Salvage Bad Images with Black & White Treatments.

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Salvage Bad Images with Black & White Treatments.

There are times when converting an image into black and white becomes your only salvage option to an image. You can toss in some grain, even add a sepia tint treatment to save your image.

It happens to everyone; some camera setting is off, the light mix of colour temperatures is just too wild to find a correction. Or your images is wildly overblown or underexposed. Sometimes it might even be intentional.

With digital Black and White conversions these images can not only be saved, but can become great sales or even fine art pieces.

Years ago I recall one headline speaker advising, “Something went wrong? Make it black and white, add a bunch of grain call it fine art and double the price.” The last bit may a tad strong but his point is taken.

Each “challenged” image will need different considerations on how to approach the black and white treatment. With digital, a huge advantage over the films days, is we can quickly apply different black and white looks to an image, even build on them.

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There are some apps you can buy; Macphun Tonality, Nik Silver FX pro, Topaz Black and White Effects are a few. There is the Photoshop Native Black and White adjustments plus a host of actions that convert your files. Photoshop can easily add interactive grain. This is where the grain added is not just noise but behaves with the look of grainy film. It is less visible in the highlights and shadows but stronger in the midtones.

Grain can also hide a slightly out-of-focus problem. Grain can take blank or bland areas like cloudless skies or empty walls and give them a feel of texture and substance.

Always consider the mood of the image as you select the BW treatment. If it is a very delicate mood, you can move towards a flatter, less contrasty choice. If it is more dramatic going for a contrasty punch pushes the message.

When parts of the image are blown out working with the grain and color toning puts life back into the blown out areas. You can add texture screens to age the photograph or give it an abused look.

Sometimes the color in your image is off or bland. Like my trees here, taken just after the snow was gone the color version is bland and lifeless. Removing the color, adding the grain gives it a very dramatic look, almost infrared.

With scenes like that or when you get bad mixed colour temperatures you can alter the colors excessively to alter how the black and white post process goes. Increasing the contrast by intensifying a color, making one element in the image darker or lighter. If you do that in Photoshop with adjustments, then put the B&W adjustment above it you will see the results instantly as you change the values of the color settings.


Whatever the type of image damage, try pushing the effect with a black and white treatment. You can always say your subconscious artist was directing you.

I had an image full of horrible colors, the only thing that was nice was my client’s clothing. Transforming it into black and white then letting the clothing color creep into the grey tones brought the focus back to her, created a very high fashion concept look that she loved.

With a subject that is so close to the tonality of the background you can create artsy separation by adding two colors to it. Make your subject a warm tint with everything else a cool tint. This works best as a mild wash of color, it becomes delicate thus more effective.

When I first started playing with this I began going back into my discard files to reimagine images with good composition and subjects but lousy capture quality. I was amazed at the transformations.

Have a blast with this, be bold, and experiment. Mix up different approaches. You just might find your junk images are your new goldmine.

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