Life in Black & White

by Rick Jacobi

The more I photograph the world around me, the more I am drawn to street photography. For me, it’s images about our humanity that draws my attention.  It fascinates me, how I can capture a moment in someone’s life that will never be replicated exactly the same way again.  I’m allowed just a glimpse into their world that makes me ponder their existence.  What kind of life they have led?  Where did they come from? Where are they going?  What brought them to this place and time at the moment I captured their image.  It is the mystique of these questions that continues to perpetuate my interest in street photography. I like working in black and white as it seems to tell their story in the purest form.  I find color can become a distraction.  So I have created a streamlined workflow for processing my images in black and white that only takes about 4-5 minutes per image.  I use Adobe Lightroom to process my images; however, these same steps can be taken in Adobe Photoshop Raw.

White Balance:  Adjust the slider to your liking.

White Point and Black Point: Start by setting the White Point by holding down the “option or alt key” and move the White slider in either direction until the picture is black. Then move the slider just a little until a point of color comes unto the screen.  Repeat this step with the “Black Slider”.    If the picture never turns completely black, it’s okay.

Clarity:  Don’t over due this.  Most of the time, I keep mine below 10 on the slider.

Contrast:  Do this to your desired look.  It usually doesn’t require much.  I usually keep mine between 5 and 10 on the contrast slider.

Exposure:  Adjust only if you need to.

At this point I take my image into Adobe Photoshop and make a Duplicate layer.

Next I go to Nik Collection and open Silver Efx Pro 2.  I often will use a preset, which are located on the left side of the window.  The ones I like the best are “High Structure Smooth and High Structure Harsh.”  I generally will go through all of the presets before making my final selection.  Then if the image still needs a small tweak, I will make some small adjustments with the sliders and controls on the right panel.

After this step, I Save my image which takes me back into Photoshop.  Again, I will make a Duplicate Layer.

I will reopen the Nik Collection and Color Efex Pro and go to preset on the left called “Darken Lighten Center”.  On the right side of the screen you will see an icon “Place Center”.  I typically place the center of that over a person’s face or area I want to highlight.  Above the icon are the additional sliders “Center Luminosity, Boarder Luminosity and Center Size”.  I adjust those until I get the effect I want. Select Save and return into Photoshop.

One last time, I will make a Duplicate Layer and go to Filter – Sharpen – Unsharp Mask.  Set the Amount to 60;  Radius to 60; and Threshold to 0. This will appear over sharpen but don’t worry about that now.

Save file before continuing with the final steps.

In Photoshop, go to the layer panel on right and click on “Add Layer Mask” located on the bottom of that panel.   Holding down the “option or alt key” click on the icon to add a layer mask.  This will turn the photo back to the way it was before you sharpened it.  Make sure that the foreground color on the left panel is white.  Now I can paint in the areas using the brush tool to sharpen areas that I want.  I typically will do the hair and other detail areas.   How much you do this is your personal taste.  I try not to overdo this.  To see the changes click the layer button on and off to view the before and after results.  If there is a portion you would like to erase, simply turn the foreground color to black and make your brush strokes.

Flatten Layer, Exit and Save.  This puts me back into Adobe Lightroom for a touch of Noise Reduction, a slight tweak of Contrast between 5 and 10 and Exposure if the image is slightly too light or dark.

Save. This completes the process I use for converting images into Black and White. I hope you like your results.