Photoshop black and white conversion tips: the best ways to make mono images

Photoshop black and white conversion: contrast control

There are many ways to make black and white images in Photoshop, but some are better than others. In this tutorial we reveal the best all-around Photoshop black and white conversion techniques to evoke the true magic of monochrome.

Photoshop black and white conversion tips: the best ways to make mono images

Most digital cameras on the market today can create black and white images, and in some cases with a range of nice effects, but the best monochrome results are still generally produced by converting a colour image using Photoshop or Adobe Camera Raw.

Of course, if your camera allows you to capture Raw and JPEG images simultaneously with the black and white mode enabled, you can have the best of both worlds, a quick monochrome shot and a colour Raw file that you can convert later.

This can be a very useful way of working because it enables you to see the scene in black and white through the EVF or on the LCD.

SEE MORE: Black and white photography – what every photographer needs to know

Photoshop offers several ways of converting a colour image to black and white, including a simple desaturation (which tends to produce rather flat images), selecting a single colour channel and the more complex Channel Mixer method.

Using a single channel to create a black and white image uses just the brightness of the red, green or blue channels, whereas the Channel Mixer method, as the name suggests, blends the input from the three colour channels.

Until relatively recently the Channel Mixer approach was considered to be the best, but the Photoshop Black and White adjustment (which is best applied as an Adjustment Layer) and the HSL/Grayscale controls in Adobe Camera Raw are a better option, giving greater control in a more easily understood fashion.

These two methods allow you to adjust the brightness of the colours that make up the image.

Photoshop black and white conversion: use a black and white Adjustment Layer

To create a Black and White Adjustment Layer, simply click the Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel and select the appropriate option, or select Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Black & White.

This opens a panel that’s almost identical to the one under the HSL tab in Adobe Camera Raw, and has sliding controls that allow you to adjust the brightness of the six constituent colours – even though they are already converted to monochrome. Sliding a control to the left darkens that colour while sliding to the right brightens it.

It can be useful to select one of the preset adjustments from the drop-down box that mimic the effect of using traditional coloured filters with black and white film – at least as a starting point. Once you settle on one you can always tweak it further by moving the sliding controls.

Photoshop black and white conversion tips: the best ways to make mono images

High Contrast Red Filter
This has darkened the blue of the sky and brightened the foliage to bring out the clouds and create a high-contrast image.

Blue Filter
Using a blue filter effect brightens blues and darkens oranges and yellows, so the land is dark while the sky is light in tone in this image.

Green Filter
Because a filter darkens its opposing colour and brightens its own, the green filter produces a low-contrast image from this scene.

PAGE 1 – Photoshop black and white conversion: use a black and white Adjustment Layer
PAGE 2 – Photoshop black and white conversion: use the hand
PAGE 3 – Photoshop black and white conversion: contrast control
PAGE 4 – Photoshop black and white conversion: toning with a Gradient Map

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