Silence – Black and white work flow

I wasn’t impressed with this shot when I had originally taken it and seen in the screen of my camera. I wasn’t even impressed when I opened it in my computer. I felt it was pretty much expendable. But then one day, I tried to make this picture better and I think it actually turned out pretty well.

I shot this when I was in the market place near to my home. I had taken my camera with me for my own little photowalk. Near the entrance, a group of vendors were taking an afternoon break from their work. They noticed the camera in my hand and called me out to take a picture of them. I took some shots. But this one here turned out to be a bit different from the others.

Silence is louder than words
At times, Silence seems louder than words. Order a Limited Edition Print of this image.


There’s this neat group of photographers called Photostrophe on Facebook. Some of the members from this group asked me about how I processed this image. The work flow if this image is pretty interesting, and so I thought I would share it with my readers as well.

First of all, here’s the original.

Shot it with my Nikon L120 on auto mode
  • Distractively white Background
  • Subject is right in the centre
  • not much of contrast
  • not much of detail.

Basically, a not so impressive shot. Before I continue further here’s something you should know. Processing an image is not how much you know about photoshop. It’s more about how patient you are with your image. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Every beautiful painting takes time to paint. Similarly every photo takes time to get converted into a work of art. Photoshop is fun. The more patient you are, the more you’ll fall in love with photoshop and the stuff you can do with post processing.


  • Photoshop (I have CS5)
  • Nik Silver efex
  • Nik Colour EFEX


So here’s what I did.


For a portrait shot with a landscape orientation, placing the subject a little bit in to left or right from the centre always yields better result than placing the subject right in the middle of the image. So, the first thing I do after loading the image is to crop out the unwanted areas using the crop tool.

Just click and drag over the image to select the area for cropping and hit enter to crop.


I’m a sucker for monochrome. And that’s what I wanted to do for this image. That’s where Nik Silver Efex comes in. It’s a plugin that has to be installed separately on to photoshop. Now this is a really funky monochrome plugin. It’s the best there is for black and white conversion and has a lot of options like tone, vignette, levels and curves and stuff like that to play around with. A more detailed tutorial on using Nik Silver Efex is right here on my blog.

To use Nik Silver Efex, go to Filters -> Nik Software -> Nik Silver Efex. Now here are the little changes that I applied to this image in Nik Silver Efex.


Once you are done with these settings, click the ok button on the bottom right of the plugin window it will load the black and white image back in photoshop in a new layer.

This is the basic black and white image that is done using Nik silver efex.


Yup, True story. If the eyes look powerful, the entire portrait will look powerful.For this we are going to use the dodge tool. Dodge tool will brighten selective spots in an image. I’m going to use this to brighten up the pupils of his eyes. His left eye seems a little dark compared to his right eye.

So I’ll choose the dodge tool settings as below.

Then zoom closer to the eyes and click multiple times on his left pupil to brighten it up. Please don’t over do this. The eyes will just look demonic.

Once done, the eyes will look equally bright and a bit more powerful.



The back ground is just too bright. It’s taking my focus away from the subject and the expression. So I’m gong to make the back ground disappear in dark. It’s not gonna happen in a snap though. Notice the patch of wall on the right hand side in the Background. I’m going to burn it down using the burn tool. I’m going to do this on the little patch of wall that is peeking from behind the subject in the right side of this image.


Now, to take care of the bright sunlit background on the left, I’m just going to paint it black. Make sure that the top most layer of the image is selected.

Now hit ctrl+shift+n, (command+shift+n for mac). You will see this window.

This will add a blank transparent layer on your image. Just make sure the settings are just as how they are shown in the above screen shot. Click ok and you will see that in the layers panel a new blank layer is added on your image.

Now select the brush tool (hit b) and select black colour, and simply paint over the bright region this will cover up the bright region. And since you are painting on a layer above your image, your original image still remains unaffected. I’m selecting my brush settings as this.

And just paint over the blank layer.

Notice that I have not covered a portion of the sunlit background in black. While painting, as you move closer to the subject you will have to be a bit careful. You will have to manipulate the brush type, opacity and the size of the brush a bit. This will help in blending the background with the subject.

I will change my brush settings to this.

And paint on the remaining back ground. You will have to click repeatedly as the opacity is set to a low 30% for the the brush. It’s more like dabbing colour with a sponge. If you feel that you have not painted it right at any spot, just select the eraser tool and erase it off to do try it again. The best part here is since the paint is on a completely different layer our original image is still intact. I use the eraser as well on the same settings as the brush.


You’ll need to do this patiently. Once you are done. You will see that the background, is merging with the subject, faintly revealing the edges of the subject. At this point the image should look like this.

After this step select all the layers and merge them into one image. I normally duplicate the layers and then merge so that I still can go back and make any changes if necessary. To merge the layers, hold down the ctrl button and click on both the layers. Then right click and select “merge”.


Now go to filters and select the Nik colour efex plugin.

This will open the image in the Nik Colour Efex. There are a lot of amazing effects that can be added to an image in this.

The column on the left hand side is the filters list and the column on the right hand side is the adjustments sliders of the filter which has been selected. First I’m going to add the bleach by pass filter with these adjustments to the sliders.

Now click on the add filter button that you will right right below these adjustments. Then select levels and curves filter from the filters list. I’m Going to adjust the curve this way.

After adding both the filters click on the “OK” button on the bottom right of the screen. The Image will be loaded with the effects added from NIk Colour Efex. At this point it will look something like this.

Processing an image sometimes leads to noise in the image. It’s normal. Even in this case, there are some over exposed areas in the image which are because of the grunge that we added from Nik Color Efex. Let’s see how to correct it.


The right side of his face seems to be a bit too bright when compared to the dark shadow right next to it. So were are going to correct this imbalance by adding shadows. Hit ctrl+shift+n (cmd+shift+n for mac) to add a new blank layer like we had done previously. Again, make sure that the top most layer is selected. And select the brush settings as well like we had done before while adding shadows.

Now just paint on those areas that seem over exposed. I’m going to correct the light on his right eye this way. It just looks too bright compared to the shadows right next to it.



Here’s the final output image.

If you have a bit of experience with photoshop, you will believe me when I say that I haven’t even used 10% of the features that photoshop has to offer. All I did was use the brush tool, eraser tool, layers, and two photoshop plugins. However, this does take a bit of time and patience. So you see, processing is not how much you know about photoshop or any other software, it’s more about how much time you patiently spend treating your image. Rest will fall in place on it’s own. 🙂

6 thoughts on “Silence – Black and white work flow

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