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Andy Warhol Meets Film Noir: Biff, Bang, Pop!

May 17, 2010

Here’s a Photoshop technique for transforming a B&W photo into a bright pop-art image. It restricts the colors to a very narrow range (in this case, yellow-orange). I began with a B&W movie still of Richard Widmark in his movie debut, playing giggling killer Tommy Udo in the 1947 film noir classic, Kiss Of Death:I sharpened the image (Filter>Unsharp Mask, Smart Sharpen), then lightened it a bit (Image>Adjustments>Curves):Then I changed the Mode from Grayscale to Indexed Color (Uniform) to narrow the tonal (color) range:I opened the Color Table dialog box (Image>Mode>Color Table…) and chose Table: Grayscale from the pop-down menu:I selected all 256 squares (grayscale tonal values) by running the cursor over them from top to bottom. Making this selection causes the Color Picker window to open, and I was prompted to select my “first color.” (The idea here: pick a first and last color and thereby define a range of 256 colors between those two values. These new color values will replace the original grayscale values.)I adjusted the slider and chose a light color (yellow-orange). This caused a new Color Picker window to open, and I was prompted to pick my “last color.”I selected a very dark color by clicking at the bottom of the Color Picker window. My Color Table then displayed the 256 color values between my first and last colors:I clicked OK to close the Color Table. My grayscale image was then converted to the corresponding yellow-orange color values:I then changed the Mode from Indexed Color to RGB. This allowed me to duplicate the Background Layer:Keeping the Background Copy selected, I opened the Threshold dialog box (Image>Adjustments>Threshold). I then experimented with the Threshold Level, moving the slider back and forth, until I got a nice clean contrast that wasn’t too light or too dark. (A level of 128 worked here, but this will vary somewhat depending on the image.)I used the Magic Wand (with the Contiguous box unchecked) to select all the white areas on the Background Copy. I pressed the Delete key to delete the white areas and allow the color from the Background Layer to show through. Then I flattened the image by choosing Flatten Image from the pop-down menu in the Layers palette:Finally, I pressed the ‘D‘ key to set my Foreground Color to Black and used the Brush and Pencil tools to black-out some of the remaining (and distracting) yellow areas, and give the image a more high-contrast, pop-art look. By accident, I discovered I could retain a small section of the curtain in the background and make it look like prison bars– the perfect backdrop for bad boy Tommy Udo!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 14, 2012 10:50 PM

    Interesting. I wouldn’t have thought of using Indexed Color to get that effect. And I’ve not tried the greyscale range via the color-picker. I’m going to bookmark this post and have a go at it sometime.



    • March 15, 2012 7:57 AM

      Ha! I wouldn’t have thought of it either. I dimly recall seeing the idea in an old Photoshop manual I picked up somewhere. I was so intrigued, I had to try it. One of those things that leaves you a bit stunned and wondering how many other amazing undiscovered secrets PS holds. I think this Indexed Color trick was something one could do in the earliest versions of the program. Incredible. Glad you found the post helpful!


  2. May 22, 2013 6:15 PM

    I’m learning 🙂


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