My Favorite Black and White Conversion Method in Photoshop

Black and white photography may well be the ultimate classical expression of the art form, after all it is how photography started. It's still a continually popular aesthetic, even now well into the digital age. However, black and white images, in my opinion, should be simply more than the removal of color. Thankfully many thousands of photographers and designers agree with that, and the usage of black and white conversion methods and approaches is prevalent in the post production world.

If up until this moment your only method of creating a monochromatic image was to yank the saturation all the way down in Photoshop, Lightroom, or Capture One, then you've been missing out on a bevy of artistic possibilities when making your image black and white.

But wait, stop! 

Let me digress a bit by saying that your shooting and lighting approaches should, ideally, start with a monochrome vision in mind if you want to achieve premium results in your black and white work. Even wardrobe styling, makeup and set design / location scouting all contribute to the impact your final monochrome image will have. Yes, we've all been guilty of converting an image to black and white because we didn't know what else to do with it, or our color work wasn't cooperating that day, or whatever other excuse we told ourselves. But when you intentionally set out to shoot for monochrome, you start thinking in value and shadows and contrast, and (generally) craft a far more deliberate looking black and white work in the end.

Let's continue black & white conversion discussion.

Recently on a trip to Albuquerque NM, I worked with model Taylor Hayes in some properly scenic outdoor settings. After I worked with my usual array of light control methods such as scrims, reflectors and dish-on-a-strobe goodness, I opted to shoot a black and white set. I decided open sun would work well because it would afford me some added contrast and some possible specularity in the highlights. All this should yield me a decent black and white conversion possibility, I thought.

Simple shot of Taylor, minor color correction in Capture One, but otherwise SOOC.

If I opted to simply pull all the saturation from the above image, then I get this:

Slide the saturation all the way down, and voila! Black and white. But isn't there more you can do?

So what do I prefer to do?

I invite you to watch my tutorial video posted up top to see how I prefer to go about converting to black and white when I'm in Photoshop, and then check out this sequence of images below to see how radically different your monochrome images can look when you take a little extra time to find the exact look and vibe that you want. Each image, each series, can vary. So should your black and white images.

This is an animated GIF, with a new a frame every 4 seconds. It gives you a quick idea of how a flexible black and white conversion approach can yield very different results depending on how you tweak things. I don't claim that each sample here is amazing, as I did them in haste, but there are literally endless possibilities. You should explore monochrome conversion styles just as much as you do for your color work. Don't let black and white be simply "incidental".

Conclusion

I'm hardly the first to explore how to tweak my black and white images, and I won't be the last. But after I developed a conversion approach that I liked and use fairly consistently, I opted to create the setup for it as an Action (download for free here). To this end, I took the next leap and recorded a video tutorial on how I often use the approach. Have a look and happy converting!

How do you prefer to convert your images to black and white?

 

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16 Comments

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

There are different tools for different jobs. If you go to Home Depot you will find hammers that have different weights, shapes and sizes. No one is saying that you must use photoshop, but if you want that granular control, it is the best tool so far.

New Solid Colour
Black
Blending mode set to colour
Voilà...

Okay, add a curves layer too if needed ;)

Nick Rains's picture

This will give the same 'look' as Mode > Greyscale or B+W Adjustment layer (with sliders at neutral), or Channel Mixer or others. It's just proportionately 60/30/10 from the RGB channels.

Ataur Sujon's picture

Yes you are right Nick.. In most cases I used to follow the direction with client satisfaction.

Jan Vlcek's picture

Image - Adjustments - Gradient Map(with black and white colors)
If needed, add more contrast or add some slight sepia tone(I use 17% sepia filter)
If you like it, you can add some film grain

I get "This video is not available in your country." on most (means I tried several and none of them opened) of the videos on your channel.

Kamau Patrick's picture

try watching via proxy surfing websites to hide your IP e.g http://anonymouse.org/anonwww.html

paste the video link there..i guess that will help.

LOL!!
Oh wait... you're serious!
As Nino mentioned below, his channel is clearly open for everyone and the unavailability of this video was obviously an error.

Kamau Patrick's picture

sometimes errors occur and you have to find an alternative. but i really didnt mean to use questionable methods to access other peoples content....it was a suggestion just as he had asked for.

Nino Batista's picture

Let me know which country you're in and I will see what I can do. YouTube lets its partners have subscription channels but not in all countries, oddly enough, international commerce being what it is. This channel, however, is wide open and available in most all countries: http://www.youtube.com/ninobatista as is my weekly series at http://www.bkyd.tv

Keep in mind, some countries block YouTube outright, and there is nothing you, me or YouTube can do about it.

It wasn't available from Switzerland. I'm writing this from Ukraine and it works here.

Dan Ostergren's picture

I never quite do one black and white conversion the same as another. Sometimes I'll switch it to grayscale in ACR because I like the way it looks, and then play a bit with a curves adjustment layer. Other times I'll convert it using a black and white adjustment layer, plus curves, levels, and sometimes selective color adjustment layers. I'm sure my second technique has way more steps in it than I need to be taking, but honestly it doesn't concern me so long as I like the final results.

Nino Batista's picture

Agreed!

Thanks Nino. Its helped me

Maarten Deckx's picture

This.blew.my.mind!
Thanks nino, i have tried al lot of methods for B&W conversion but havent found one with such a combination of granular control and ease of use that ik actually like. I just have been playing with it a bit and while i believe that different images ask for different ways of conversion i think this will be a valuable addition to my bag of tools.

Matias Chahbenderian's picture

I found this video really really helpful thanks Nino!