In addition to the presets we found in the Channel Mixer menu, there are quite a few extra in the Black & White menu, including Neutral Density, Maximum filters, and more.
Although we’ll be using Adobe Photoshop CS6, most of the tools and techniques featured here have been included in Photoshop for years now so feel free to follow along with older editions. Furthermore, the general principles can be easily adapted to Photoshop Elements and other advanced photo editing software tools like GIMP.
In addition to the extra color channels to play with, the Black & White menu also includes some handy tools. Near the Presets drop down menu, you’ll find a small hand icon and a checkbox labeled Tint. Let’s talk about the hand icon first.
The overlay-and-opacity trick, by the way, is a great one to apply to just about any black and white photograph you’re working with–we’re huge fans of sneaking a little semi-opaque layer into the photo at the end as a means of really emphasizing the contrast of the photo.
So intense, in fact, that the whites are blown out and the black are quite black. If what you’re going for is a gritty photo with hard light, then you’ve certainly arrived. Most people will want to make one final tweak, though.
If you have a tip or trick of your own to share (and there’s certainly more than one way to tweak a picture in Photoshop), join in the conversation below to help your fellow readers on their path to photo editing Nirvana.
If you’re armed with some photos to play with and your copy of Photoshop, it’s time to get started. For this tutorial we will be using a photo of our tireless sidekick Medieval Spawn–he’s an ideal model as he never complains, doesn’t mind the scorching sun, and only asks that we occasionally dust him. The above photo is the base image we’re working with. Every technique we use in the various sections of the tutorial will be applied to this base image so that you can see how the different techniques yield different outcomes with a stable frame of reference.
Now, in those olden days, a darkroom photographer had to eyeball his print to make sure there was a true black and a true white, and then make adjustments in the darkroom. Today you can do this in post processing, and that’s what those sliders are for. Tweaking them can get you closer to that black and closer to the white. You can add or subtract contrast, bring out detail or lose it, depending on your goals. And the only way to really get the hang of what those sliders can accomplish is to practice.
First, take the term “black and white” literally. Your black and white photo should have a black and a white. This means a deep, rich black and a clear white (a blown-out sky doesn’t count as your white).
Armed with that knowledge, we can easily predict what will happen when we use the Black and White with Red Filter preset, right? The red detailing on the Spawn figure will be lighter and the blue portions will be significantly darker. Let’s apply the filter and see:
You can use the Channel Mixer manually or you can use the presets. When Adobe noticed how much people were using the Channel Mixer to recreate the look of black and white photos, they started including presets that automatically tweak the channels to emulate black and white film with an infrared filter and various color filters (like red, green, and yellow). You’ll find all those under the Preset drop down menu.
color balancephoto printingcolorRAWpost processingblack and white
Black and white photography is a really enjoyable genre of photography that gives you an opportunity to showcase a subject, scene, or other elements of your photo in a, proverbially speaking, new light. Things that we’re used to seeing in full color take on new and interesting characteristics when seen in black and white. Cityscapes and portraits take on a certain intensity and shapes and patterns take precedence over colors.
Instead of clicking that “black and white adjustment” button, you can click on the “channel mixer” button instead (that’s the multi-colored one that looks a little bit like the universal recycling symbol). Now you can click the “monochrome button” and adjust the sliders until the image looks like you want it to.
In monochrome however, every color is converted to a shade of gray. When shooting, it’s important to think with tonal range in mind. Areas of darker gray (nearly black) and very light gray (nearly white) will be far more interesting and dynamic than just having shades all near the middle of the spectrum. Black and white photography utilizes light in its purest form. Being able to quickly identify areas of light, shadow, and high contrast will go a long way in helping your subjects stand out.
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Once you create the layer, you’ll have a black and white image similar to the one seen above. As far as color to black and white conversions go, it’s not bad (and it’s certainly better than just dumping the color values completely by converting your base image to grayscale). It does, however, lack a certain punchiness. We can remedy that by quickly adding in another layer.
In order to have more consistent results with your digital workflow, it’s important to understand the basics of how camera filters work. When you place a red filter, for example, on a camera the resulting image will lighten the color associated with the filter (and adjacent colors on the color spectrum) and darken colors opposite to it on the color spectrum. So a red filter will make red (and to a lesser degree orange, yellow, and magenta) appear lighter while making greens and blues darker.
