Photos Tips and Tricks: Using Black and White Controls by Adrian Galli

Black and white photography is the original; classic, striking, moody, and reduces the photo to a more fundamental state. It is one of my favorite forms of photography and from some of the most famous photographers, there is nothing quite like it. Ansel Adams, Mary Ellen Mark, Yusuf Karsh, amount many others, are renown for their use of black and white.

In today's digital world, there are very few actual black and white cameras; the Leica Monochrom, Red Epic-M Dragon (monochrome) are a few notable examples that come to mind but, generally, if you're using a digital camera, even with a black and white mode, you're shooting color (RGB — red, green, blue) and it is converted to black and white. In other words, if you're making or seeing black and white digital photography, chances are you're look it was originally color.

Without giving a long scientific explanation of why or how digital cameras work, a "general" digital camera have a sensor with pixels, each capturing its own color: red, green, or blue. The Leica M Monochrom uses a sensor where each pixel captures only luminance.

Many of us simply can't afford a Leica or we would really like the option of color photography. Sadly, we can't, or currently can't, have a camera that is "dual-action" color or mono. As such, we'll need to settle for one or the other but don't be discouraged, a color photo can be altered into a stunning black and white photography.

In OS X's Photos app, there are three filters for use to convert your images: Mono, Tonal, and Noir (my personal favorite). Having covered how to use filters in a previous post, we'll forego these and move into a more advanced technique for black and white conversions and more flexible.

Original image, enhanced, no black and white.

Original image, enhanced, no black and white.

Opening an image and entering the edit mode, one will click on Adjustments. Even with the default option for adjustments, black and white is a already visible. Using the adjustment is a simple using the slider until the desired black and white appearance is achieved. This adjustment mimics the effects of using a color filter on black and white film.

Red Filter (right) vs. Blue Filter (left)

Red Filter (right) vs. Blue Filter (left)

This alone will give you more flexibility than just the general black and white filters. However, opening the adjustments will bring more control and a finer look should the basic black and white slider.

Upon opening Black & White, four additional sliders are available: Intensity, Neutrals, Tone, and Grain.

These adjustments are the key to taking advantage of the black and white capabilities of Photos. While it is a simple toolset, there is a great amount of flexibility, like nothing found in iPhoto, and also found on the iOS version of Photos. It is far different from yours average black and white conversion tool found in other apps, I have come to enjoy the ease and power.

Intensity: The strength by which the effect is applied to the photo.
Neutrals: Lightens or darkens the gray areas (midtones) of the photo.
Tone: Adjusts the photo for a more high-contrast or low-contrast look.
Grain: Adjusts the amount of film grain that appears in the photo.

For the final version of Art Deco Mountain, I initially expected I would use the Noir built-in filter, however, I found it too intense. While I wanted a nearly black sky with high contract with the highlights, the shadow area of the building was too dark.  Applying the Black & White adjustment and fine tuning the Intensity, Neutrals, and Tone, the sky looked as I wished as did the building. 

Art Deco Mountain

Art Deco Mountain

Making good use of these four adjustments on can achieve many high quality black and white effects on a photograph. This is to say, we should not forget about the many other adjustments available in Photos as things like Color, Contrast, Definition, and many others will also impact your black and white photography. Photo Challenge Submission by Adrian Galli

Lights and Bokeh

Lights and Bokeh is one of my favorite photography sharing websites.  While there are many ways to share your photos, 500px is to Flickr what Vimeo is to YouTube; a little more curated, more photography enthusiasts, and not as many selfies or cat pictures. (Not that there is anything wrong with that.)

Occasionally, they have photo challenges where members can submit photos related to a particular subject or style of photography and win likes and prizes should their photos be chosen. 

Last week, bokeh became the challenges launched by 500px. Bokeh being the quality is visual appeal of the blurry background some photos have. 

The photo I submitted was originally just an experiment but as I worked with the image in post, I found I liked it more for its somewhat abstract simplicity and general visual appeal.  

