DxO PhotoLab

Converting your photos to black & white with DxO OpticsPro 10

In collaboration with Gilles Théophile

Black & white has its place in DxO OpticsPro 10, which provides a certain number of conversion presets. The majority of them offer a creative rendering, but you can also use them as a basis for conversion that you can then rework and modify using the Contrast or the Tone curve tools.

You will learn the basics about black & white conversion, which lead you progressively to develop and create your own renderings.

To follow this tutorial, you will need:

  • DxO OpticsPro 10 (Essential or Elite edition)
  • Some photos, preferably in RAW format

1- Digital photography in black & white

The advent of digital has completely changed photography, and more particularly black & white photography which, against all odds, has seen a spectacular resurgence in popularity over the past several years.

The reason for this is very simple: cameras and software offer a flexibility of use that one could scarcely dream of in the darkroom, not to mention the availability of high-quality printers that allow photographers to print on their choice of a vast and growing selection of photo paper.

Today, black & white photography usually starts off with a color shot. Why? Because image processing programs are designed to maximally exploit the information contained in an image to provide quality black & white conversions. Photographers can then use those images as a base on which to deploy all of their creativity to produce unique black & white images.

Of course, an easy solution is to program the camera to take photos in black & white. But it would be a shame to bypass what a software application such as DxO OpticsPro 10 can offer. And, too, as with all third-party RAW image-processing software, the black & white setting of the camera is not taken into account, and thus it is a color image that will end up being opened in the application.

Black & white image in DxO OpticsPro, before/after, side-by-side display

2- Basic conversion with a general preset

Opening the image

As soon as you open your image in DxO OpticsPro 10, the DxO Standard preset is automatically applied to the photo. This preset is a collection of basic corrections that affect exposure, contrast, color, noise, and sharpness.

Conversion

To convert the image to black & white, we will use one of the general purpose presets:

  • Click on the Apply preset button in the upper right in the toolbar.
  • In the presets window, select preset 3 – Black & White, in the General purpose presets section.

The image is instantly converted to black & white; this action is reversible, of course.

Color image before conversion

Black & white image after conversion with the general purpose Black & White preset

Presets window, general purpose section

Note

You can also access the presets by right-clicking on the thumbnail in the file browser, and then selecting Apply preset in the context menu.

3- Conversion with a black & white preset

Conversion

You can also perform a black & white conversion by using one of the presets in the Black & White presets section, including such creative presets as B&W – Dense, B&W – Structured, etc. The principle is the same as in part 2 above:

  • Click on the Apply preset button in the upper right in the toolbar.
  • In the presets window, go to section 2 – Black & White, and choose one of the eight available presets.

Your image is converted to black & white, and this action is also completely reversible.

Color image before conversion

Black & white image after conversion with the Black & White Structured preseté

Presets window, Black & White section

Note

DxO OpticsPro’s black & white presets are “partial” presets — that is, their corrections are added to, or in some cases replace, those of the DxO Standard default preset.

4- Adjusting the conversion by hand

After applying the black & white preset, you can modify the rendering by using a certain number of tools in the Customize tab.

Note

Even though the corrections can be adjusted for any preset, it is best to do so with the general purpose preset, because it provides a neutral basis for work, rather than working from the creative presets in the Black & White section.

Contrast

You can adjust the general contrast level of your image in the Contrast sub-palette (in the palette Essential Tools or Lightpalettes).

The Contrast sub-palette

The Contrast slider, set to 50, acts in two ways:

  • Set toward the left, it will progressive reduce the brightness distance between the dark and light elements in the image, gradually transforming the photo into a flat image with a soft aspect.
  • Set toward the right, the slider will progressively accentuate the difference between the dark and light elements in the image: the darks become darker and more dense, the lights become even brighter. The image will become very hard, with many blacks and many whites, but few subtle variations among the grays.

Black & white image modified by a gentle contrast

Black & white image modified by a hard contrast

The Microcontrast slider, set to 15 by default, acts in the following manner:

  • Set toward the left, it will soften and then progressively blur details and textures, making your black & white image overall more soft and diffuse.
  • Set toward the right, it will amplify the presence of the details and textures, thus making the image harder.

Black & white image modified by diffuse microcontrast

Black & white image modified by strong microcontrast

Note

You can reset the sliders at any time by double-clicking on them. (Be aware that resetting returns the settings to zero, and not to the preset default values. If you want to return to the default values, apply the preset again.)

Tone curve

The Tone curve is a powerful tool for adjusting contrast, whose use is demonstrated in detail in our dedicated tutorial. Located in the Light palette, it will let you modify the contrast of your image in a much finer and more selective manner, by setting control points, or by changing the thresholds at the bottom of the curve (0 – blacks) and/or at the top of the curve (255 – whites).

Black & white image before modification

Black & white image modified using the Tone curve

Note

To use the Tone curve to modify the black & white rendering of your image, stay in RGB mode. If you choose one of the individual three channels (R,G,B), you will introduce the corresponding color dominant.

Creating a black & white preset

When you have finalized the black & white rendering of your image, don’t hesitate to save it as a custom preset, as explained in our dedicated tutorial.

5- Going further

If you want to go further into black & white creativity, try DxO FilmPack, whose tools will be integrated as a palette in DxO OpticsPro’s Customize tab. This way you will be able to take advantage of these additional tools:

  • Black & white film simulation (rendering, contrast, and grain)
  • Channel mixer
  • Simple toning and partial toning

Photo credit : Andrea Bagnasco, Laurent Roch, Mike & Tammy Rice, Olivier Lambolez