• Matthew Brooks

The Many Ways To Make A Photo Black & White In Photoshop



Following on in the 'many ways' series of blogs we look at converting a colour picture into black and white. Like all the techniques shown in the 'many ways' blogs, black and white is a very simple thing to do. As you will have seen in the first of these blogs The Many Ways To Colour Tone In Photoshop; in Photoshop there are multiple ways to do most things and get similar results.


This is the stock image I am using because it has a good range of colours in it so you can see how some colours can look similar in black and white. Here I will show you 5 ways to turn a colour photo into a black and white one.

1. Black and White Layer

Who would have guessed. The first way is the black and white layer. This would probably be most peoples go to way of making a photo black and white. With this way you get control over the colour channels. Each of them you can make lighter or darker to gain the best variance and contrast. Some colours, though very different colours, could look the same when converted to black and white. So having the ability to change the tonality of certain colours works very well.

I personally feel like the default starting point is ok but I would always tweek it to get the result I want. You do have Preset looks in this layer. The preset drop down has plenty of options; high contrast, red filter, infrared, etc.... On a side note you can also turn black and white into sepia by selecting the tint box and choosing a tint colour.


After a slight tweek.... much more dynamic and less flat. I have circled a section which contains different colours in the original colour pic. With the default settings of the black and white layer (above) these colours look kind of samey. However with the tweek of the sliders that area has more contrast.


2. Colour Channel Layer

This is a fairly new option to me. Since finding out about this option it may well be my personal favorite as you can make really contrasty black and white photos using this adjustment layer. Above the red slider you have a check box which says Monochrome. Click that and you have your black and white conversion. Even the default look has more contrast than the black and white layer. The way I get high contract is by dropping the constant to maybe -10 and raising the the colour pixel sliders. Low contrast by raising the constant to maybe +25 and lowering the colour pixel sliders. If you don't want to mess around with the sliders this too has a preset drop down. Not as many options as the Black and White layer presets, just ones that emulate colour filters.


3. Gradient Map

By choosing a gradient map that goes from black to white, it will map each tone exactly as it is on the grayscale chart. If you have seen or read "50 shades of grey", well there are actually 256 shades. Pure black being 0 and pure white being 255 and everything else inbetween.


Click on the black to white gradient to open more options.


Here you can move the mid point (circled in red) to make it darker or lighter. Or drag the black point to the right to increase blacks. The white point to the left to increase the whites. In many ways this part works a lot like a levels adjustment layer. You can get a nice final result from this.

4. Hue/Saturation Layer

This involves just desaturating the image. This way will make a black and white image but I find that it tends to be very grey, flat and dull looking. Also you have no control for this individual layer other than desaturating. Moving the lightness slider in any direction even slightly makes the picture horrible so I wouldn't touch that slider. You definitely need to use extra adjustment layers to get a great black and white.


5. Solid Colour Layer

Probably a way very few people would use or know about. However for that fact alone it is interesting enough to make this blog post. It is pretty much the same as the Hue/Saturation above, in that you are desaturating and nothing more. When the colour picker box comes up select all the way over to the left. It doesn't matter whether you choose pure black, pure white, 50% grey or anywhere in between, as long as you are all way to the left. This just means you have 0% saturation on the layer.


When you have done this you will just have a solid colour on your screen. Change the blend mode to either Hue (shown below) or colour or saturation. This will bring your picture back as a black and white image. You will have to rely on other adjustment layers to make it more dynamic.


So plenty of ways to make a black and white image. There are actually a few more I think but 5 is enough for now. Personally, I think any of the top 3 give really nice results. I couldn't recommend the bottom two ways to anyone as viable black and white conversion methods. As previously mentioned you can rely on other additional adjustment layers to make a nicer black and white out of the bottom two methods. However when the other three ways are superior to begin with then just choose them.

Undoubtedly there will be more 'many ways' blogs to come. For now however, thank for reading and see you soon.

#Photoshop #Editing #ManyWays #Adobe

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Hendy, Carmarthenshire

photographymb87@yahoo.com