Without color to help distinguish different parts of an image, it can be difficult to capture photos that don’t look and feel flat. You can overcome this obstacle by keeping your frame as simple as possible. Instead of looking for complex scenes, try to identify simple shapes, forms, and textures that stand out.
If you’ve spent enough time in Photoshop or other post-processing software, you may be tempted to just open up your photo and select “convert to greyscale.” There, done. Sadly, while this is certainly the easiest method it really isn’t any better than using your in-camera black and white mode. But the happy news is that the conversion process really isn’t very difficult once you know what to do. Here’s how it’s done in Photoshop:
One thing a lot of computer users don’t think about is their monitor. Have you ever wondered why that red t-shirt you ordered from Amazon.com turned out to be more of a maroon when you took it out of the box? That’s because your monitor isn’t calibrated to show colors the way they appear in real life (though Amazon’s photography might have also had something to do with that). Your monitor needs to be calibrated, and not just so it will show you true colors but also so that it will give you an accurate look at your black and white images. This is important because when you decide to print your images you don’t want to be surprised (and disappointed) by the results. So don’t use a monitor that has been set to high contrast and 100% brightness when editing those black and white photos because your photos aren’t going to look like that anywhere else. Use a monitor calibration tool to find your monitor’s black point before you start converting all those files.
In your pursuit of those perfect blacks and that whites, don’t forget about the grays. Your goal is to have a range from the almost-white to the almost-black. Too few grays and your image is going to look muddy and flat.
Black and White Photography Gallery Symmetry Helps with Better Composition
If this is your thinking, it’s time to re-examine the way you think about photography – and the way you see the world around you. Black and white photos have something that color photos do not: simplicity. When you strip away all the color from a scene, you immediately have something that is simpler than its original.
No leading lines available? Research and experiment with other forms of composition as well! Photography isn’t about what you can capture in a frame, it’s about how to place objects and subjects within a frame to maximize interest.
Mamiya 645 Pro TL 400 35 mmchurch of zebra #2 by Flickr user mugley
At the top of the layers window, where it says “Normal” in a drop down menu (next to Opacity), pull the menu down and select “Overlay”. You’ll end up with a very intense black and white image like this:
Olympus E-M5 200 f/3.2 0.001 sec (1/2000) 17 mmNYC #7 by Flickr user Thomas Leuthard
We mentioned in the previous section how Adobe had started including Black and White filter presets in the Channel Mixer menu for all those black and white enthusiasts. Starting with Photoshop CS3, they went one step further and added in an entire Black and White adjustment layer fine-tuned for creating really fantastic black and white images.
Remember that converting to black and white isn’t going to save a bad image, so you still need to follow all those composition and exposure rules you use for your color images. Think of black and white photography as a different way of viewing the world – try to see each potential photograph in terms of line, shape and form before you decide if you want to photograph for black and white. If those qualities in your scene stand out above the color in that scene, you’ve probably got a potentially good black and white image. Either way, it pays to know how to make that choice.
You can find it by navigating to Layer -> New Adjustment Layer -> Black & White. As soon as you select it, Photoshop will create the new adjustment layer and, unlike the Channel Mixer, automatically desaturate the image.
Improving RAW Photos with Adobe Photoshop Elements – Vibrancy, Saturation and Sharpness
The dots on dice and dominoes are called “pips”; the term means a group of small but easily counted items and is also used to refer to the seeds of some small fruits such as tangerines.
When you are tweaking the channel values in the Channel Mixer, in order to maintain the exact exposure value your photo originally had (albeit with different color/tonal values) you need to keep the total sum of the RGB values below 100%. Feel free to experiment with spiking them above or below that level but be aware that doing so will blowout or darken your photo, respectively.
Every digital camera and image editor under the sun has a simple black and white/monochrome setting that simply dumps all the color data from the image. This is the most awful and least elegant way to convert a color image into a black and white one. You have zero control over the output, and as such you’re unable to make any fine adjustments to the process that will yield a vastly superior product.
