One of my favorite Topaz programs is Topaz B&W Effects! It reminds me of my college days of being in the darkroom for hours, not knowing what results I might get, and getting frustrated to the point of tears. Wait a minute… B&W Effects is the exact opposite of all those awful things! Topaz B&W Effects is an easy way to turn color photographs into exquisite monochromatic images. It’s perfect for anyone that likes traditional black and white photography and prefers classic prints.

This beginner’s tutorial will demonstrate just how easy it can be to use such an astounding program with a unique conversion engine that emphasizes tone and texture along with Clarity, our program that delivers natural contrast. You’ll be converting snapshots, photographs, and fine art in no time!

Grab an image, anything from a picture of your grandchild to a vacation photo, and follow along in this quick 15 minute lesson!

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1. Pick an Image to Use

Last May I went on a really epic vacation and I was able to combine two of my favorite things: the beach and photography! I’ll be using an image of Ho’okipa Beach Park in Maui, HI. I think this image is pretty interesting because it shows the beauty of the landscape and it has a nice composition.

Unedited Image of Ho’okipa Beach Park

Ho’okipa Beach Park in Maui, HI

LEARN MORE ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHY: If you take just a second to look at the image, you’ll notice a few things about it that make it an interesting and strong photograph.

Perspective – A lot of beach pictures are straightforward, like this example, with the sand, water, and sky making perfectly horizontal lines across the frame.

A Standard Perspective

Standard Snapshot

There is nothing wrong about this approach but I chose to approach the subject matter a little differently and you can see how it has added more interesting paths for the eye to follow, outlined in red below.

A More Interesting Perspective Example

A More Interesting Perspective

Next time you are photographing try to approach your subject matter differently. Can you get higher or lower? Can you go to the left or right? Can you zoom in or out to change the frame? See what new styles you can come up with!

Rule of Thirds – There are usually guidelines within your camera to help with this but you can also eye it. The rule of thirds is applied by aligning the point of interest or subject with the guidelines and placing the horizon on the top or bottom line, or allowing linear features in the image to flow from section to section.

Rule of Thirds Example

Rule of Thirds Example

Try it out: Instead of aligning the horizon in the center of the image try making the image 2/3 landscape and 1/3 sky. Or, if there is a beautiful sunset with interesting clouds, try allowing for 2/3 of the image to be sky and 1/3 to be landscape. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results of this one change!

Movement – The depth of field in a photograph refers to the range of distance that appears sharp. I like to shoot on Aperture Priority, which is where I decide what aperture (or, in other words, the variable opening that light enters the camera) to use so that I always control my depth of field. The camera then adjusts the shutter time, or the mechanism that opens to allow light in, to correspond with the aperture opening.

This image was shot at F22 (that’s the aperture, or camera opening) and the exposure time was 1/13, meaning it was open for 1/13 of a second to allow light to pass through the aperture. Anything under 1/60 of a second has the potential to blur so be sure to use a timer and a tripod to eliminate unwanted blur.

Remember, the larger the aperture number the smaller the aperture opening. The larger the aperture number, or smaller the opening, the more overall image focus. The smaller the aperture number, or larger the opening, the softer the background. Got that? The bigger the number, the sharper the image and the smaller the number, the softer the background.

OK, so because my aperture was set at 22 to allow for the overall image to be sharp, the shutters speed was slow. This allowed me to capture the movement of the waves at the same time as a sharp overall image.

A Slow Shutter Speed Can Show Movement

A Slow Shutter Speed Can Show Movement

2. Open Your Image in Photoshop

Go ahead and open Photoshop (or any of our Compatible Host Editors). The first thing you’ll need to do is open your image! Command + O is the fastest way to browse your files but you can always use whichever method you prefer to open an image.

Open Your Image in Photoshop

Open Your Image in Photoshop

You may notice some differences in our workspaces. I’ve got mine set-up with customized windows and all the things I need for photography edits, graphic design creation, and more. The set-up that automatically pops up for you is totally fine and will work perfectly for this tutorial.

3. Edit the Image

The first thing to do when editing any image is to Duplicate your Background Layer. You’ll want to do this every time to keep an unedited version of your image that you can revert back to whenever you like.

There are a number of different ways to duplicate a layer in Photoshop. You can do it from the menu (Layer > Duplicate Layer), by right clicking on the layer itself and then selecting Duplicate Layer, or, my favorite way, grab the layer by clicking on it with your mouse or stylus and drag it to the New Layer Icon.

Duplicate Photoshop Layer

Duplicate Photoshop Layer

At this time you should brush out any imperfections such as lens spots or unwanted guests in your image. I like to use the Healing Brush.

4. But First, Clarity

Images always look a little better with Topaz Clarity! I like to add Clarity for subtle contrast and to make a striking image, all while maintaining the realistic look of the subject matter. Go ahead and open Clarity as a plugin.

To open Clarity in Photoshop go to Filter > Topaz Labs > Topaz Clarity…

How to Open Clarity in Photoshop

Now that Clarity is open, you’ll see a few workspaces and menus. To the left you will see a list of Collections and a list of Presets that are in the selected Collection. In the middle you will see your image. To the right you will see individual sliders for custom adjustments and for making changes.

