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Digital Black and White in Nikon Capture

There's a Black and White mode in its Photo Effects palette, but since Nikon Capture lacks a channel mixer, it would be easy to assume it can't control how much of each color is included in the resulting grayscale image. But in fact, it can. Indeed it can do so rather well. Here's how.

Selecting 'Black and White' in the Nikon Capture Photo Effects toolFirst, with your selected image open in Nikon Capture, go to the Photo Effects tool. If you don't see it in any of your tool palettes, try the View >> Find Tool menu command to see where it is hiding. In the Effect dropdown list in the Photo Effects tool, select "Black and White."

The onscreen image will turn to grayscale and likely won't look all that interesting. Simply desaturating an image generally results in a rather anemic black and white conversion. But here's where the secret magic comes in.

One of the most powerful but unusual features of Nikon Capture is the LCH Editor. I've mentioned this tool before, but as a refresher, the LCH Editor gives you an amazing degree of control over the Luminance (lightness), Chroma (saturation) and Hue (color) of an image. It is this tool that will let you go from a washed out black and white rendition to a version equivalent to what you can do with the Channel Mixer in Photoshop.

As with the Photo Effects tool, if you can't find the LCH Editor, simply use View >> Find Tool to locate it. Once you find it by the way, you can drag it to a palette of your choice by holding down the shift key while clicking and dragging on its title bar.

From the dropdown list in the LCH Editor, select "Color Lightness." By default, you should see a straight horizontal line in the middle of the editor grid. By clicking on this line in a particular color region and dragging upward, you can increase the amount of that color used in the black and white conversion. By dragging down, you can likewise decrease the amount of a given color used. You can add as many points as you need to turn this line into the curve needed to get the image to look the way you want. Capture will normalize the response from the curve to prevent you from totally blowing out the shadows or highlights in your image.

To see where the colors in your image lie, move your mouse over the image. You should see a point moving along the LCH curve corresponding to the color underneath your mouse pointer. You can also set points on the curve based on specific image colors. To do so, first click on the "Set Curve Point" icon (looks like a circle with a cross-hair through it), then click on the image.

Shown here are two versions of the same image. This larger than life face is that of Chief Crazy Horse as depicted in the world's largest mountain carving of the same name, located near Custer, South Dakota. The first of the two versions has the sky darkened by lowering the blue level while raising that of the yellow region which affects the rock. The second version shows essentially the opposite and results from raising the blue region while lowering the rest of the spectrum. While Photoshop's Channel Mixer limits you to adjusting red, green and blue only, the LCH Editor gives you the ability to adjust any color by any amount needed.

One possible black and white conversion of Crazy Horse
One possible black and white conversion of Crazy Horse
Another possible black and white conversion
Another possible black and white conversion
The LCH curve for the above
The LCH curve for the above
The LCH curve for the above
The LCH curve for the above

If you want to experiment, the Photo Effects tool also lets you create sepia and other toned black and white effects. Pretty nice, really. You can use this not only for raw (NEF) files, but also for 16-bit tiff files. Technically, it will also work for jpeg and 8-bit tiff files as well, but I wouldn't recommend it. The LCH Editor tends to create banding and other artifacts with so little data to work with.

You can see the color version of Crazy Horse in the Portfolio section here.

Date posted: February 12, 2006


Copyright © 2006 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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Previous tip: OpenRAW Survey Return to archives menu Next tip: Changing Focusing Screens on Nikon SLR Cameras

Related articles:
Raw to Cooked with the Nikon Capture Editor
Troubleshooting Nikon Capture Problems
Digital Black and White in Photoshop
Digital Black and White Mistakes

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