Photography first appeared to us as film and was commercially available first in black-and-white. As technology improved, film cameras could take pictures in colour. But even now, in our digital era of photography, black and white photography has not lost its popularity. In fact, it is considered as its own art form and has sentimental value.
Black and White Conversion Methods
“When you photograph people in colour, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!” – Ted Grant
In digital photography, there are many ways to turn a colour image into a black-and-white image. We will look at how this can be accomplished in Adobe Photoshop.
Black and White Photography – Desaturation Method
The desaturation method is the most simple and obvious way to turn a colour image into black-and-white. It may not always give the best results for every image but it does exactly that: removes all colour from the image.
Open the image in Photoshop. Duplicate your original layer so that whatever changes that you make to the image will not affect the original and you can always start over.
To create a copy of the layer right click on the “Background” layer in the “Layers” window and select “Duplicate Layer”
Alternatively, you can also drag the “Background” layer onto the new layer icon.
Make sure your new layer is selected as the active layer.
Go to Image> Adjustments> Desaturate
or press Shift+Ctrl+U (Win) / Shift+Command+U (Mac)
The result is a black-and-white image that can sometimes be less than what you hoped for. In this example, we can see that the skin appears to be a bit too dark and there is not much separation between the body of the model and the background.
“Black & White” Adjustment Layer Method
Our eye perceives colour much differently from how Photoshop interprets it.
This method takes a bit longer time to apply but gives much more control over how Photoshop interprets the lightness of the colours during conversion.
With this method, it is not necessary to duplicate the original layer since an adjustment layer does not affect the image directly.
To create the “Black & White” adjustment layer select “Black & White” adjustment layer from the “New fill or adjustment layer” in the “Layers” window or select the “Black & White” icon from the “Adjustments” window.
The adjustment layer settings window should automatically open. If you close the window, double click the layer icon to open it again.
The settings window contains presets, eye dropper slider, tint, auto button and six sliders for reds, yellows, greens, cyans, blues and magenta colours. The default values on the sliders give a result similar to that of the desaturation method.
The auto button analyzes the image and tries to give an approximate result of what it thinks would be a better color representation. Auto sometimes gives good results but will not always give you exactly what you want.
You can play around with the presets to see the different variations that you can get. Some of the presets simulate classical black-and-white filters for the camera.
A tint can be selected to give an old photograph look or a specific colour tint.
Any colour can be chosen in the Color Picker by clicking the square icon next to “Tint”
The six colour sliders give out the value that tells Photoshop how the colours will be interpreted into black-and-white. To make the colour range appear lighter move the slider to the right. To make the colour range appear darker, move the slider to the left.
At the bottom of the window there are icons to clip to the layer below, preview the previous state, reset to default, toggle layer visibility and delete the adjustment layer.
Is to correct the skin in the image, since skin colour is usually something between red and yellow, the reds and yellows sliders have to be adjusted.
If you’re not sure which slider a colour belongs to, you can always use the eyedropper slider. Click on the hand icon in the Adjustment window. Click and drag left or right directly on the image to change the values of the colour.
The result after the adjustments gives a much more natural-looking black-and-white conversion.
How would the conversion work on a landscape?
The “Black & white” adjustment layer method works great on many other types of images that contain a broad array of colours.
For example on a landscape, you can darken the sky to create contrast between the clouds and the clear sky. Decrease the Blue and/or Cyan values to achieve a dramatic sky.
To increase the brightness of plants, trees and foliage increase the values of Yellows and/or Greens.
Balancing out the different colour values can give you the precise look you’re looking for. Play around and experiment with the sliders and you can change the image dramatically to create different interesting effects.
Here is an example of what the image looks like after the default settings and after adjustments.
Black and white photography can change the way you look at the same photograph and bring more meaning and depth to your art. If you want to get inspired to create better photos go to The National Geographic collection of some of the best black-and-white photography out there.
To find more inspiration we recommend to visit LensCulture and see the Black & White Photography Awards 2018. If you want to find the latest trends in black and white photography you should start by checking BWvision and Pinterest.
Congratulations on finishing the black and white photography tutorial! And now that you have dipped your feet in creating black and white photography digitally, go out and explore more about this fascinating art form! We recommend that you start by reading this fascinating article – Finding Your Inner Photographer: Making the Most of Your Camera. Remember to always try new things to spice up your creativity.
“Black and white are the colours of photography. To me, they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected.” – Robert Frank