Take control of conversion
The biggest problem with in-camera black and white is that contrasting colours can end up with a similar tonal value in your images.
There are a number of ways to change the way that individual colours are converted into black and white, including in-camera filter effects, but the best way to learn is by using the black-and-white adjustment tools in either Elements or Photoshop CS.
These adjustments allow you to use sliders to control how individual colours are converted into black-and-white tones. Darkening or lightening the tones of these colours can transform your final result compared to a more basic conversion.
To use these tools you’ll need to use a colour original, so you should either turn off the black-and-white picture mode on your camera, or simply shoot in raw format and then process the raw file without using the black-and-white effect.
Shooting for success
This conversion technique relies on contrasting colours in your original image, so we chose to shoot a simple pink flower against a blue background. The basic set-up was positioned on a table close to a window, but not in direct sunlight.
This diffuse lighting was deliberately chosen to provide a soft light without there being too many shadows on the flower or the background.
With your image open in Elements, you simply need to go to Enhance>Convert to Black and White.
This will open up a new window that contains a whole range of preset styles to choose from, along with the manual controls for adjusting the red, green and blue intensity, and a contrast control.
On the next page we’ll take a look at some of the Preset options available in Photoshop Elements.
Black and white conversion in Photoshop Elements
Although the preset options are designed for specific subjects, such as portraits and landscapes, it’s often worth trying them on any type of image before you start adjusting the colour sliders, as they will give a good starting point for your conversion.
This preset converts the image so that the reds are slightly darker than greens or blues.
With this preset the conversion sliders are set so the blues are dark and reds are lighter.
While the preset values give a good starting point for your conversions, you can also drag the individual sliders to fine-tune the results for your subject.
For our flower shot, we wanted to darken the petals a bit, so we dragged the Red slider left until the majority of the petals were a mid-grey or darker.
The rest of the image was too dark though, so we dragged the Green slider up until the overall image contained a full range of tones, from black to white.
Black and white conversion in Photoshop
The Black and White adjustment in Photoshop CS offers control over a greater range of colours than the Elements version, along with a range of preset options through a drop-down menu.
This means that you can more accurately target individual colours such as yellow, cyan and magenta in your images.
Changes can also be applied on an Adjustment Layer, rather than to the image itself.
What can go wrong
Darkening colours by dragging the colour sliders too far left can create haloes or dark lines around details in the image, especially where there’s a contrasting colour. The solution is to drag the slider up until the lines disappear.