Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.
One of the great features of digital photography is the ability to convert color images to black-and-white, or what some photographers call monochrome conversion. There’s little or no need to shoot digital photos in black-and-white when color images can easily be converted to black-and-white in Photoshop or a similar image editor. In this article, I’ll offer some black and white photography tips for Photoshop users.
So why would you want to convert an image to black-and-white? Well it’s pretty much an aesthetic decision. For me, I might convert to black-and-white because it conveys the mood of the subject I”˜m shooting. This is the case for the image I use in this tutorial. Other times, the colors in an image simply might conflict with one another and distract from the focus of the image, so converting to black-and-white gets rid of the distracting color conflicts.
In some images, black-and-white conversion just has more aesthetic appeal. There’s no rule or equation you can apply to determine if a photograph will look great in monochrome. But it’s not a problem in digital photography. You simply make a duplicate copy of the color version, and then experiment with the monochrome version.
There are entire books devoted to black and white photography tips using Photoshop, but I’m going to describe a couple of pretty easy ways to make monochrome conversions in Photoshop that provide good results. I’m using Photoshop CS3 for this tutorial, but it should work pretty much the same way in CS4.
For the bottom line quickest way to convert a color image to black-and-white, simply open the image in Photoshop, go to Image>Adjustments>Desaturate and viola you have a monochrome conversion. If you need to do it even faster, use the keyword shortcut or create an action that can do it in one click.
If you want more control over the conversion, you will want to use the black-and-white converter in Photoshop. Here’s how:
- Duplicate the color version of the image you want to convert. Open the duplicated copy in Photoshop. Use whatever tools you need to correct exposure and contrast in the photo. I used Levels to lighten up the image some.
- Now select the Black & White Adjustment Layer located at at the bottom of the Layers panel. Click on the black and white circle icon and choose Black & White. When you release the mouse, the converter will pop up.
- If this is your first time using the converter, don’t let all the controls overwhelm you. First off, you can simply click the Auto button on the right side and see what Photoshop does to the image. That might all you need. If the shadows, highlights, and mid-tones look okay for you, then click OK and you’re done.
- Another option is to try the pop-up menu of Presets in the converter. Just try the various menu items and see which one works best for your image. Typically, if you have a photo with lots of red or blue in it, you might try the High Contrast Red or Blue Filter, respectfully, first. But just play around with the presets. They are nondestructive. If you end up not liking the results, simply cancel the converter or delete the adjustment layer all together after you applied it.
- Sometimes you might not want that stark monochrome look in an image. You might want to warm it up some. I use the Saturation slider at the bottom of the converter to mix in a little sepia into the black-and-white. Simply click the Tint button and it will apply the effect. The sepia will probably be too strong, so just move the slider back toward the left until you get the effect that you want.
- Now for something a little more advanced. Notice that the converter has six color sliders. When you move those sliders to the left, it darkens the corresponding color in your image. Move it to the right, and it lightens the areas of the photo with the corresponding color.
- If there is a particular part of the photo you want to lighten or darken, simply drag your cursor over that part and Photoshop will know which color slider to move and apply (note: I couldn’t get a screen capture to pick up how the cursor looks when I slide it across a part of the photo. But just hold down your mouse button on a part of the photo, drag it right and left and you will see a tiny hand icon appear. As you drag, you will see the changes take effect in the image).
- In the case of this image, I wanted to lighten the man’s face, so I dragged the cursor over his face; Photoshop selected Red and lightened that part of the image.
- Custom Preset: Finally, if there’s a particular black-and-white color mix that you want to use again in other photos, you can simply save your mixture as a custom preset and re-use it. See the screenshot below. You can also create a Photoshop action for your black-and-white mix to speed up the process even more.
Let me know if this process works for you and what questions or suggestions you have for black-and-white conversions in Photoshop. There are more advanced methods to use such as working with Channels, but that’s the subject of another article.