DxO FilmPack

Converting color photos to black & white DxO FilmPack 5

In collaboration with Christophe Gressin

In this tutorial, we will explain how to use DxO FilmPack 5’s advanced features so that you can completely master converting your color photos to black & white.

To follow this tutorial, you will need:

  • DxO FilmPack 5
  • A few photos in RAW, JPEG or TIFF format.

1- Black & white and DxO FilmPack 5

DxO FilmPack 5 offers many different and creative tools to help you perfectly convert your color photos to black & white.

In particular, you will find tools that let you automatically convert your photos by using analog film renderings or presets (i.e., designer presets) that you can customize according to your own tastes.

Here we will look at more advanced tools for an even more successful conversion. We will first tell you about color filters, which let you produce creative effects by bringing out certain color dominants, and thus let you manage the contrast or affect the brightness of an image.

We will also explain the Channel mixer palette, which as its name suggests, lets you precisely control each color channel so that you have perfect mastery over all areas in your image.

Note that all of the features described in this tutorial are applicable to your RAW files if you are using DxO FilmPack 5 as a plugin with DxO OpticsPro: you will find the same palette with all of the same tools as in the standalone version of the software.

2- Using color filters

How color filters work

Color filters were (and are still) used with film cameras when shooting black & white. Today it is possible to use color filters with a digital camera, and DxO FilmPack 4 lets you completely control the intensity of their effects.

The function of a color filter is simple: it “lets through” the color corresponding to its name while blocking the complementary colors. The chart below shows the colors and their complements.

This means that a red filter will principally block (or “filter”) cyan, and a blue filter will block yellow. Be sure to take note of the nuances that secondary color filters can provide.

In a color photo, a filter generates a dominant color corresponding to its name. In black & white, the filter affects the luminosity of the areas in the image that correspond to the filter color and to its complementary color, thus modifying the brightness and/or the contrast of the image, depending on its color dominants. The level of these effects can also be seen in the histogram for the image.

To illustrate, let’s look at this color photo that has been simply converted to black & white.

The red dress on the one hand, and the blue-green sky on the other, will be affected very differently when a primary color filter is applied.

Red filter:

The red robe rouge is considerably lightered when the red filter is applied. The rest of the image is more or less affected, depending on the amount of red present.

Green filter:

The green filter slightly darkens the red dress, but the rest of the image changes only slightly.

Blue filter:

The blue filter lightens the sky, but darkens the rest of the image overall.

Applying a filter to your photo

To familiarize yourself with the filters and to choose the one that best suits your image, you will need to visualize the nuances that are sometimes subdued because of the color dominants in your image. Here is how we recommend that you proceed:

After you open your photo in DxO FilmPack 5, convert it by selecting the Black & White option in the Controls panel.

Save this version as a snapshot by right-clicking on the image, and then on Take snapshot (keyboard shortcut: T). Give it a descriptive name such as “B&W base.”

Then choose the Split view display mode by clicking on the  icon.

This way you can see the difference between the image that you simply converted and the image to which you apply your filter(s). You can save as many snapshots as you want so as to compare the versions that you create by using different filters.

In the example of the landscape photo above, save a snapshot of the image with the red filter applied. You can then apply a Mauve filter and compare the difference.

Left, after applying a red filter; right, after applying a purple filter.

And don’t forget to compare the histograms:

Choose the right filter for your image

We will apply these principles as we use filters to process our black & white photo. The simple conversion provides a rather dark image in which the model’s dress does not especially stand out from the background.

We are looking to bring out the red dress and to make the entire image brighter. In the color image, the dress is red, and the background contains blue and green tones. A red filter, or a filter than includes red, will lighten the robe; the buildings and trees in the background have yellow components, so it might be interesting in terms of contrast and the overall luminosity of the image to choose a filter that also includes a bit of yellow as well. So the best filter to use on this photo would seem to be an orange filter. To bring out the red dress, we will choose a priori the Deep orange filter.

For even more precision, you can reduce or increase the effect of the filter by adjusting the Density slider.

In this case, we will intensify the effect to make the image brighter, which was one of our goals when selecting the filter, so set the slider to 140.

3- Using the channel mixer

How it works

The Channel mixer palette is found in the Settings tab of the Controls panel.

This tool lets you finely control the intensity of your black & white conversion per color channel. It differs from a filter in that the Channel mixer will let you modify each particular area according to its color (and only for that color), whereas a filter acts on the overall color of the image.

You can set the intensity for each color channel — that is, you can darken or brighten the areas that contain the different colors. You will need to combine several channels in order to achieve the desired results, given that “pure” colors are fairly rare.

In our example photo, only the dress is red, so you can modify its brightness by adjusting the Red channel slider.

By moving the slider into the negative values, you will darken the corresponding color areas.

By increasing the value, you will lighten the areas.

Of course, most images contain very few pure colors, which means that you will need to combine the effects of several different color channels to achieve the desired result.

Using the Channel mixer

Return to the version of the image right after it was simply converted to black & white.

We will now work again on bringing out the dress and the model, this time by diminishing the contrast in the background.

Let’s take the photo as we left it during the last stage in the preceding section — that is, after we’d applied the Deep orange filter and set the intensity to 140.

We will now darken certain parts of the image, notably the sky and the trees. We will leave the light on the model and to a lesser extent, the lit portion of the background.

For the sky, the dominant color in the original photo is Cyan, so that is the slider we will use. Set it to –15.

As for the trees, they are composed of green and yellow, so it might seem necessary to adjust the sliders for both color channels. In practice, however, just changing the yellow channel should suffice for changing the rendering of the leaves and for recovering the texture of the bricks in the background; further, doing so will bring out the young woman in the foreground.

So move the Yellow slider to –40.


By comparing the color image with the initial version of the black & white photo and then with the final black & white version, it is clear that the contrast in the final version has been mastered so as to approximate as closely as possible the contrast found in the original color rendering.

Original image above; black & white conversion without adjustments below.

Original image above; black & white conversion with adjustments below.

Photo credit: Frank Doorhof