If you are a 500px member, I'd love to get your vote and, as always, enjoy the photography!

Lights and Bokeh on

P.S. The photo has already made it to "Popluar"... That's pretty cool. 

Polarr, A Powerful Photo Editing App I've Been Waiting For by Adrian Galli

While I was initially going to post another Tips and Ticks for Photos, this tops that by far. If you were looking for a tool to bring Photos to nearly the level of Aperture's editing, this is it. Polarr is an app I was only recently introduced to. I found its simple interface enticing so I gave it a try. The first impression encouraged me to dive deep into the features.

There are a whole lot of editing tools out there for OS X, iOS, Windows, etc. Many of them are only available on one platform or the other… maybe two if you’re lucky. Polarr, to my knowledge, is the only editing app that is available for iOS, OS X, Windows, Android, and for the Web. When discussing these cross platform features, they aren't “watered down” feature sets between desktop and mobile, mobile and web version; nearly full functionality is available across the platforms.

The adjustment toolset is the first and most impressive attribute. Here is a list to start:


  • Temperature 
  • Tint
  • Vibrance
  • Saturation
  • Exposure
  • Brightness
  • Contrast
  • Highlights
  • Shadows
  • Whites
  • Blacks
  • Diffuse
  • Dehaze
  • Clarity
  • Sharpen
  • Denoise
  • Vignette
  • Grain
  • Distortion 
  • Fringing
  • HSL
  • Curves
  • Tones

This list is extensive and evolved beyond the basics. The HSL (Hue/Saturation/Luminance) adjustments allow changes to specific color ranges. One can select a specific spectrum to adjust, green, for example. This is one of the main features I sadly missed from Aperture.

Polarr includes a distortion control; a very powerful feature in the age of digital photography. Most applications that work with RAW files include lens specific distortion correction, however, having a manual control is very welcome to the professional.

Curves, a standard for most any pro-end photo editing application, is included and permits adjustments to channels (RGB and master). Additionally, Tones, a not-so-common tool, allow one to adjust highlights, shadows, hue, and saturation independently.

Polarr with filters (left) and adjustments (right)

Polarr with filters (left) and adjustments (right)

One feature that piqued my interested was the denoise tool. Many applications have a noise reduction feature but few independently allow control of luminance and chrominance noise. They two are in the same family but have two different natures and, as such, having these two separate deniers is a win.

With its forty core adjustment functions, it begins to look very appealing to an editor. To take this a step further, in the age of Instagram, so many tools can overwhelm. Included in Polarr are over 100 filters to suit one’s many needs. A few of my favorites I’ve had the pleasure to playing with: Clear, Fujicolor, Vista, TM2, and IF5 (an Infrared filter!). Even with all these filters, creative types want their own, custom features. Polarr give one the opportunity to create and save custom filters and use them at one’s leisure.

These filters and adjustments work together but sometimes it is needed for an area of a photo to be adjusted while other areas are left alone. Simple gradient tools can give the virtue of a mask to one’s adjustments and fine-tune portions of the photo rather than the general global changes.

As one works on a photo, the beauty of a digital workflow, experimentation leads to great discoveries and can lead to not so great discoveries. Polarr, with its many features, not only gives unlimited undos but an history palette; a timeline of all the adjustments one has made; jump back one step or one hundred steps and all the way to the original if needed.

But the reason I put another post on hold in favor of this review, the feature that sold me beyond the afore mentioned, Polarr, as of today, released an update to their OS X version with full support for Photo Extensions. And this isn’t a half-hearted attempt by many other applications. When a photo is processed into Polarr using the extension, the entire Polarr editing suite is available; every adjustment, every filter, unlimited undo history, all of it. There is no need to organize in one application and edit in another. No need to export a RAW or JPEG from Photos, save to desktop, open another application and import it for editing only to do the same process in reverse to return the newly edited photo to Photos and using additional storage space: organize in Photos, edit in Photos, edit in Polarr.

