Photoshop displays the image’s color mode along with other information at the top of the document window.
Up next, we’ll look at another fast and easy way to convert an image to black and white in Photoshop, this time by simply desaturating the color!
The next conversion shows what happens when just the red is adjusted. The differences here are a little more subtle. You’ll see the differences in two areas. First, look at the mans face and hand. Because there is a bit of red in his skin, it becomes brighter by moving the red color slider to the right and increasing the amount. If you look closely, you’ll also notice that the red coat on the woman in the background has also become lighter.
We can also tell that the image is in the RGB color mode by going up to the Image menu at the top of the screen and hovering our mouse cursor over the very first option that appears, Mode (short for Color Mode), which brings up another menu showing us all the various color modes that Photoshop can use to reproduce colors. The current color mode of the image will have a checkmark beside its name, which in this case is RGB Color:
Now, some newer cameras offer a potential way around this dilema of shooting color or black & white. They can create large, RAW color files and also a smaller black & white jpg file at the same time. While this is handy, it takes up more space on your card, therefore less images. This can be a big drawback – especially if you’re traveling. Also, just like I said earlier, we’re back to the old problem that the camera is creating the black & white file, not you. It can give you an indication of what the file looks like in black & white – but so what? It probably won’t look like the final image anyway. You need to determine that when you’re doing your editing.
Click “Discard” when Photoshop asks if you want to discard the color information.
So, let’s look at what a difference these “tweaks” make to the image. The first gray scale image [under the color one] shows an automatic B&W conversion, letting the software do it for you. It does an OK job – though you’ll note that it’s sort of flat, with not a lot of contrast. The next converson shows where the color yellow has been adjusted. Because the flowers are predominantly yellow – by increasing the percent of yellow it makes them brighter, almost white. A similar effect is shown when the green percent is increased. Note that the mans’ green sweatshirt becomes lighter – setting it apart from the background.
Restore the color in the image by choosing Undo Grayscale from the Edit menu.
Keep in mind that if you save the image at this point and close out of it, the color information will be lost forever. To quickly switch the mode back to RGB color, go up to the Edit menu at the top of the screen and choose Undo Grayscale, or simply press the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Z (Win) / Command+Z (Mac):
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The most significant change took place when the blue and cyan are both reduced in percentage [moving the slider to the left] which darkens them and creates a much more contrasty image. Now the man and the flowers really stand out from the background.
Before I go on any more about “gray scale” let’s talk about the options you have available for creating black & white images. First, a lot of digital cameras these days have presets that allow you to capture any picture as a black & white image. While it seems an easy way to go if you want black & white images – there are some significant problems with doing this. The first, and most obvious, is if you shoot in “black & white mode” you lose all the original color informtion. It’s discarded and there’s no way to get it back. That’s a big loss if you’re thinking in “gray scale” for doing your color conversions. It’s also important to keep the color information since I often render an image in both color and black & white. The other problem inherent with this is that the camera does all the interpreting of what makes a good black & white image – not you!
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At the moment, this photo is in the default RGB color mode. How do we know that? We know because Photoshop tells us the current color mode of the image at the top of the document window:
The full color version of the photo will reappear in the document window and the Red, Green and Blue channels will replace the single Gray channel in the Channels palette.
And if we look in our Channels palette, we can see that the original Red, Green and Blue channels have disappeared, which means that Photoshop no longer has any way of reproducing colors in the image. All we have now is a single Gray channel giving us our black and white version:
Desaturation vs Grayscale When Working with Black and White Conversions
There are two major ways that many photographers know to convert their images to black and white. The first is a method used by many people new to photo editing: desaturation. When you desaturate the colors you literally take away any sort of vividness to them. The other method is converting to greyscale–and many more experienced shooters do this method instead.
Gray Scale vs Black and White Images – or why you should always shoot in color. 13 03 2011
So how will changing the color mode from RGB to Grayscale suddenly give us a black and white version of the photo? Unlike the RGB color mode which can reproduce millions (and even billions) of colors, the Grayscale color mode doesn’t reproduce color at all. It can reproduce black, white and all the shades of gray in between, and nothing more. When we convert a color photo to Grayscale, Photoshop uses the original color information to essentially “guess” what the black and white version of the image should look like before tossing the color out the window.
Here’s an image I have open in Photoshop. I’ll be using this same image throughout these tutorials so we can more easily compare the results as we try different ways of converting it to black and white:
It’s definitely a black and white version of the image, but is it any good? Not really. Areas that should be bright are too dark, other areas that should be darker are too bright, and overall, it looks rather uninteresting. Worse still, we had no control over the conversion. Photoshop simply stripped the color from the image and left us with black, white and various shades of gray in its place. However, was it fast? Absolutely! If we hadn’t taken some time to understand how the RGB and Grayscale color modes work, we could have converted this photo to Grayscale in a matter of seconds, making it a good choice if we’re creating some sort of special effect and need to quickly remove the color from a photo without worrying about image quality.
If we look again at the information along the top of the document window, we can see that the color mode is now listed as “Gray”, short for Grayscale:
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The Channels palette shows the Red, Green and Blue channels that Photoshop is using to reproduce colors in the image.
Photoshop, by default, uses red, green and blue channels to reproduce all the colors we see in our images, but we can change the way Photoshop handles color simply by changing the color mode of the image. There’s several different color modes we can choose from, but the one we’re interested in here is the most basic of the bunch – the Grayscale color mode.