When shooting with a traditional SLR camera loaded with black and white film and outfitted with a filter or two to emphasize certain light wavelengths, you’re doing more than simply capturing the world without the color data. With that in mind, any digital workflow that seeks to create a vibrant and interesting black and white image needs to be heavily informed by what the old way of doing things was comprised of.
The other tool of interest here is the Tint tool. If you have a hankering for some old-school toning and tinting, you can add a tint to your photo here without the hassle of making another adjustment layer. If we check Tint, it defaults to a sepia-style tint, but you can easily click on the color swatch to pick a different color.
Armed with these tips and tricks, you can take the great photos you’re snapping and turn them into stunning black and white compositions in a flash.
There are no boring subjects or locations. If you’re having trouble creating an interesting image wherever you’re at, try experimenting with the angle and perspective of your shot. Not only can this help simplify your photos but it will also help you capture a location or a subject in a completely original way.
(or how to create a great black and white image in the digital era)
Now pick up your camera and try looking at the world in black and white!
If you opt to make manual adjustments to the image, make note of something important from the output of the preset: the total sum of the RGB values is 100%. In the case of the Red Filter, the red value is 100% and the Green and Blue values are 0%.
As well as getting black and white parts, you can also use these sliders to choose the grays in your image. For more on how to do this, see my other article on the secrets to great black and white photography
Ok I’m doing all that, and my images still don’t look good when I print them. Why?
Canon PowerShot G7 75 f/4.0 0.001 sec (1/1000) 7.4 mmSky symphony by Flickr user kevin dooley
How to Convert Your Color Photos to Stunning Black and White Prints
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.
But shooting color JPGs and converting them in post-processing isn’t the answer, either. That’s because the JPG is by its nature a compressed format, which means that when saving a JPG image your camera throws out information it deems to be unnecessary in the interests of creating a smaller file. We photographers know better, of course. We know that when it comes to a photographic image, there is no such thing as “unnecessary information.” You need to have that higher dynamic range in order to get an image with a good range of tones, from black to white and everything in between. So when you’re shooting with the intention of converting to black and white, shoot in RAW. That way your post-processing software has everything it needs to produce a great black and white image.
When you’re venturing beyond using the presets, there are a few important considerations and tricks to keep in mind. First, like the Channel Mixer menu you want to pay attention to your values. You can blow out or underexpose individual colors very easily (pushing the Reds, for example, all the way to 300 or all the way down to 0 will turn all the red values in the picture pure white and pure black, respectively). Unlike the Channel Mixer, however, there isn’t a clean cut formula for making sure you’re not over/underexposing. Depending on the settings you use, the sum of your color values can fall anywhere between 250-650 quite easily and you’ll still have a well balanced image.
In this tutorial, we’ve outlined several techniques for converting color photographs to black and white ones that capture the character of traditional black and white photography. Whether you pick the simplest or the most advanced techniques, we’re confident you’ll be pleased with the results.
If you’re looking for some pro tips on how to convert your images to monochrome, check out our PRO tutorial How to Master Black & White in Photoshop. We break down professional techniques to create impressive, balanced images without the use of color.
In such a case, it’s a perfect time to speed up your workflow with a few little shortcuts. The first shortcut is to use the Gradient Map to respectfully dump the color values of your photo while preserving the contrast and richness of your image. To do so, navigate to Layer -> New Adjustment Layer -> Gradient Map. The default gradient map is black and white (but feel free to poke around in the drop down menu if you’re in the mood for, say, a red and green gradient).
Canon 8800Fconey island bird man by Flickr user Barry Yanowitz
Symmetry, patterns, and texture are all closely related and can yield impressive photographs when captured and converted to black and white. If you’re having trouble getting the image you want from further back, don’t be afraid to get up close! Move in and look for repeating patterns, lines, and balance.
Taking away that color also takes away the emotions that color conveys – without those warm reds and oranges, we don’t feel that excitement and optimism that we often feel when looking at colors on that end of the spectrum. Without those blues and greens, we don’t feel that peace and tranquility that cool colors often make us feel. Instead, black and white photographers have to rely on the content of the image to convey emotion. And that’s not a bad thing – it’s an excellent challenge for anyone who is interested in improving their composition skills in particular and their photography skills in general.
If you were one of those old-school photographers learning your trade in the campus darkroom, then you already know what qualities a good black and white print ought to have. If you’ve only ever taken digital photos in color, then you may need a little primer.