With a simple, clean interface Polarr caught my attention. Having nearly all the same tools available to me on my iPhone and iPad impressed me more. Being able to use even other platforms as Windows and Android, online through a web browser, gave the impression the developers were serious. Having a rich toolset and access to them via extensions in Photos, really sold the whole package.

Polarr for OS X runs $19.99 and can be complimented with an iOS version for free (though, all the features is an in app purchase of $9.99). I highly recommend it. Having use many photo applications from Photoshop to Aperture, Affinity Photo (another favorite) to Pixelmator, iPhoto to Tonality, this is a simple yet sophisticated imagine editing application that I’ll be utilizing a lot.

Photos Tips and Tricks: Fade Filter with Adjustments by Adrian Galli

In 2014, Apple announced iPhoto and Aperture would not longer be developed. iPhoto was released in 2002 and weighed in at well over a gigabyte. It was an old, slow, and clunky application. While it served many of us well for many years, technology is about new ventures and evolution, not stagnation and rigidity. Aperture was newer, much more powerful in both editing and organizing than iPhoto but also a bit more of a learning curve. But, alas, these applications gave way to a new, singular, more powerful, more efficient, and intuitive application: Photos.

No doubt this ruffled some feathers. People dislike change but when it comes to technology, change is most definitely the constant. Even for technology wizards like my colleagues and I, we still have to learn these new tools. Personally, I was excited. I love to learn a new application, see what it does, how it was designed, and how it will fit into my life.

This was not without growing pains. I had used Aperture since before the public; I beta tested it and was one of three selected to champion it. I wrote training curriculums, taught classes, and used it both personally and professionally; hand to hand, I would put my knowledge of Aperture up against anyones. It was powerful and had some really impressive editing tools. I loved Aperture, as did many others. The end was near, however, for Aperture, so when Photos was announced, I quickly made my way to beta testing it.

The challenge: use Photos exclusively, from day one, and do everything photographic with it for six months. It was time to explore and venture into the unknown and put it to the test. As those who know and follow me, I love a challenge with my creative tools. In fact, I’d go as far to say that I prefer limitations and challenges; it makes me more creative, try harder, innovate, and push my technology and self to new limits.

It little time to feel comfortable with the application as it works nearly identically to its iOS sibling. Photos on OS X is definitely more powerful within the realm of editing and organization but the general functions are the same. If one knows Photos for iOS, one knows Photos for OS X. One might then ask, “How did you fare, Adrian, having used a set of tools that wasn’t as powerful as Aperture’s?"

It was a challenge as first but, while photos starts out with a simple editing toolset, one can expand the tools for more control. It makes general adjustments simple for users looking for quick and easy editing while more advance editors can take a deeper dive. I found that Photos was getting a bad wrap because there were some really powerful tools, some of which aren’t even in Photoshop, and with a little creativity and ingenuity, there was real opportunity to do some great work.

One of these toolsets is Filter. There are eight total: five color and three black and white. On first approach, these filters seem rather simplistic; they emulate certain film stocks, polaroid, or film processing technique, etc. Initially one might question the validity as they can be rather “bold” in their adjustments to a photo (though, I really like Noir). And when it comes to filters, eight is child play. VSCO has dozens. Instagram, Afterlight, Enlight, and many other also give tons of filters for one’s photo filtering needs. But, there in lies the problem; these apps give people a false assumption of how one could work in Photos. Generally, filters in apps are tap and go and maybe with a little extra fine-tuning; find your photo, add a filter, share it. Done. In Photos, one needs to be a little more creative and leave behind the simplistic nature of a lot of that general mobile photo editing app experience. (Note: there are plenty of iOS editing apps that are very powerful. I write this in general terms.)

Photos Tips and Tricks is a series launched from this very observation. The tools available to us in Photos are not just to be used in exclusivity but in tandem with others. And that Photos is, in fact, much more powerful than iPhoto, and a lot can be accomplished if one actually takes advantage of the tools. So let us start with the inaugural tip: Fade Filter with Adjustments.

