This project turns a regular color RAW file into a strong black and white image in Exposure X5. It uses a number of different tools so it’s a good chance to see how these work and how they can be used together.
It’s also a good example the kind of image which works well in black and white, one with strong shapes and strong lighting with a good range of tones and some great tonal gradations. Let’s try and bring these out even more.
This doesn’t have to be done in Exposure X5. These same techniques can be used in a lot of different programs. I like Exposure X for the way it works for this kind of image – its tools and adjustments seem to respond exactly in line with what I’m trying to achieve.
- 01 Exposure X layers
- 02 Exposure X LUTs panel
- 03 Exposure X radial mask
- 04 Basic panel
- 05 Tone Curve panel
- 06 Split toning panel
- 07 Overlays panel
01 Exposure X layers
This process uses adjustment layers. These are useful for all sorts of reasons. Even if all the adjustments could be applied on a single layer, separating them in this way makes it much easier to keep the different stages and the things you’re trying to achieve separate. In Exposure X5 (and many other programs) you can name the layers to remind yourself what you’ve done.
Note only that, sometimes you need to make local adjustments to specific areas of a photo, and for this you need separate adjustment layers and masks.
For this photo I wanted to do three main things, with an adjustment layer for each. The first simply converts the image to black and white, the second applies a radial mask to lighten the central part of the scene and the third adds a contrast adjustment, a split tone effect and a frame.
I’m using the finished image with all its layers for these screenshots, but switching the upper layers on progressively to show how the effect has been built.
02 Exposure X LUTs panel
My first step was to convert the image into black and white. There are all sorts of ways of doing this in Exposure X, including a large number of excellent presets. For this, though, I wanted to use a LUT (lookup table). I’m a huge fan of the lutify.me presets, which can be used across a number of different programs.
LUTs are applied in the Exposure X LUT panel. You can import LUTs into categories which you can name yourself to make them easier to find later. It’s a really simple job.
This LUT is called BW-Bactor, from the lutify.me Black & White LUTs set. It gives images a strong, deep tonality which is just what the image needs and a great starting point. This is the only adjustment I’m making on this base image layer because I don’t want it to get muddled up with the rest.
03 Exposure X radial mask
I think this image will be more effective if the foreground rock and the surrounding beach are made lighter. This will shift the centre of attention to the foreground and also exaggerate the contrast in the scene.
To do this, I create a new adjustment layer and then radial mask – you click the mask tool to open the masking panel and then select the mask type there. I’ve positioned the mask carefully over the foreground, dragging the handles to get an elongated elliptical shape, slightly tilted, and moving the outer handles to create the right amount of feathering around the adjustment.
04 Basic panel
Now that the central area is selected with the radial mask, the rest of the adjustments can be done with the Basic panel. Increasing the Exposure really brings out the mirror-like sheen in the water, adding a Shadows adjustment lightens up the surface of the rock (actually, just a large pebble in close-up) and a Clarity increase adds some punchy local contrast.
05 Tone Curve panel
The last three adjustments are really for finishing touches so I’ve created a third and final adjustment layer for these. The first thing I think this picture needs is a slight overall contrast boost, which is easy to create in the Tone Curve panel – by adding a point lower down the curve and dragging it down slightly, and another further up which I drag up slightly. It’s not quite an S-shape curve but it does give a small and useful contrast increase.
06 Split toning panel
The Tone Curve panel has an additional Split Toning section. There are manual controls here but I’m just going to use a preset effect from the drop-down menu, called Copper – Light Tone.
Not every black and white image benefits from toning, but it does add an extra intensity to the tones and can be used to add a warm/cold/vintage atmosphere to a picture.
07 Overlays panel
I want to finish this picture with a border, and these are in the Overlays panel (along with Light Effect and Texture, which I’m not using). There’s a wide range of border styles but I’ve chosen this one, called Sloppy 8, which has the rough and ready finish I’m looking for.