I grew up printing black and white photographs in actual darkrooms. The photographic papers had their own tonal variations, generally ranging from cool bluish tones to warm sepia tones. Favoring the warm tones, Kodak Ektalure was my all time favorite. I have experience with fine art printmaking and always loved the richness of the inks used in mezzotints, stone lithography and etchings. I found that I can adapt the palette and richness of printmaking inks into digital photo-processing for black and white images.
Duotones are not too popular in Photoshop as they are a bit cumbersome and mysterious. They do however offer some of the richest tones for black and white photography I’ve found in digital photography. There are ways to do this in Lightroom but I haven’t done that quite yet.
Basically, you use duotones when you want a black and white photo to have certain color charateristics. Duotones have 2 tones, usually black and another color. Tritones come next using three colors, and quadtones use 4 colors, most typically apeing the printing industry’s CMYK color recipe.
In order to create a duotone in Photoshop you need to do the following:
1) Open a photo in Photoshop. For this experiment, I’ll use one of my favorite sci-fi images of model Shana M.
Although you have most tonal control if it’s a color photograph. B/W photos work fine too. If you use a digital image that’s already black and white, you can skip step 2 and proceed to step 3.
2) Create a new Black and White adjustment layer — I find the “Green” setting works best for portraits but play with different options. It really depends on the image and your mood. There are also sliders for different versions, so go experimental if you want. The presets cover most bases however. I actually went with the “Lighter” setting.
3) Once you have selected the perfect black and white look you need to flatten the image and then visit Image|Mode and first make sure you are in 8 bit and then select greyscale.
4) After you select “grey scale” you’ll notice that “Duotone” has been un-greyed out so you can select it. Do that and you’ll see something similar to this:
This dumped me automatically to the last tritone I was using. You can click on the “preset” button and you’ll see numerous presets. In either duo, tri or quadtone.
Here is where I started to draw upon my printmaker sensibilities and thought it might be interesting to create some of my own presets based on color schemes from actual etchings and mezzotints to create a some personalized duotone presets. The curves used in the duotones are pretty crazy and perhaps you can make better sense of them than I can but here’s what I did. I experimented with duo, tri and quadtones and found the tritones to be the easiest and give the best results.
1) Grab any tritone preset you like, then find a print or photograph that has a color tonal look you’d like to sample.
For this example I’ll use the following print. This is art history allstar Albrecht Durer’s praying hands. I’m not particularly religious but was looking for a good blue print.
2) With your tritone panel open start assigning 3 color tonalities, 1 – darkest, 2 – middle 3 – lightest. Open the image in photoshop and grab the eye dropper.
a. sample the darkest – copy the number, I got 354a4e
b. sample the middle – copy the number. I got 557786
c. sample the lightest – copy the number. I got a1b5c1
3) Open the photo you want to use as a duotone and drop in the numbers to the Duotone Options window.
Here’s what I got….
Before you close out the duotone window, create your own preset (where the magenta arrow is) and name it. I’ll name this one “durer praying hands_bluish” for future use.
But you’re not done yet! I never said it was easy.
4) Change your duotone from a duotone back to an RGB (or whatever color image format you like). Turn it back to 16 bit if that makes you happy — but an 8 bit jpeg or psd file would probably be fine.
Here’s the finished one.
Here are some others I’ve done.
For this one, featuring Nomibowie, I searched for a rich brown ink print and found the following from UK Mezzoint artist Sarah Gillespie’s “Small Moth” pictured below. Learn more about Sarah’s art at her website. www.sarahgillespie.co.uk
After sampling the “Moth” I applied it to the portrait below.
For the next tritone, I’m using a scanned copy of a 35mm Ektachrome slide of the Three Graces at the Mansion in Maymont Park, Richmond, VA.
For this sampling I’m using Chad Nelson’s Bridge of Sighs mezzotint. I like it for its cool tones. Be sure to visit Vinlandprints.com to find out more about Chad Nelson’s art.
Mezzotints. I selected two mezzotints because they probably offer the deepest tones available in traditional printmaking. Here are a couple of resources for anyone interested in finding out more about the process.
What it is
If you want to learn how to make mezzotints (I’m taking notes!).
Follow model/artist Nomibowie on instagram