Portrait images don’t always convert well to black and white, but this one works brilliantly, thanks in part to the perfect portrait lighting, the strong, symmetrical composition and the sitter’s compelling gaze.
It works just as well in black and white as it does in color, but converting images into black and white isn’t as simple as removing the color. Black and white images require some complex and subtle tuning to work really well, and the impact of this one relies on not one tool but four.
This is the advantage of preset effects in photo editing software, and why I consider them such a vital part of the creative process. Presets don’t do anything technically that you can’t do yourself, but their creative value is huge, and for two reasons:
- They give you ideas and inspiration. They take your images in directions you may not have thought of. They push you out of your own creative comfort zone with treatments and effects you might never have tried for yourself.
- They combine effects, filters and settings in ways that work together really well – they are designed by people who know the software inside out, know what it can do, and how to make it do it.
To illustrate this second point, I’ll deconstruct the ON1 Photo RAW black and white B16 preset used to create this finished image. The same effects can be achieved in any other photo editing application; I chose ON1 Photo RAW because I like its presets.
- ON1 Photo RAW 2023 review
- More ON1 Photo RAW articles
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- Best image editing software guide
1. ON1 Black & White filter
There are four parts to this filter: Conversion, Tone, Toner and Film Grain.
Conversion: This is where you choose how the colors in the image are converted into shades of grey. Here, red, yellow and magenta tones have been brightened, green, aqua and blue tones are darkened. It’s a little like using a red filter in black and white photography.
Tone: This is where you can make adjustments to the brightness, contrast, whites and blacks in the image and more. This preset increases the Detail rendition and makes the Blacks darker.
Toner: It sounds the same as the Tone section but isn’t. This is where you apply toning effects, and in this preset a pale amber tone has been added to the image highlights. ON1 Photo RAW 2021 does offer some very subtle black and white toning effects.
Grain: You can add simulated film grain with this filter, even choosing a brand and type of film. In this case, the preset applies ’T-Max 100’ grain, but it’s quite subtly done and not obvious.
2. ON1 Glow filter
This filter adds a subtle luminosity and soft focus effect to the image details, and it’s very effective for creating a richer and more romantic look. What’s interesting about how it’s used here is that you can change the blend mode used to apply it. This preset applies the glow with the Soft Light mode. This has the effect of adding a glow and increasing the contrast at the same time.
3. ON1 Tone Enhancer
At first glance, this seems to cross over with the Tone section in the Black & White filter, offering the same set of adjustments. These are unchanged in this preset, but at the bottom of the panel is another section called ‘Curves’. Here, the tone curve has been dragged down in the center section. This has the effect of darkening the image over all and adding contrast in the midtone-highlight region. It’s given this black and white portrait extra depth.
4. ON1 Vignette filter
Finally, this preset uses the Vignette filter to darken the edges of the picture to add a little drama and focus on the main subject. The original picture was already darker at the edges from the way it was lit, so this extra adjustment looked a little strong. What I’ve done here is to increase the Feather value to make the vignette blend in more subtly and use the position gadget in the bottom left corner of the panel to place the center of the vignette over the sitter’s face.
How ON1 Photo RAW presets and adjustment panels work together
ON1 Photo RAW has a series of tabs for adjusting images: Develop, Effects, Portrait AI and Local. The presets only use the tools in the Effects panel. You can use the Develop panel for basic image enhancements and the Local panel for localised adjustments independently of the presets and effects.
There is some crossover between the Develop, Effects and Local panels. You can use effects for many of the adjustments in the Develop and Local panels. You need the Develop for RAW file tuning, but otherwise many of its adjustments can be found in the Effects panel too. And while you would use the Local panel for local adjustments to the whole image, remember that each effect can be given its own mask, so you can apply local adjustments to individual effects too.
How to get ON1 Photo RAW
It’s available as a trial download, on subscription or for a one-time license fee