Creating Compelling and Emotional Monochrome Imagery – Part 2 Post Processing

By Sigma Ambassador Keith Connelly

If you missed it, please read Part 1 of this series here.

So this post is merely a guideline from my own perspective. I will be using Photoshop and Nik Software as these are the two programs I use mainly in my conversions. Of course there are very effective ways of producing these images in Lightroom as well.

So before getting into the detail I want to reiterate some of the points from my last post:

  1. Start with a quality raw image
  2. Look for Images that will convey emotion.
  3. Contrasty good light images will work best.
  4. Look to convert images with clean less distracting backgrounds.

When creating a mono image I often begin with fully editing the image for colour…at least fully editing the image in Lightroom before exporting to Photoshop. So that’s were I will begin this tutorial…

I will be using this image taken on The Khwai Concession in Botswana’s Okavango Delta. I really like the clean BG so I feel it will work well in B&W. I have added all my Lightroom adjustments and will continue in Photoshop.


Generally my first step in converting to B&W is to open the image in Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro (if you don’t already have the Nik suite I highly recommend you download’s free).



The Silver Efex workstation is simple and very easy to use as you can see above, it has a number of very handy preset on the left side that you can play with for endless effects. I normally prefer to create my own effects be it low or high key and feel you have tremendous control to add filters, contrast, structure, tonality.

Generally my first step is to run through the colour filters and see if there is an effect that I find pleasing, this is why i prefer to bring in the image in colour into Silver Efex as if you bring in and already converted image of course these colour filters will not work.


I will select each colour and see if it works with the image. For this image I like the effect of the green filter as it brighten the Leopard nicely and darkens the edges of the frame as well. Once you select the best filter you can adjust the strength of the filter under details.


After the selection, I will move over to the basic adjustments panel and begin there. Often none of the colour filters will work with the image so in that case you can move straight to the basic adjustments and start creating from there.



I find contrast here very effective, I also really like the tonality protection sliders and they work well to prevent you pushing your highlights too far when adding that critical contrast. It’s also useful looking down at the histogram at the bottom to ensure you are not going too far. Once I am happy with where I have taken this base edit, i’m pretty much done with Silver Efex. There are many additional feature to this software that you can deploy such as using the film types and level and curves feature but I prefer to keep in simple at the beginning, once again this for me is just about creating a workable base conversion that I can take further later. Once you are happy you click OK and deploy the filter.

Once I am happy with the base image I will often flatten the image or save it as a tiff file if I’m worried about destructive editing.

Next up I open up the image in Colour Efex Pro, it may seem counter intuitive as it’s a colour editing tool…but it has some great filters that can take a mono to another level.



So if you haven’t used Colour Efex before you can spend a whole span of time getting to grips with the endless filters available in the filter panel on the left side, most of which you probably never use and in most case really shouldn’t use…trust me I have tried them all ;).

I have created my favorite filter in the filters tab as you can see and you can do that by simply highlighting the star next to the filter in the All tab. Now the most useful of these filters for mono conversions are the Pro Contrast filter which I use on every image, and I more often than not use it with set parameters that I find work incredibly well for adding just the right amount of contrast. You will see i have it set at 5% correct contrast, 10% Dynamic Contrast with the tonality protection sliders set to 30% each. Now one of the real redeeming features of this software is you can simply keep adding filters via the add filter tab until you get your image to where you want it to be, instead of applying one of these filters at a time which is time consuming.

So from here the options and directions are endless!!

You could go Low Key or High Key, Glamour Glow which is a filter that works well with mono’s, you can and any imaginable tone, or film styled affects. For this image I feel keeping it simpler work better.

So what I chose to do is add a low key effect to create some depth( I have a love for this type of mono image but in the end it’s up to your own personal taste. You will see that the filter applies globally to the image, which I don’t want. This brings me to the next redeeming feature of Nik, as now I can use the very handy control points to remove the effect from the areas I don’t want them in. The control points are tonal based and very accurate as below.


Filter Globally Applied


Final Filter with the two negative control points applied to the cat to remove the effect accurately.

You can easily see where the effect is applied and removed by using the mask view, by simply clicking on the mask icon and toggling the control point boxes on and off….



which will show in white where it is applied and in black where it is removed.


At this stage I am quite happy with where this image is, I feel the darkening of the tree stump and BG really bring the attention into the Leopard and creates lovely depth and the contrast is looking good to me…


You can explore further by adding useful filters such the Darken and Lighten Centre filter which is a great vignetting tool or even the Glamour Glow Filter…but for me this image is good where it is so I am going go ahead and apply the filter by clicking OK. Once back in PS I will save the file as a tiff in case you want to go back at any stage…then flatten the image.

From here there are a few things that you could play with to see if you at your end point…firstly I will always create dodge and burn layers, although this image doesn’t require it, it’s a great way to add some really fine contrast and depth to the image.

I have a shortcut key to create these layers but you can do it by creating two layers by pressing command/N on a mac or control/N on PC.



I also like to add a layer mask just so I can mask out any areas that i don’t want affected. you can do that by click the layer mask icon bottom right.


You can then change the blending mode to soft light as i find this helps keep the brushing subtle.


After that you can adjust your brush opacity to 5-10% and use the white brush to dodge the light areas and the black brush to burn the dark areas.



At the very end I will check my levels by adding a levels adjustment layer.

A neat trick is to hold down the alt/option key while dragging the slider will create a mask view and help you adjust your highlights without blowing them out.




I hope this tutorial was helpful and that you give it a bash and remember that mono photography is a creative pursuit…so don’t be scared to give things a go, they wont all work but you’ll learn.


Keith Connelly

Sigma South Africa Ambassador

“Keith Connelly is a mad passionate Wildlife Guide, Professional Photographer, Photographic Guide and Travel Addict.

He began his career as a guide working in the exclusive lodges of South Africa where he gained a great love for photography, but an even greater passion for the planet’s wildlife and love for the personal experiences and the pure joy that capturing and sharing nature’s best moments offer.”