One Four Challenge – December Week 2…

I have joined a month-long photo post-processing challenge called One Four Challenge, hosted by Robyn at Captivate Me.  “This challenge is about processing 1 image in 4 different ways over 4 weeks.”  Every Monday Robyn posts a new version of her photo and challenges us to do the same each week.

For week 2, I decided to go grayscale. Originally I convertedbw-green-and-yellow-filter_hp-LR500-wm my image using Photoshop’s Black & White adjustment layer and played around with the various preset color filters, making two different layers of filters and masking out some parts of the image to get a different effect. I was somewhat happy with the results.  But I decided I wanted to push my knowledge and learn something new, so I tossed it aside.

I’m so glad I did, I’m much happier with this image…
Scarlett black&whiteSome time ago, I purchased a book called From Oz to Kansas: Almost Every Black and White Conversion Technique Known to Man by Vincent Versace.  I hadn’t had a chance to play around with the ideas in it.  Now seemed like the perfect time to dust off that book and take a look.

I tinkered around with a few of the ideas, namely

  • The Classic Film & Filter p.35
  • Neo-Classic Film & Filter p.38
  • Neo-Neo-Classic Film & Filter p.41

I was most happy with the third version, Neo-Neo-Classic… I didn’t do all 53 steps because I didn’t feel like installing new software (promo software comes with the purchase of the book).  So all of my changes were done in Photoshop CS6.  I then took it a step further and added another layer with my new knowledge and fixed an area that I felt needed more work.

Rather than giving exact numbers, I’m going to just give generalities so that you can play along.  The book’s example was of a portrait, flesh tones are different color ranges than a tri-color dog on blue blankets with a pink stuffed elephant… so I had to make adjustments.

If you’d like to know how I did it… see tutorial below.

If you missed last week’s version, you can see it here… there is a tutorial as well.

Note of Interest

First I’d like to point out something I learned that I found very interesting.  Did you know that if you take a color photo, add a layer and fill it with either white, black, or gray then change it’s blend mode to color, you get a grayscale photo?  I had no idea!

Check this out… it doesn’t matter which fill color you choose (white, gray, or black), they all look the same!  I don’t know about you, but I think that is just crazy cool. tutorial-compare-blackbkgrd-LR500
So that’s where I started, then I just added layers and tinkered with the underlying colors and contrast to change how the conversion looked.

Black and White Conversion Tutorial

  1. Bring up the photo you want to convert to black & white in Photoshop.  Create a new layer [Shift-Ctrl-N (rename to white_color_bm) then click OK]. Fill that layer with either black/white/gray (I chose white) [Shift-F5 select white, then click OK].fill-layer-LR500
    The most important step here is to change the blend mode to COLOR. dropdown
  2. Now the fun begins!  This is the part where every photo is going to be different, due to the different colors in the main photo. Make the background layer active, then create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer.
    We will rename this layer h/s filter_norm, because we are going to keep this layer’s blend mode set at normal. Adjust the hue and saturation sliders in the Master section, then change to one or more of the colors in your photo and adjust those sliders as well.  I played around with reds and blues for my photo.
    It probably doesn’t look any different on these small images to you, but the changes I made allowed the blue blanket and wall to get darker and the pup lighter.
  3. The next few steps really push the viewer to look at what you want them to look at.  We are going to try to force their eyes to go where we want.  Our eyes tend to go to the lighter, sharper, higher contrast, or color saturated section of a photo.  With black & white we can control the contrast and the lightness.
    I wanted the viewer to look at my pup’s face, so that’s what I played with in the next layers.
    Now create a layer group, this is where we are going to put all of our contrast layers. layer-group-LR500
    You will notice that I used 3 layers to get the look I wanted.  All three are curves layers that I adjusted then applied a mask.  Note that two of the layers are black masks.  A shortcut to switch a white mask to a black mask is to make the mask active, then Ctrl-i.
    When you create a Curves adjustment layer it comes with a white mask.  This means that everything you are about to modify will apply to the whole photo.  You can then use the brush tool and set it to black to conceal those changes at varying degrees… The same is true in the reverse, if the mask is black then nothing is applied until you use the brush tool and set it to white to reveal those areas.
    You can set the brush to 0-100% opacity… helpful shortcuts: the 0 key is 100%, 5 is 50%, 1 is 10%, etc.  To adjust the brush’s softness/hardness use the curly brackets { }, and the size with the square brackets [ ].  You can reset the brush to black/white by pressing the D key.  And a very handy shortcut, the X key will allow you to switch the brush back and forth between black and white.
  4. The first curves layer I created, cvs_L2D_strong-contrast_screen, the goal was to lighten areas.  I switched the blend mode to screen, then I switched the preset from default to Strong Contrast.  Then I made the mask active (by clicking on it) and switched the mask to black [ Ctrl-i ].  Then got out the brush tool [B], reset the colors to b/w [D], and made sure the brush was set to white [X].  Next I set the opacity to 50% [5].  Then I painted my pup’s face and lightened up the white of the elephant’s ear and feet just a bit.   Then I turned off visibility to this layer [clicked the eye next to this layer] so that it wouldn’t affect the next layer’s decisions. The back-slash [\] key allows you to see where you are painting in your mask. 2-cvs_L2D_strong-contrast-screen-photo-LR500-cmb2
  5. The second curves layer I created, cvs_strong-contrast-norm, the goal was to darken most of the image.  I left the mask white, left the blend mode to normal, set the preset from default to Strong Contrast.  By leaving the mask white the darkening effect applies to the whole photo, so I took my brush set it to black, set the opacity to 50%, and painted my pup’s face and the elephant’s ear and feet – so that those areas wouldn’t get darker. 3-cvs_strong-contrast_norm-LR500-cmb2
  6. Then I turned all the layers back on … and looked at the photo so far… to me, my pup’s front paw was too white, it took my eye first to her paw rather than her face. 3-2-all-layers-before-darkening-paw-LR500-cmb
  7. So I added another curves layer, cvs_darker_norm, this time my goal was to darken the paw laying across the stuffed elephant.  I set the curves layer preset from default to Darken.  I switched the mask to black, and kept the blend mode on normal.  With a white brush set to 50% opacity I painted over my pup’s paw and the other white parts that needed to be toned down a bit. I was happy with it at this stage and decided to stop tweaking it. 4-cvs_darker_norm-photo-LR500-cmb2

