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Color portraits to black-and-white: settings?

Galisteo8 asked
Last Modified: 2010-04-06
I need to convert digital color portraits into black and white images for a publisher.  I do not want to simply convert them to grayscale, but would rather manipulate them so that they have the same kind of tonal quality and range as if the pictures had been taken with black and white film.

I know I can do this with Paintshop Pro (or Photoshop, of course), but what I would like to know is... what is a good recommended procedure/settings for doing this with portraits of people, as opposed to landscape images?

My main concern is that skin tones don't get washed out, but most suggestions I have found for converting to black and white tend to look great for "Ansel Adams" landscapes, but render inaccurate tones for indoor pictures of people.  I want to know what are good baseline procedures and settings for most portraits, and then I can tinker from there.

Thanks to anyone who can help!

Watch Question

Open the image in Photoshop:

Then go along the top to :

Image > Adjustment > Desaturate

Create a new layer and call it bg. Drag it below the layer with the image. Select a golden yellow colour and with the paint bucket fill the layer called bg.

Then select the image and first:

Image > Adjust Brightness and contrast. Play with these as needed but leave the contrast just a bit high and the the brightness just a bit low.

Then from the layers palet drop the Opacity about 10 - 15 % or as needed.

Hope this helps.



Hi, Aplimedia,

Your suggestion makes for a good sepia toned picture -- I'll have to keep that in mind.  However, the publisher expects straight black and white.  And I don't want to just use Desaturate or Grayscale, since those produce rather flat results.  I know there's got to be some good "digital darkroom" tricks out there for realistic B/W portrait tonal quality...
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Thanks for the info, everyone.

BongSoo: "90-92% in your shadows, 2-4% in your highlights"
What do you mean?

btw, I also found some good guidance at Popular Photography magazine's website:

It includes the handy description: "Remember that pumping up a color channel works just like using that color filter over black-and-white film: that color gets lighter and whatever in your picture doesn’t contain that color gets darker."  This matches what you're saying, LHerrou.

It also describes the probelm with Grayscale and Desaturate:  "When you go to grayscale, you’re tossing out image data that can give you a lot of control. When you desaturate, colors of similar brightness turn similar shades of gray. That means you’re losing contrast and probably also losing detail that you want to keep."

LHerrou: I had previously found the Russell Brown piece at Adoobe, but it makes more sense now.  :)

When printing a half-tone image, the printer typically cannot print 100% black or 0% white- your image cannot have the full range. In the shadows, it will start to plug and you will lose detail and transistion. In the high-lights, it will look blown out. Typically, the image printed will have only a 92% (for coated papers) -88% (uncoated text paper) in the darkest areas of the image. Similarly, you will have no true 0% black high-lites. Some higher end papers and printers can get away with as little as 2%, but most will put a minimum of 4% black in your highlites. (I say black, since you indicate that the images will print in black, but it could be any ink, really. Its not the ink itself, so much as the combination of the ink and paper and your image).

Did you get a chance to try the LAB - grayscale conversion? It might (or might not) be worth your time.



I will be doing the conversion with Paintshop Pro -- Can I do LAB instead of RGB in Paintshop Pro?

I really don't know- I don't use Paintshop and I don't know if it can do the conversions or allow you to separate and delete the channels as required. Considering your concerns, I would recommend Photoshop.



Paintshop Pro provides a channel mixer; just didn't know if the image could be LAB.  I'll be trying this out, probably over the weekend, and will report back.
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Apparently, PSP doesn't convert to LAB.  However, the various articles were quite helpful, and provided some explanation and specifics.


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