Quick Black & White with Alien Skin Exposure 6

I’m a huge fan of black and white photography and most of my digital photography gets converted in some way to Black and White. For my wedding work, I’ve been using some long standing Photoshop Actions and whilst they have served me well, it would be remiss of me not to admit I’ve been a little more than intrigued by the raft of film simulation software and plugins that have come to the market place over the last few years.

Some of them I just gave a sideways glance too, others I investigated further but I’m fairly sure that I’ve found something that works quickly and has enough controls and configurations for me to be useful, but not daunting. That’s the new version of Exposure from Alien Skin Software.

I’ve been asked many times about my workflow and black and whites and so I thought I might as well demonstrate, albeit quickly, how I process a typical Fuji RAW file using Exposure 6 right now.

By the way, you can use the following Discount Code for Alien Skin Exposure 6 which will give you 10% should you wish: KMU0514

This screencast below is the first of many I hope, and at the moment, I’m running them without voice annotations.  I’ve outlined the steps taken directly below the screen cast which I hope will help.

I’m going through each step in the process in the screen cast, but of course I have a preset within the software that applies the settings.  It really is a cool add on for Lightroom or Photoshop.


Steps Taken to create the Black and White Conversion

  1. Basic exposure correction in Lightroom:
    1. Exposure / Brightness
    2. White Balance – typically I will use teeth if any are in shot as a starting point for white balance adjustment.
    3. Tone Curve adjustment
  2. CTRL+E to open the image in Photoshop as I want to do some minor selective dodging/burning.
  3. Convert the Image Mode to Lab: Why?  Because Lab mode avoids colour shift (see this article for more details)
  4. Create a duplicate layer and using the laso too I very roughly select the area that I want to adjust.
  5. I set the feather to 210 to avoid a harsh cut out when adjusting.
  6. I then Inverse the selection:  Why?  Because I actually want to darken everything except the selection.
  7. CTRL+M to bring the curves panel up and I use the “Darker” preset to make the background a little darker.
  8. Inverse the selection again, because now I want to lighten the main subjects.
  9. CTRL+M to bring the curves panel up and I use the “Lighter” preset this time as I want to lighten the main subjects.
  10. That’s it in Photoshop so I flatten the image and close it.
  11. Back in Lightroom, I open the image in the Alien Skin Exposure 6 interface.
  12. There are loads or very good black and white (and colour) presets but the one I have settled on most favourably is the Ilford HPS Plus 400
  13. I make several adjustments to get the type of black and white I want right now:
    1. Set the Overall Intensity to 80
    2. In the Basic panel I increase the clarity by 10.
    3. In the Tone Curve panel I select the “Crush Blacks” preset.  This is perfect for the gritty monochromes I’m looking for.
    4. In increase the Contrast in that Tone Curve Panel to 40 to give it a bit more “pop”.
    5. I like vignettes so in the Vignette Panel I select the Subtle Black preset.
    6. I’ve been adding grain to my images since I began shooting professionally.  Even high ISO images get an additional run.  In the Grain Panel I choose the “Grain mostly in Shadows” preset.  This helps with those deep blacks appearing more film like.
    7. I decrease the strength of the grain by 50, to 50 as this matches the look I’m trying to achieve.
  14. After hitting Apply I’m taken back into Lightroom and the final adjustments are made to my image:
    1. I like my black and whites to have a slight warmth added to them.  I do this by adding a tint to the shadows only in the Split Toning panel.  You can use the picker but the numbers that work for me are 55 / Hue & 7 / Saturation.

That’s pretty much it.  Of course, there is a whole load more the Exposure but I’m really experimenting and getting into the black and white film simulations it offers.

In the very near future I’m going to do a much more detailed screen cast showing how I’ve learnt how to use Exposure 6 split toning and migrated it nicely into my workflow too.

Remember, you can use the following Discount Code for Alien Skin Exposure 6 which will give you 10% should you wish: KMU0514.


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12 Responses

  1. Olivier KD

    Cool post.

    I’ve got a theory as to why most of your pictures end up being black and white: you rarely get rich luminious sunlight in the UK like you would in Australia or Spain. Daylight is generally greyish and doesn’t have the full rich color frequencies of sunnier parts of the world, I find it easier to treat grey day light in b&w. Just my 2 cents.

    • Kevin

      It’s nothing to do with that Olivier. As an example, the image being processed in the above screen cast was shot at a wedding in the South of France. Temps outside the church were at 28 degrees.

      Black and White images have always held special attention to me, even as a child growing up it seemed to be the black and whites in the Sunday Times Magazine that I remembered and gravitated too. I love the black and white work of people like Anton Corbjin, Don McCullin and wedding photographers such as Jeff Ascough etc.

      I think for me, removing the colour (where colour is not a focal point of the image) draws the viewers attention to the story within the frame. There is no need for us to know the brides dress is white, the fathers coat is dark blue etc in the image above. That can be done in the formals. The image is about the eye contact, the emotion between the two people…..and for me at least, taking the colour away helps narrate that story.

  2. Jon Sharman

    As always Kevin, great post, thanks for the insight!

    I’ve had Exposure 5 for a while and have some of my own favourite presets saved. Do you know if they’ll transfer over if I upgrade to Exposure 6, or will I need to recreate them from scratch again?


  3. Daniel Michael

    Thank you for posting this! It’s very similar to my B&W workflow albeit it’s a bit more detailed than mine. I’ve created a preset in DxO filmpack 4 based around the Kodak Tri-X 400 which works great. What I would like to ask is what do you do with the massive .tif file you get back into Lightroom? I get a file that is almost 90 MB (at 72 dpi) which is way bigger than the raw file. Is it better to get it imported back as a JPEG at a higher res like 240 dpi which takes up way less space? How would it affect the printing? Thanks again for your advice and posts!

  4. Kevin

    The TIF files are just transient files Daniel. Once the JPEGs are created at the end of the workflow the TIFs are deleted.

    • Daniel Michael

      Phew! Well I was keeping them more out of fear than anything else, but I may as well export them as JPEGs then and delete them! Do you find the JPEGs are decent to print (not that I’ve printed many but I assume you have for your weddings). Many thanks.

      • Kevin

        The JPEGs are perfectly fine to print. Even at large format. I think using a 16bit TIF whilst working on the file is important but once I’m done with the edit, then the JPEGs are all that remain.

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