So what’s the difference between desaturation vs grayscale? We asked Sharad Mangalick, the Senior Product Manager of Digital Imaging at Adobe about what each does particularly when working with the images in Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop. According to him “When you desaturate the image, you are toning down the color. The color information is still there though. Clicking on the black & white button (or using the B&W portion of the HSL panel) converts the image to grayscale. Converting to grayscale allows you to tweak the B&W mix, which is not something that can do when you desaturate the image.”
So more or less, it has to do with how much editing you want to do after you make the image into a black and white. If you just want to change it and not do any sort of extra editing, then desaturation could be okay. But otherwise, you may want to edit particular color regions to see what the results will turn into. For example, the image above was mostly in a blue cast, and choosing to boost the luminance in the blue levels made specific parts of the image brighter indeed.
The Red, Green and Blue color channels have been replaced with a single Gray channel in the Channels palette.
Photoshop Black and White Conversions – Grayscale Color Mode Tutorial
To help understand how Photoshop is reproducing the colors in the image, let’s switch over to the Channels palette for a moment. You’ll find it grouped in between the Layers and Paths palettes. Simply click on the name tab at the top of the Channels palette to switch to it. We don’t need to get into a lengthy discussion here about how Channels work, but notice that there’s a Red channel, a Green channel and a Blue channel listed. These channels act like filters, mixing different amounts of red, green and blue together to create all the colors we see in the photo. The channel at the very top, RGB, isn’t really a channel at all. It’s just the result of mixing the three colors together to create the image we see:
I know the title of this post must sound a little odd, but I promise that it will all make sense in the end. First, let’s talk about gray scale vs black & white images. If you talk to any photographer they will always use the term “black and white”. If you talk to a designer, they will usually refer to these same images as “gray scale” [or if you’re British, “grey scale”] images. So what’s the difference between the two? Actually, there is no difference. OK, so far I haven’t really helped to clear anything up – BUT – what I want to accomplish here is to have you think in terms of “gray scale” whenever you want to end up with a black and white image.
To convert an image to Grayscale, select it from the Image > Mode menu.
Keep this in mind when you’re thinking about turning your images into black and whites.
The checkmark to the left of “RGB Color” tells us that the image is currently in the RGB color mode.
Photoshop instantly throws the photo’s color information away and leaves us with its best guess on what the black and white version should look like:
Photoshop will pop open a small dialog box asking us if we really want to discard the color information. If you’re using Photoshop CS3 or later (I’m using Photoshop CS4 here), Photoshop will recommend that you use the new Black and White image adjustment instead for more control over the black and white conversion, but since we’re interested here in what the Grayscale color mode can do for us, click the Discard button:
Everything I’ve said so far has been to, hopefully, convince you to do all your shooting in color. Now comes the reason why you should be thinking in “gray scale” in lieu of “black & white”. When you’re editing your images you need to keep in mind that every color has a value that can be interpreted as a shade of gray – hence “gray scale”. Not only that, but any color can be interpreted in many shades of gray – from white to black! Sounds crazy, but it’s true. By using your editing software to interpret each color’s value into a specific shade of grey you can significantly alter the final image and make it look just like you want it – not the camera’s interpretation of what it thinks looks good. Let me show you a few examples. Below are a series of gray scale images made from one color image. While it looks as if I’ve changed the brightness or contrast in several – the only change has been to adjust the percent of a single, specific color – changing its value – or the shade of gray if you will. If you have Photoshop CS 3, 4 or 5 or Photoshop Elements 7, 8 or 9, it’s as simple as moving a slider to the right or left to make the changes. In each of those software applications – after the black & white auto-conversion is made – they allow you to make adjustments by “tweaking” the value of each color by moving those sliders.
To quickly summarize, most images, by default, are in the RGB color mode. To convert a color photo to black and white using the Grayscale color mode, simply go up to the Image menu, choose Mode, and then choose Grayscale, then click the Discard button when Photoshop asks if you really want to discard the color information. This is a fast and convenient way to remove color from a photo when image quality is not a concern, but definitely not recommended if you’re trying to impress anyone with your black and white photography skills or your creative abilities.
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The color mode at the top of the document window is now listed as “Gray”.
In this first in a series of tutorials on the many ways of converting a color photo to black and white in Photoshop, we’ll look at one of the absolute quickest and easiest ways go about it, which is by converting the image to the Grayscale color mode.
To convert the image to Grayscale, simply click on Grayscale in the list of color modes:
The last image on the far right shows when all the changes are applied to the B&W auto conversion. Is it better? I think so. The flowers have been emphasized. The man stands out because his skin has a lighter value and his sweatshirt is now a more distinct value from the flowers. Of course the dark background now makes the picture pop.
Normally, digital photos are in what’s called the RGB color mode. RGB simply stands for Red, Green and Blue, and in this color mode, Photoshop reproduces every color in the image by combining different amounts of red, green and blue, which are the three primary colors of light. Every color our eyes can see is made up of some combination of these three primary colors. Pure white, for example, contains 100% of red, green and blue, while pure black is the complete absence of red, green and blue. All colors in between are made up of some combination of the three.
So there you have it. All of the above was to show you why it’s so important to save your color data and use it to make your black and white – or if you prefer – gray scale images. I hope you’ll give this a try and play around with the many options you’ll see as you move the various sliders. Your final image will probably look different than the one I might create – but it will be all yours. Best – Bill