With the right image, black and white and monochrome effects can take the image to levels more striking and full of impact than color. African animal portraits are often perfect candidates for experimentation and statement through black and white.
Black and white can envoke the classic and romantic notion of African safaris, but there are some attributes that make some images better fuel for black and white than others.
Low Color Contrast: Many animals have coloration that blends them into their surroundings and to be successful they must use this effectively. An image of a lion in dry grass can be flat, but when treated in black and white, shape and texture that was previously washed out comes to life.
Neutral Color Subject: Elephants and rhino are more or less grayscale naturally and it is hard to make them pop out as a subject when surrounded by flashier colored skies and vegetation. In monochrome they can stand out.
Animals with texture: Fur detail, skin texture, whiskers, and face features are often more apparent in a black and white. Details lost to our eyes because of color variations are easier to interpret.
Images with color or lighting issues: In many cases images with great composition and content that suffer from some lighting or severe color cast problems can show better in monochrome.
Below I present 3 creative ways to use monochrome each of which goes beyond the desaturate slider.
Enhanced High Contrast Portrait
This style is characterized by detail presented in an aged, almost studio style with a historic feel.
Features of this style include:
Portrait style subject with lots of texture and detail
High contrast subject
Dark textured background
Start with a portrait with a neutral background. Open in Lightroom Develop Mode. This technique works easily in PS using layers and masks, but I will work on this in Lightroom.
Crop if your subject’s face needs to be repositioned. Mostly desaturate the image with the Saturation slider and add high contrast using the Tone Curve or the other tone sliders. We want a dark background so lower the Exposure a little bit and add a pretty large Vignette.
There are a few different ways to darken just the background: Using the Graduated Filter Tool to draw in from each edge toward the middle, or using the Radial Filter Tool centered over the subject’s face. Shape it to fit the face so the most possible background is set to dark tones. On the tool settings, setting Exposure down while keeping Contrast high and Highlights way up will keep some texture in the darkened areas.
Now we need to finish darkening the background and refine the “spotlight” onto the subject so it pops. Use the adjustment brush with a large feathered brush set at a low flow to darken background around the subject. Decrease the brush size to get in close to the subject while leaving a slight halo effect around.
Click New to start an adjustment brush to brighten the subject. Paint all over the face and use the sliders to intensify the effect. Add final touches like a crop, Dodging effect on the eyes and nose and it is finished. Use Split Toning to add a color tint to the monochrome.
Duo Tone / Split Tone
A duo tone image is one in which is printed in 2,3, or 4 colors. It is a way to get subtle richness to a monochrome image. Lightroom supports using two tones (under Split Toning). The control allows you to set one tone for the Highlights and another for the Shadows and then lets you control the balance between the two. In Photoshop the Duotone option lets you choose up to 4 colors.
In Lightroom, desaturate and correct the contrast of the image. Under Split Toning , select a highlight color or use the Hue slider to set the Highlights. Saturation will control how subtle the effect is. Next select a color for the Shadows. Play with the saturation sliders and Balance until you are happy with the results.
In Photoshop, open the tonally corrected image either already in black and white or in color then convert to grayscale. Make sure the image is in 8bit mode then the option under Image – Mode – Duotone will be available.
In the control box you can browse through the preset to get ideas or find one you like. Make your own or begin with a preset and modify it. To switch to 3 tones or 4 change the value in the Type box. The curve will control which range of tones is affected. The possibilities are endless. When you find one you like you can save it for easy reuse.
Hand Tinted Effect
Start with a image and convert it to black and white. For this technique I prefer a conversion to black and white that is lower contrast. I like the Lightroom preset called Creamtone” . It uses a range from a dark in the the gray-green range and a light tone in the beige range. Open the image for editing in Photoshop to finish the hand tinting.
For this effect you will want to use just a few highlight colors applied to areas that are part of the subject.
In Photoshop, create a new layer for each color you will use. Create the layer and rename it for the color. You will want to keep the original luminosity fo the image as you add color so a good way to do this is to put each layer in Color blend mode. This will ensure that you wont get any hard-edged opaque looking patches of color. You might also want to start with each layer at less than 100% opacity. Use the airbrush tool or a soft edged brush at low opacity: you can overpaint to add intensity. Perfect application is not the style here. Use the eraser if you make a mistake.
For the final balancing you can change opacity, add a saturation layer, even do a bit of dodge and burn to the color layers.
In the finished image I used one shade of red to color the meat, a bit of pink on the tongue, yellow in the eye, and two shades of green lightly applied to the grass in the foreground.