Shades of Grey Revisited

In 2014 I wrote one article under the title Shades of Grey in 2014, subtitled The Year of Black & White. I believe it is time, three years later, to revisit the article and the idea of Black & White in a digital world.

The creation of beautiful black and white images has never been easier. What was once a craft only open to those experienced with darkroom work is now accessible to everybody. In fact, with a modern photo editor, anyone can experience it, playing with all the shades of grey and multiple tones available to use. No longer you need to use chemicals or know the techniques to explore your ideas. It’s a clean process that opens the world of Black & White to all of us. Why wait? After you try using programs like Topaz B&W Effects you’ll also want to make 2017 the year for Black & White.

A photo from a Greek Theater Festival I use to photograph each year. While colour also works well here, the use of Black & White enhances the drama of the play

Black & White seemed like a lost art when digital cameras overshadowed the photographic emulsion. But after a while photographers discovered digital not only could give them multiple shades of grey, but a whole new way to play with tonality in photographs. In a little over one decade, we grew from the basic options in the original photo editing software to unique programs that give us, with less effort and much more control, most of the experiences only available through the use of a darkroom. And beyond!

The base photo editing programs used by many offer options to create Black & White images. The options available in many are huge, much more than most people think. Explore them and you’ll be amazed. I know this because I’ve used those options in everything from Paint Shop Pro to Photoshop or Lightroom, and most recently on ON1 Photo RAW and Affinity Photo, which is my base editor at the moment.

You can try multiple effects, color toning, sepia, in more than 200 effects that are not canned, as you can use them as a base to create your own

Although I can use the programs mentioned above, and I tried many others and sometimes still try new software available, I’ve very much settled for one program when I want to create Black & White conversions: Topaz B&W Effects. I also use ON1 Photo RAW — and also the ON1 Photo 10, which I keep installed — because I simply love some of the B&W options offered there. But because I am so used to Topaz Clarity and Lens Effects as part of my workflow, I tend to also choose Topaz B&W Effects, which is a complete end-to-end monochrome conversion workflow that uses unique technology to get you, consistently, great results, every time. Topaz B&W Effects is specifically designed to do three things well:

Tonal contrast — The technology to bring out great tonality in your image is at the core of our B&W conversion engine.

Authentic grain — Get an authentic look and feel with popular film grain styles that we physically scanned from real film.

Great effects — Add a wide variety of creative finishing touches to your photo, including creative toning, vignettes, and borders.

My older son, Miguel, in a Black & White conversion, as an example of the potential for portraits

Furthermore, it is possible to choose from over 200 handcrafted effects in eight curated collections. And go from there to create your own, enriching the options you have when it comes to Black & White. It’s enough to keep you amused day after day, exploring new options. In dark Winter days it may be a good suggestion to stay home and go through your archive looking for images that can be used. It’s a great way to explore the program and learn, by doing, how it works.

Why not try the program to understand its potential? You can do it for free, as there is a demonstration version available. Topaz B&W Effects contains everything you need to make the best black and white photos you’ve ever seen.

Give yourself some time to explore the demonstration program, and fully understand how much you can tweak the presets. It’s like being in the darkroom, only you can do it faster, and without having to use chemicals. Some will say the magic of being in a darkroom is gone this way. Let me say it is not: it’s just different. Having used darkrooms from the late sixties to early 2000, both when studying photography, in the commercial studio and at home, where I kept my own darkroom for years, I do agree some of the old magic is gone, but still, the core experience is there. And there are other “magic” things happening. Things like a new experience only available on a “computer darkroom”: seeing how colour vanishes and photographs gain a new meaning, through multiple shades of grey, using Topaz Labs B&W Effects.

Download the trial version and give it a try. It’s never late to learn new things and the magic of Black & White will open new frontiers for you to explore with your own versions of Shades of Grey.