Digital Monochrome Image Enhancement


So you’ve converted your image to monochrome. The next step is to simply press the print button and your inkjet printer will produce a masterpiece within minutes, or will it? Well, possibly, however there are a number of things you can do to enhance an image before printing.

No matter how good the original negative, darkroom workers always applied enhancement techniques in the process of producing a fine print. Digital workers can do same, although the steps and techniques are quite different.

After converting the image to monochrome (see article “Convert Colour to Monochrome” ), the first step in correction is to open the Levels palette and drag the black and white sliders to align with the darkest and lightest pixels in the image. This gives an image that is your “test print” or starting point.







Assess the image and work out a “printing plan”. Which parts need to darkened and which parts lightened. Unless the original image was perfect, and I’m yet to see one that was, this is an essential part of image enhancement. Darkroom workers use “dodge” tools to lighten parts of the image during the basic exposure and give additional exposure, or burn, after the basic exposure to darken parts of the image.


Dodge and Burn


The digital printers dodge and burn tools are located in the main Adobe Photoshop desktop toolbox and like their darkroom counterparts, the dodge tool will lighten and the burn tool darken.




Select the appropriate tool, and then on the toolbar at the top of the desktop select an appropriate size brush.




Set the “Range” to Shadows, Midtones or Highlights depending on which you intend to dodge or burn.

Keep the Exposure to 6 or 7% Work with a soft brush and build up the effect slowly and carefully. 

The Dodge and Burn tools are “destructive” so it’s better to work on a background copy.



Make a background copy by dragging the Background onto the Create a New Layer icon and releasing.

The ability to dodge and burn, lighten or darken, selecting only the highlights, midtones or shadows is a very precise, powerful tool and needs careful consideration and subtle application in order to maximize the potential of an image.



Dodge and Burn on a New Layer


Another option is to create a new layer by clicking the Create a New Layer icon, then go Edit > Fill > 50% Gray



Change the Layer Blend mode to Overlay, then burn and dodge on the New Layer.



This not only safeguards the Background but any changes made are reversible at a later date.

Using this method allows very accurate control over the dodging and burning process. 

Contrast Control

Darkroom workers adjusted the contrast of a print by changing the paper grade.

Digitally we can control contrast by using Curves. 

In the Layers palette click the Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon.

Select Curves.








Anchor the mid tone point and introduce an S curve to increase contrast.

Using Curves the contrast of the image can easily be increased or decreased

and replicates the darkroom practice of changing paper grades.



“Elie” – Test Print or Starting Point

Elie is a sleepy Victorian seaside resort in the kingdom of Fife, Scotland.

After conversion to monochrome and basic Levels correction the base was cropped using the Crop tool.

The printing plan involved selectively lightning some of the highlight to quarter tones, darkening the shadows and increasing contrast in the mid and three quarter tones.

Dodging and burning was carried out on a combination of a background copy and overlay layer filled with 50% grey.



“Elie” – Final Print

 Tonal values were changed subtlety and gently using the dodge and burn tools set at no more than 6% exposure. Soft brushes of varies sizes were used to achieve the changes.

Finally the contrast was increased using curves.

The image was printed on fine art heavyweight matt paper.

Darkroom workers of the past could only have dreamed of the ability to exercise this degree of control over a negative. The key to success is to build the changes slowly and gently with the mindset of fine tuning the image towards the final “fine print”.









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