Tag Archives: photography

How to Get Better Black-and-Whites

image from allposters.com

We love the freedom that digital photography affords us. We also relish how having our own personal digital darkrooms and editing facilities lets us do anything — and I mean anything – we want with our photographs, including making them look like they were taken with more primitive cameras, by turning them into black-and-white pictures.

The starkness and simplicity of black-and-white photography holds a lot of drama and glamor. Though we live in a Technicolor world, we sometimes crave for the old Hollywood of Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth.

How can we achieve great black-and-white effects using our computers? Here are a few tips you can do when using Photoshop to edit your pics.

I’d like to start with this wallpaper of another movie icon, this time from Asian cinema — Michelle Yeoh in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. Let’s bring her to the fifties!


This is the shortcut command that will automatically convert a colored image to a grayscale image. In Photoshop, Ctrl+U brings up the Hue/Saturation dialog box. Just bring the Saturation slider over to the left as far as it can go. This drains out all the color from your photo. Shift+Ctrl+U is the auto desaturate shortcut.

While this is a speedy way of getting a black and white picture, it’s not a very satisfying one. The best loved black and white photos have highlights and lowlights that give the image drama and contrast. A quick desaturation just doesn’t hit the spot.

Spot the difference. This may not be that much different from the image right above it, but notice that the skin is a little bit lighter, and the highlights are slightly more pronounced.

If you hold off on hitting that OK button just yet, and go through the different color channels and fiddle with the lightness slider, you can create subtle contrasts simply by making the yellows lighter or the blues and cyans darker. When making adjustments on portraits it is useful to note that skin is mostly reds and yellows, so playing with these will produce the best results.


Bring up the levels dialog box by clicking Image>Adjustments in the drop-down menu or by hitting Ctrl+L. Under “input levels” you can create darker blacks and lighter whites by moving the black slider a little to the right and the white slider a little to the left. You can make the grays brighter or darker by moving the gray slider left or right. Just stop when you think it looks right already.

So check it out! Drastic difference right there! There’s more contrast between Michelle’s face and the background. We see her expression a whole lot more clearly.

Brightness and Contrast

You can achieve the same effect by adjusting the brightness and contrast. This is actually the easiest to do and gives results comparable to the levels route. But if the image doesn’t have much contrast to begin with, the levels dialog can sort out the subtle differences in between shades.


When we look at old school black-and-white prints, we can observe that they are not really not just black-and-white. There are subtle hints of color there, as if we’re viewing a black-and-white image through a tinted lens. They were printed in sepia, and we can achieve that effect too!

Just bring up the hue and saturation dialog again and click the “colorize” box. Then adjust the hue and saturation sliders to choose your shade and how intense you want it to be. But for this particular purpose, it is recommended that you keep it subtle and put that slider way out left.

Sepia effect

Black-and-white with a subtle blue tone

Using Microsoft Picture Manager

Not everyone has Photoshop installed, but the good news is you can do this with the Microsoft Picture Manager, which usually comes bundled with your Windows operating system. I tried it, and got great results!

Open the image, and click the “edit pictures…” button on the toolbar. Click on “color” and bring the saturation all the way down. Again, the resulting image lacks punch, but this is only the first step.

As usual desaturating only brings less than stellar effects

Go back to the edit pictures options and choose brightness and contrast. Notice that you’ll not only get brightness and contrast sliders, but you get to adjust your midtones as well. This means you can make those dull grays into more dramatic brights and darks.

You can also bring in your subtle colorizations by going back to the color settings.

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Cooking with Pictures: Art in the Kitchen

It’s Foodie Tuesday!

Caramel & Sea Salt Truffles by Katie Gamb

I just discovered the amazing They Draw and Cook which combines two of my favourite things; fantastic illustration and food. Their website features illustrated recipes that you can search within by ingredient, type of cuisine, illustration style or even country of origin.  Here are just a few that looked both incredibly tasty and wonderfully rendered. The Caramel and Sea Salt recipe submitted by Katie Gamb (above) is one of my favourites. The salty-sweet craze that is making the rounds in culinary circles is definitely a trend I can get behind. Katie Gamb’s work is beautiful and you can see more of her drawings on her website.

This Pizzelle recipe by Kristen Nohe makes me want to track down a pizzelle press. The directions look easy to follow and I love her drawing style and colour choices.  Nohe is a professional illustrator and textile designer from Maryland. I’ve just started following her blog and its great place to start if you want to see more of her work.

This handy Vegetable Stock recipe by Nate Padavick is also beautiful to look at and easy to follow. I think this illustration would also be lovely hanging on a wall in the kitchen.

This Linguini with Grilled Tomatoes and Feta Cheese recipe by Tomek Giovanis is a cooking comic with adorably drawn characters. Go! Go! Chicken!

Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a whole recipe binder or recipe box full of these illustrations? If you’re feeling creative you can also submit your own illustrated recipes to the site.  I think I might just have to get my art supplies out and give it a try. They Draw & Cook also holds an annual competition where you can submit recipes that feature a specified ingredient. This year it was figs, so if you’re into figs there are no shortage of recipes that might strike your fancy.