This filter became a favorite of mine but I didn’t care much for it when I first applied it and generally find it too plain when applied alone. I needed to take my editing into the Adjustments section of Photos to make it work.

Down and to the Right (original), Olympus E-M5, Panasonic 14mm f2.5 at f5.6

Down and to the Right (original), Olympus E-M5, Panasonic 14mm f2.5 at f5.6

Fade Filter with Color Adjustment

Above is the original image for Down and to the Right. It was shot using the Olympus E-M5 with a Panasonic 14mm f2.5 lens at f5.6. The image itself is rather flat and needs some processing to make it pop so let’s start with the Fade Filter.

Step 1
Entering the edit mode by clicking on Edit in the upper right corner of Photos' window, a list of tools will appear on the right. The fourth toolset it filters.

Step 2
Clicking on the Fade filter, the image loses a fair amount of its color. It does not appear to be a simply reduction of saturation; the color values seem to roll off with the characteristics of being on a curve. Some colors, like green, also fade more with a shift toward yellow.

Image with Fade applied.

Image with Fade applied.

Step 3
With the Fade applied, switch to the Adjustments toolset. This is the very next button below Filters. Initially, you’ll only see a few adjustments: Light, Color, and Black and White. You may notice this looks much like the tools in Photos for iOS. Try dragging the color adjustment to the right. You can make significant inroad with the slider and the photo will hold up.

Image with Color Adjustment applied.

Image with Color Adjustment applied.

The above photo is processed with Fade plus a 60-70% increase to the Color Adjustment. The enhanced photo has a whole new appeal to it; a little filmic, a little more stylized. 

Not all photos should one apply this series of steps. Photos with a lot of blues, indigos, violets, don’t hold up well to this method; those colors tend to over saturate with the Color Adjustment, however, it is possible to fine-tune that as well with the Color Contrast adjustment. That is the beauty of such a creative workflow; it opens one to exploring other options and integrating one tool into another. And this doesn't have to be the end of the editing process. Levels, quarter tones, definition, exposure, etc. are all other tools available for continued processing of a photo.

Feel free to explore the editing possibilities. This is only the start of what can be accomplished in Photos. The best news is, one, Photos never adjusts the original image so playing with a photo, it can always be reverted back to the master. Two, while Photos does have more power than many will give it credit, as with all tools, it does have limits. If more manipulations are needed, Photos in El Capitan (OS 10.11) supports extensions and thus, other editing applications can build into Photos expanding its capabilities. The Mac App store has a section for Photography where extensible apps can be found.

I hope this simple but powerful tip help you edit your images. I hope that I have dispelled a few myths that Photos isn't powerful. It greatly eclipses iPhoto's editing tools and allows for much more flexibility.

I would love to hear your feedback on this tip and if you have any you'd like to share, reader would also welcome your insight. Visit again soon other Photos Tips and Tricks posts.

Photos gets Extension Support in OS X El Capitan 10.11 by Adrian Galli

Many have been disappointed with photos for the Mac. I, on the other hand, have been using it for several months and find it very pleasing. It is better than iPhoto, not quite as powerful as Aperture, but overall it's a solid application.

This week, at WWDC 2015, Apple announced OS X El Capitan. The next generation of Apple's operating system for the Mac brings a new version of Photos. The application that mirrors the Photos app on iOS has many great editing tools but it does not reach the level of something like Aperture or Photoshop. With extension support, however, new tools can be developed by third parties to make Photos a powerful editing application while continuing to use the organizational tools and iCloud.


Photo Credit:  Apple, Inc.

Photo Credit: Apple, Inc.

New editing extensions let you go further with your photos. OS X El Capitan supports third-party tools that will be available from the Mac App Store and accessible right in the Photos app. Use multiple editing extensions from your favorite developers on a single photo, or use a mix of extensions and the editing tools built into Photos. From adding subtle filters to using beautiful texture effects, you can take your photo editing to a whole new level.

This is a major improvement for Photos. I have been very much looking forward to this update. I'm glad that it is coming along so quickly with Photos.