection – is highly regarded for broad, delicate tonal ranges and the ability to hold important image detail. Platinum prints range from warm blacks to silvery whites and can contain warm gray tones.

Local Adjustment Brush
Selectivity is key in many adjustments. The Local Adjustment tab features a 5-in-1 selective brush used to dodge, burn, smooth, add color
and enhance detail. Also integrated is advanced edge-aware technology that allows you to easily set the edge sensitivity and then brush freely – letting the brush detect and protect edges for you.

So what does each of the 5 tools do for your image?

Dodge – Lightens specific areas of the image.

Burn – Darkens specific areas of the image.

Color – Brings back original image color…great for black and white with a POP of color!

Detail – Enhances image details.

Smooth – Smoothes out areas…which is great for skin.

Real grain library
Because traditional film grain does not exist in digital photography, the ability to add in grain is great for creating a more authentic and timeless feel. The B&W Effects grain engine offers a variety of grain options that were developed from scans of real film and can be customized for your image.

Quad Toning
This 4-color toning technique is used for specialized color and tone techniques. Typically, you would have control over silver and paper which really offers only two hues, so with quad toning you will benefit from multiple tones and more flexibility in those tonal adjustments.

Quad Color is controlled by the selected Region Color and the corresponding Color Region Slider. Each Color Region spans from 0 to 255 – with 0 being black (the darkest value) and 255 being white (the lightest value).

By clicking on the color squares you can launch the color picker to set your color and then that region will look like the selected color. Then, using the Color Region Slider (below the selected color square) you can specify where that color is introduced into your image.

Any tone that is that value will have the selected color applied to it. This tool will automatically apply a natural blend from your selected color region to the next selected color region. In the image below you can see how each of the selected colors are applied to each region to create the unique toning effect.

Another great use for Quad Toning is using it to gain additional contrast control over the shades of gray in your image.

So instead of making colorful selections, you can instead select 4 different points on the grey scale (black, white and two additional tones that rest somewhere in between) and then adjust the Color Region sliders to control the overall contrast and control.

This technique is going to offer you immense flexibility and control over your tonal range.

Tip: Play around with the sliders and colors to see exactly how the regions are impacted…this will give you a better example of the various toning effects that can be created.

Creative Effects
Features creative effects like posterize, infared, painterly effects – Simplify, silhouette, quad tone, diffusion, cartoon, grunge and shake. These options are great for adding some creativity to images. Or, if you’ve ever run across an image that you felt was unusable you can repurpose that image by making it more artistic with creative enhancements.

More Color and Tone Options

Color Sensitivity adjusts the sensitivity of different colors throughout the image. Most often I find myself working with the Red and Yellow sliders. The Red slider is also key when you are working with any of the infared presets.

The Color Filter tab simulates a color filter being applied to your exposure or conversion.

The Curve Tool is used to adjust image tonality to help emphasize tones, contrast and brightness within your image. Click and drag to add/move points, controlling image contrast, brightness and tone or you can select one of the included Curve presets from the drop down menu.

Silver and Paper Tone offers additional toning control with the option of two hues – one for Silver and one for Paper. The Silver hue controls darker tones, while the Paper hue controls lighter tones. The strength sliders determine how strong the effects are applied to your image.

Transparency allows you to introduce up to 50% of the original image color back into your image.

Image Selection

A great question that I often get is: “Is there anything in particular to look for in a photo that makes it a good choice for using B&W Effects?”

Without color you in essence lose an aspect of detail…so your other image elements – detail, composition, texture becomes really important. Personally I like to look for images that have great detail and lines and then really pump up those features. Honestly though…it’s up to you. Chose an image that speaks to you!

I would also encourage you to check out the 10 Tips & Techniques for Digital Black and White Photography – created by Pro Photographer and Topaz User Joel Woflson.

What’s your favorite B&W Effects feature? Drop me a line below to let me know. And if you have any questions not covered the be sure to ask away!

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