Converting color photos to black and white images that harken to the golden age of black and white photography is an art form. Read on as we show you how to capture the crisp contrast and mood of vintage photographs with today’s digital tools.
To use the Channel Mixer navigate to Layer -> New Adjustment Layer -> Channel Mixer. This will create a new non-destructive adjustment layer over your current image as well as open up the Channel Mixer–as seen in the screenshot above.
Select Opacity in the Layers window and adjust the slider down from 100%. We find that somewhere around 20-30% or less is perfect for most photos. In the case of this particular photo we were happy with 26%. It adds a very pleasing punch to the photo that’s reminiscent of old fashioned high-contrast black and white photos.
Using the Channel Mixer tool to convert images to black and white is one of the oldest tricks in the Photoshop book. The principal reason it has remained such a well loved technique is that it allows you to easily emulate the way black and white film and the accompanying lens filters reduce or emphasize various color wave lengths.
Shooting in Chicago, we’re surrounded by parallel streets, large vertical structures, and tunnel-like views. Any time you have lines or structures that seem to extend out to the horizon, it’s a perfect situation to capture leading lines. Leading lines are one of the most powerful compositional techniques available and are a powerful way to pull a viewer into an image. Streets, railroad tracks, buildings, rivers – there are countless examples that you can take advantage of when you’re out shooting.
Color is an incredibly power tool to help separate objects and subjects in a photo. For example, photographing someone in a red shirt against a green background immediately adds depth and interest to an image.
So now that I’ve convinced you that black and white photography is worth pursuing, you may be thinking about those black and white images you’ve already taken with your camera’s “black and white” mode, back in the days when you were experimenting with all the things your camera could do. They seemed flat and lifeless, didn’t they? That’s because your camera’s black and white mode is really not the best way to capture a stunning black and white image. The processor in your camera just isn’t very good at taking that color scene and converting it to a range of tones that make for a pleasing black and white image. If you rely on this mode your photos will have that flat factor – a bunch of muddy, ugly grays where there used to be color.
Once your file is open and staring back at you in all its colored glory, open up the “Adjustments” window. Now click on the “black and white adjustment” button (it’s a square divided into two diagonal portions, one black and one white).
Now use the color sliders (that’s right, the color sliders) to adjust the tones. I know your image is now in black and white, but that underlying color data is still there, and that’s what you’ll use to tweak the image.
Right click on the Gradient Map layer we just made and select Duplicate. Your image will become a little more intense as the effect of the Gradient Map is enhanced. It’s fairly subtle, but you might be happy with that tiny bit of extra punch. We’re going to take things step further.
Back in the caveman days, you know, when we took photos on film, a formal education in photography often began with black and white. Black and white photography was a good format for beginning students because the film was easy to process and darkroom techniques were straightforward. Today we bypass that whole film-to-darkroom thing, so a lot of us are passing over the opportunity to learn about shooting in black and white. After all, why would we want to shoot in drab shades of gray? We live in a color world.
With that in mind, let’s say that we wanted to really mute the background of our image and place extra focus and emphasis on Spawn. Recall that the background of the original color image was mostly greens and yellows. When we click on the background using the dropper tool those are the channels that blink in response. By adjusting those channels down we end up with the image seen above–the background is understated and the figure stands out.
With that in mind, run wild with the manual adjustments. All you need to do to use the Channel Mixer in manual mode is to check the Monochrome box and adjust the sliders until you are satisfied with your image.
When you have time to tinker, it’s a lot of fun to use the previous two techniques. But let’s say you’re crunched for time and you want to convert some photos quickly to black and white, but at a higher quality than simply desaturating them would provide.
The problem, however, for the modern shutterbug is that there isn’t an immediately accessible way to capture the soul of old school black and white photography with a digital camera.
By clicking the hand icon your cursor will turn into a dropper tool. You can then tap anywhere on the photo and the slider that corresponds to that color/shade will blink. This makes it extremely easy to make fine adjustments to just that color. For example, you may find that in a portrait you’re converting the sky, an expanse of grass, or the shirt the subject is wearing are overpowering the image. You can easily click on whatever portion of the image seems too overbearing and then adjust things accordingly to de-emphasize it.