Speaking of the intersection of art and cooking have you seen the new Ikea cookbook? It’s called Homemade is Best and each recipe is accompanied by a beautifully styled photograph by Carl Kleiner/ Agent Bauer of the ingredients and the finished product. The making of the book was apparently inspired by high fashion and Japanese minimalism.


Fina kanelbullar

What a lovely way to cook.  Unfortunately “Homemade is Best” is only available in Swedish, so I’ll have to develop my foreign language skills before I can attempt any of these recipes, but in the meantime the pictures are pretty enough just to look at.

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New as Old: Gadgets in Disguise

Perhaps in the past century people moved, rushed, and pushed forward at a pace that left behind all too soon the great designs of the time. Or perhaps we of this age are simply nostalgic for the “ancestors” of our gadgets and appliances that we never got to meet.

Since we can’t travel back through time (at least, not just yet), designers have brought the past in to meet the present, giving today’s technology the look and charm of decades past.

TV Design by Mike Chen

What a darling TV! There’s such a quirky naivete about it, with its gorgeous light wood, and cute rabbit “antennae” which now serve as input and mode switches.

Fuji FinePix X100

Don’t let your eyes be deceived. Beneath this old-school exterior is the latest technology in digital photography.

CD Player

Yong Jieyu Studio took apart a CD player and reassembled it to look like a really sexy gramophone. The “needle” is not just for show, as it holds the player’s laser lens.

Customized Keyboard from Steampunk Workshop

This one is a painstakingly hand-crafted typewriter style keyboard that would suitably inspire today’s writer to churn out words like Hemingway or Kerouac probably did on the old clickety-clackety versions of it.

iDial App for iPhone

This iPhone app gives you a taste of what it was like to not have cellphone address books and speed dials. Which means you have to actually memorize phone numbers.

Bosch Classic Refrigerator

Image from Appliancist

There was a time when refrigerator doors did not have magnets and had latches instead. Bosch first launched its classic ref design in 1949. It has put everything it has learned since then into to this revamp.

Collectibles: All Together Now

There’s an art to displaying collectibles.  Here are a few visual examples and some tips and tricks!

Plate Collection via Apartment Therapy

I’m kind of anti-minimalist when it comes to my own home. There is nothing more cozy to me then a house chock-full of interesting things that convey the personalities of the people who live there. What better way to show who you are and what you love then to display your most cherished objects and collections. Here are a few collections and display ideas that have me inspired today.

Antique Mirror Collection via Apt #5G

There is something I usually find a little spooky about old mirrors, but this collection is so charming and perfect I’m not spooked at all. The way the mirrors reflect the nearby window is also a clever way of bringing more light into the room.

Kokeshi Doll display by Janis Nicoay via Poppytalk

How sweet is this collection of Handmade Kokeshi dolls in their own little fabric-lined boxes? This would be an easy and fun way to hang any small collectibles.

Dream Cloud of Vintage Silhouettes in the home of Emily Winfield

This collection of vintage and antique silhouettes in the home of Emily Winfield of Inside a Black Apple is unbelievably dreamy. I love this wall colour too, so relaxing and romantic in a bedroom.

Day 356- Lisa Congdon

If you don’t already have a collection to call your own, but would like to start one, you should  check out Lisa Congdon’s inspiring A Collection a Day. Every day for a year Lisa took a photograph of a different collection and her project has recently been turned into a book. I can’t get over this collection of old boxer photographs. So dapper.

I’m  sure we all have a few collections around the house that we don’t even know about. Why not come up with  a special way to show them off? It can be as simple as a shadowbox of old photos or a shelf dedicated to your favourite souvenirs or mementos.

Happy Collecting!

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Judging Books by Covers

Books are meant to be read, and not just displayed for their good looks. But I’ve got to admit, when going book shopping, I look at the covers. Call me shallow, but after the author, a book’s cover design is the major factor in my purchase decisions.

In a roomful of books, the only way to not be overwhelmed by the sheer number of options is to breathe in the smell of paper and ink, go into a new age-y state of consciousness, and let the books call out to me. And how else can they call out except visually—using the language of colors, photography, typography, illustration, layout.


I like colors. I’m a kid like that. It’s no wonder then that I own a lot of children’s books, most of them acquired long after my official “childhood” has ended.

Cover illustration by Beth Parrocha-Doctolero

Photography and Illustration

I’m also a sucker for stunning images. Take this cover of George Orwell’s 1984. I was attracted by the dark circle nestled in the fuzzy blue one, against that expanse of white—up until I realized that it was an eye, and then it was ominously creepy, but still stunning.

That eye is creepy.


An awesome title would be a waste if it can’t be seen from a few meters away. The creative use of typography can capitalize on a word such as Swerve or Blindness, and make the book all the more grab-able.

Cover design by Adam Laszczuk

Here are a few other striking book covers I found around the web.

Image from the author's website

Cover design by Samantha Wall

Design by Lucy Ruth Cummins, photography by James Porto

A zombified portrait by William Beechley makes for a quirky, irreverent cover for a quirky, irreverent book. Cover design by Bridgeman Art Library, Ltd., and Doogie Horner.

Cover art by W.H. Chong

Cover design by Jon Gray