To understand more about Clarity, please see the User Guide and this video tutorial.

Since the main goal of this edit edit is to go into B&W Effects, I am only concerned with the contrast levels of the image.

Before we get started making adjustments, go ahead and Zoom In on your image by using the magnifying glass at the top of your screen. I like to view the image at 100%.

Zoom in to 100% in Clarity

In the Navigator Window, you can click the viewing section and relocate it to anywhere on your image. I will be working on contrast and shadows so I am going to relocate the preview window to a section of the photograph that shows all of the tonal ranges and details.

Relocate the Navigator Selection

The final action to get set up is to press RESET in the bottom right hand corner. This action will reset all of the sliders and it will allow you to create a customer adjustment from scratch.

Reset Clarity Adjustment Sliders

Now we’re ready to fix up our image! But how? Let’s take a look at what each of the sliders do.

Dynamics – The Dynamics Group allows you to selectively adjust contrast in your image and refers to the original image contrast variations allowing you to increase or decrease the contrast in that specific variation. The highlight of this module is the ability to adjust mid-tone contrast quickly and easily.

Micro Contrast – Targets very small contrast variations, allowing you to increase or decrease the contrast in this specific variation.

Low Contrast – Targets low or shorter mid-tones contrast variations, allowing you to increase or decrease the contrast in this specific variation.

Medium Contrast – Targets medium or mid-tones contrast variations, allowing you to increase or decrease the contrast in this specific variation.

High Contrast – Targets large or shadows and highlights contrast variations, allowing you to increase or decrease the contrast in this specific variation.

Try it out! Slide a slider around to see what it affects. When you are done experimenting, hit RESET again!

Once you see what each slider does you can start to experiment with different combinations to see what works for your image! Remember, a little bit can go a long way!

Here’s what worked for my image of Ho’okipa Beach:

My Adjustments

My final adjustments in Clarity made my image have more detail, less shadow on the rocks, and more even tones. Check out the difference!

Before and After Clarity GIF

Once you like your adjustments, click OK in the bottom right corner.

Clarity will close and return you to Photoshop (or your preferred host editor). Be sure to rename this layer to Clarity – Custom or whatever you like!

5. Time for B&W Effects

Before opening B&W Effects, you’ll want to Duplicate your Clarity Layer. If you need a reminder on how to achieve this, revisit Step 3. Once you have duplicated your layer, go ahead and open B&W Effects as a plugin.

To open B&W Effects in Photoshop go to Filter > Topaz Labs > Topaz BW Effects 2…

Open B&W Effects as a Plugin with Photoshop

B&W Effects will open up as a plugin. You’ll see a list of Effects and the Presets in the selected collection to the left, your image in the center, and customization tools to the right.

Topaz Labs B&W Effects

For this portion of the tutorial, we’ll be looking at the effects that come with the program. The Effects panel is in the upper left of the program.

B&W Effects Section

When you select an effects category, the list of presets will populate. You can see them in the Presets section. If you roll over a preset you will see a preview pop up.

B&W Effects Preview

You can always go through all of the effect categories and preset effects individually by using the preview window. But to be more efficient, you can see all of the presets at once by by selecting the Grid View next to the Collection name.

B&W Effects Gridview


Explore all the effects to find one that works well with your vision and image. Do you want blown out whites or a tonal cast? There’s an effect for that!

I chose the effect Warm Tone I. I really like the way it enhances the details in my image and it has a beautiful tonal range all the way from white to black.

Topaz Labs B&W Effects Warm Tone I

Once you find the perfect premade effect for you, select OK. You will now be returned to Photoshop.

When you are back in Photoshop, rename your layer to the program you used and the effect you chose. This will help you remember what you did if you ever need to know!

Back in Photoshop

6. Final Adjustments

Before making any final permanent adjustments to your image, save your layered PSD file. I like to use my keyboard and press Shift + Command + S to Save As quickly.

Save As in Photoshop

Now you can Crop, Resize, or make any other adjustment for the final output. Then Save As again to save a different version or different file type.

With just a few minor adjustments, my image went from a nice beach picture to a detailed and artistic capture!

Look at the difference just 15 minutes can make with this Original, Clarity, and B&W Effects workflow edit:


Remember, to take some time to evaluate your shot the next time you are shooting. It’s ok to start simple and then start moving around, trying different angles, and to start experimenting with framing!

Photography and editing go hand in hand… to make really great images, knowledge of both is best!

Here’s my final edit!

Ho'okipa Beach, Maui, HI - Final Edit

You can easily add B&W Effects and Clarity to your workflow process!

About Jodi L. Robbins

Jodi is currently the Art Director of Topaz Labs. She has been an artist and photographer for over 15 years, starting with black and white film photography and alternative processing. After completing her BFA in Studio Art from Southern Methodist University and her Masters in Photography from Savannah College of Art and Design, she worked in product photography for companies such as Heritage Auctions, Neiman Marcus, and the Dallas Cowboys.

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