If you are curious what the color image looks like underneath the white_screen_bm layer (all layers turned on except the white_screen_bm layer)… here it is… under-the-grayscale-LR500-cmb

Before/After Quadriptych

So with a little tweaking of the colors and contrast, I was able to get my grayscale conversion to force the viewer to look at what I wanted them to look at while manipulating the black & white to be more bold.


It might look like a lot of work, but oddly it was easier to convert this way verses my old way, where I would painstakingly paint a section of the photo (this time it was the elephant) to change it to a different preset than the rest of the photo. I really like the effect of forcing the eye to view what I want to viewer to look at first.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial! I had a lot of fun getting this version of my photo. I have no idea what I’m going to do next week, eep.

Until next time…

18 thoughts on “One Four Challenge – December Week 2…

  1. Never heard of the book but LOVE the fine textural detail on the fur on the top of the sleeping pups head, great job! Will have to come back and try the tutorial out when i have more time 🙂

  2. Nice image…the black and white is visually gentle. Thank you for this tutorial…since Apple’s report in regards to Aperture, I am currently exploring (with major resistance) Photoshop.

    • Thanks, Brenda! I purchased Photoshop when I was in a 2-yr Photography Certificate Program (so I got it at the student discount). I was on Gimp ( – runs on Linux, Mac, and Windows) which is free and similar to Photoshop, but I fell into the habit of using what I used at school. And since I paid for it… well it just makes since to use it now. When I have more time I plan to go back to Gimp so that I have knowledge in multiple software applications.

    • Ahahaha… I love that. It was a bit of work… especially since I tried 4 different methods until I was happy. So it’s all relative, I guess.

  3. That does seem like a lot of work at first glance, but at second glance, it looks manageable. (Maybe on the third, it’ll look easy.) 🙂 You’re right, the areas of light and dark here make for a better version than the earlier attempt. (Or at least I feel that way from what I can see in that tiny first attempt picture. 🙂 )

    And hey, you’ve got a nice little snowfall going here! ❤

    • Thanks Anita! I really like b/w photo that have big contrast, but haven’t really been able to recreate it, I think I’m getting closer.

      Every December, WordPress adds snowfall to your blog… go to your Dashboard, then Settings->General… it’s a check box at the end of the page. 🙂

      • Ahha, thank you for pointing me to that check box. I clicked it. 😀

        Good luck going for the exact amount of big contrast you like, then! Or maybe not. I’m finding that sometimes, unexpected results are way more fun. Either way, enjoy your creative time!

  4. Have to laugh first – next week always seems to be the unknown for all of us, until we get there! 😜😜
    This is crazy interesting Nic and a huge thanks again for the tute and thanks for sharing your knowledge. Its greatly appreciated! I love the idea of forcing the viewer’s eye where you want. We do it with art, why not art photography?
    I did not know that by changing blend mode to colour with a B, W or G layer, that it achieved a BW image.
    I really want to try this tute and I like the sound of the book!!
    So love what you have done this week. Before reading your post, I was struck with the richness and variations of the tones. Makes quite an eyecatching impact. Really great 2nd week!!!

    • Thanks, Robyn! When I started the challenge my only ideas were grunge (wk1) and b/w (wk2)… now I’m going to have to get really creative. Thanks for the compliment, I hope you try out this tutorial. 🙂

      Originally I was just going to have a simple tutorial where I showed the progression, but the tutorial got away from me and became massive! Haha… I hope someone learns from it and enjoys the techniques mentioned in it.

  5. That’s the thing with Photoshop there’s always something really neat to learn and this ones’ a beauty, thanks for sharing, Nic

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