You can tell that I'm a big fan of the presets in the Topaz B&W Effects plug-in. But how does the black-and-white conversion side of the plug-in measure up, and does it offer anything extra beyond the tools already available in Photoshop and Lightroom?
The black-and-white conversion tools are contained in the menus on the right side of the plug-in screen layout. Clicking any of the tabs reveals submenus and sliders that you can use to change the character of the black-and-white conversion.
Conversion Menu Options
The Conversion menu controls the characteristics of the black-and-white conversion. You can enable five submenus by ticking the adjacent box. Each submenu contains several sliders. Unlike in Photoshop and Lightroom, the image doesn't change as you move the sliders—it updates when you release the slider. It took me a while to get used to working this way.
The color sensitivity submenu works similarly to the black-and-white filters in Photoshop and Lightroom. Six sliders (red, yellow, green, cyan, blue, and magenta) lighten and darken the corresponding colors. You'll also find a curve tool, a color filter that lets you simulate the effect of using black-and-white film with colored filters on your lens, plus a basic exposure submenu that gives you control over brightness and contrast (see Figure 11).
Figure 11 Basic Exposure sliders on the Conversion menu.
These settings work somewhat differently from the software that I'm used to using, but they don't add anything new. However, everything changes with the Adaptive Exposure submenu. This set of controls lets you enhance the dynamic range of the image and create HDR-like or painterly effects. Sliders bring out extra detail in the image, and the plug-in uses a clever concept called regions to address contrast and detail in specific areas.
To give you an idea of what adaptive exposure can achieve, I've processed the same image in Photoshop CS, using the black-and-white filter with selections and curves to darken the image and boost contrast selectively, and the Topaz B&W Effects plug-in using adaptive exposure to enhance detail and create a pseudo-HDR effect. Figure 12 shows the original shot; Figures 13 and 14 show the Photoshop and Topaz B&W Effects plug-in versions, respectively. There's a clear difference between the two, with the plug-in version containing more detail in both highlights and dark tones, and more detail on the faces of the statues.
Figure 12 The starting color image.
Figure 13 I made this black-and-white conversion in Photoshop CS 4, using the black-and-white filter and local brightness and contrast adjustments.
Figure 14 I made this black-and-white conversion with the Topaz B&W Effects plug-in, using the Adaptive Exposure controls.
If you're like me, you're probably a bit wary of the "false" look of many HDR images, but don't let this fact put you off exploring the potential of this plug-in. Bear in mind that you can make the effect as subtle as you like. Indeed, with Photoshop CS you can use smart filters to turn the black-and-white conversion created with the Topaz B&W Effects plug-in into a layer, blending the result with the original image, and using masks to hide any bits you don't like.
There's a lot of potential here, and the application depends on your personal taste and the nature of the photos that you're processing. To demonstrate, I've blended the two black-and-white images in Figures 13 and 14 to create the far more subtle image shown in Figure 15. You may have to look carefully to see the differences—I created a mask to hide everything in the tone-mapped image except the faces of the statues.
You can also reopen the image you created this way in the Topaz B&W Effects plug-in and apply one of the presets. Figure 16 shows how the blended image from Figure 15 looks with the Prussian Dynamic cyanotype preset applied. I like it!