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Get Dynamic Black-and-White Results with the Topaz B&W Effects Plug-in

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Andrew S. Gibson, author of Exposure and Understanding the Histogram, has discovered a powerful (yet inexpensive) third-party plug-in for use with the major photo-editing programs. He demonstrates a range of black-and-white looks, from subtle to dramatic, that you can coax from your images, whether they start life in color or monochrome.
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Both Photoshop CS and Lightroom 3, the two programs that I use for black-and-white photo editing, have first-rate black-and-white conversion tools. Yet plenty of photographers use third-party black-and-white conversion plug-ins, indicating a need for options in addition to those provided by Adobe in its software. Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro 2 is one example. It's been around for a while now, and it's used by a lot of accomplished photographers. But now there's a new kid in town: the Topaz B&W Effects plug-in. At $59.99, it's quite reasonably priced.

Topaz Labs has been making programs for photographers since 2005. The Topaz B&W Effects plug-in is compatible with the major photo-editing programs, including Photoshop CS, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, and Aperture.

If you've never used a plug-in, you may be wondering whether you need one for black-and-white conversions. Until recently, I've stayed away from using plug-ins, but I was tempted by a couple of encouraging reviews for Topaz B&W Effects, the 30-day free trial, and the "historical processes" that the Topaz B&W Effects plug-in offers.

Topaz' goal was to create a black-and-white plug-in that would change the way photographers see and process black-and-white images, allowing you to "apply detailed, stylized, and HDR-like effects, as well as apply historically accurate black-and-white looks." Did they succeed? Let's take a look.

Converting Color Images to Black-and-White

One of the great advantages of digital photography is that you can start with a color image and convert it to black-and-white in post-processing. This technique gives us the best of both worlds, as well as the opportunity to go back over old photos and see whether they would benefit from a black-and-white conversion. I enjoy the freedom of taking photos in color for commercial purposes (such as to illustrate the magazine articles that I write), all the while knowing that I can convert them to black-and-white at my leisure. The photos used in this article were taken in the Dongtai Road Antiques Market in Shanghai, and I knew when I was capturing these shots that most of them would look great in black-and-white as well as color.

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