Alternative B&W Conversions

Based on Silver Efex Pro 2

I was asked by someone to show them how their image would look when converted to B&W and spent the next long time explaining that there was no single conversion – there are an infinite number of possibilities. The reply was – “Sure, but which one is the real one?”. What can I say?

Ansel Adams was a master printer (more so than an “artist” IMO – although, undoubtedly, many of his images are stirring). He often used the word vision when discussing his work. Interestingly his vision of some of his most famous images changed with time (and  experience, technology and all the rest). A comparison of some of his prints (performances) of negatives (scores) made earlier in his career are strikingly different from later prints based on the same negative.

All of that is to say a single score can lead to many different performances. In way of illustration, I’m using one of my favorite B&W images (it was basically B&W as shot) and showing 40 different side by side versions|visions. The original is on the left in each pair. These alternative visions are based on the Silver Efex Pro 2 Presets (go here for a SEP 2 Tutorial). Some results are interesting and some are terrible, illustrating that all variations aren’t good variations – in the case of SEP 2 presets they are nothing but starting points.


I’m starting at the end of my performance. On the left is the original B&W. Next to it is a variation that began with one of the presets shown below this final pair. This is the “real” one! 😉 Forty of the infinite number of impostors, based on SEP 2 Presets, follow this image. Click on any of those 40 to enlarge it. Some are quite different but many are just subtle variations on the theme – difficult to see unless enlarged.

The image above began with the Preset 025 (left side of the 13th row below and repeated here – and not the one two below it).

My vision was based on oriental brush paintings. I wanted to end with a silhouette-like image, somewhere between my original & preset 25 – which was a start but too extreme for my vision. Also, in keeping with the mood of the ice frozen lake where this image was made, I went with blue toning (brrr!). The frame border was just for fun.

The majority of the adjustments made to get from preset 025, the extreme silhouette, to my final version were Selective Adjustments – mostly of the Amplify White & Amplify Black variety. No processing other than in SEP 2.