An Adjustable Black and White Conversion in Photoshop Elements

An Adjustable Black and White Conversion in Photoshop Elements



Most photo editing programs offer multiple ways to convert to black and white and Photoshop Elements is no exception. In fact it has a great Black and White conversion tool which is marred by the very small preview images you get to work with. Additionally, there is no zoom feature so you’re stuck with seeing your image in miniature (see image), or you find another way to make the conversion.


Here’s an alternative method of converting to black and white in Photoshop Elements which lets you work on the image at any size so you can see what you’re doing. It also works in Photoshop:

Step 1


Open your image Photoshop Elements and duplicate the background layer. Do this by first displaying the Layers palette by choosing Window > Layers, right-click the Background layer and choose Duplicate Layer.

Step 2


Select the topmost layer and choose Enhance > Adjust Color > Remove Color. This converts the image to a black and white image.

Step 3


From the Blend mode dropdown list in the Layer palette, select the Hue blend mode. This ensures the top layer’s hue (color) shows but uses the layers below to provide the lightness and saturation for the image. We can now adjust the bottom layer to change the black and white image.

Step 4


Select the bottommost layer in the image and select Enhance > Adjust Color > Adjust Hue/Saturation. This opens the Hue/Saturation/Lightness dialog. You can now select any of the sliders and drag them in either direction and you’ll see as you do so that the black and white image changes.

For example, adjusting Lightness will adjust the lightness and darkness of the image itself. Adjusting Saturation will also make the image darker or lighter. Use the Hue slider to change the colors in the underlying image with the result that different colors will tend towards being light and others tend towards being dark. For example, in this image, changing the Hue made a significant difference on some of the signs over the street – at one position the text was all the same shade of gray and in another position the text was lighter against a dark sign. Pick a slider position that works best for your particular image.

Step 5


To adjust the contrast in the image, with the bottom layer still selected, choose Enhance > Adjust Lighting > Shadows and Highlights. Drag on the sliders to adjust the tonal range in the image. You can darken the lighter areas, lighten the shadows and add some contrast to the midtones this way. With the preview option enabled, you will see the results at full size on the image as you work. You can also do the same with the Levels adjustment – again apply it to the bottom layer of the image.

When you are done, flatten the image by selecting Layer > Flatten Image.

This process allows you to convert an image to black and white while previewing the results at full screen size while you work and with quite a bit of creative control. I find it gives me a better appreciation of what my image will look like than using the very small dialog previews in the specialist black and white conversion tool.

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Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at

Some Older Comments

  • Anders January 23, 2011 11:47 pm


    The tone problem is actually in your printer/paper combination, not in the conversion process (a grayscale image really holds no color information at all). I'm seeing a similar problem with my printer, although my images have a more of a green tone instead.

    There are two ways to go around this:

    Create a printer setting that will adjust tonality to give you actual black and white if the printer software allows it. I've chosen this method since that allows me to finish the image in PSE and not to worry about any printer/paper-specific adjustments. Once I'm ready to print, I select my custom setting for this particular paper and have the printer driver make the corrections for me. It takes a bit of experimenting to get the settings right the first time but after that it is my experience that this method works well.

    Create a set of adjustment layers in PSE that corrects the image and save them in an empty image with the name of the paper and printer. Once you have finished your image you open the file with the adjustment layers, copy them to your image and print as usual. This method will allow for more fine tuned adjustments than most printer drivers but it's also the most cumbersome to work with.

    In both cases you should be prepared to spend an afternoon creating small test prints to nail the settings but it is definitely time well spent - I get very decent black and whites from my cheap HP PhotoSmart C5180 All-in-one device while the results straight out of the box were hideous with an obvious green tint.

    By the way, having a black and white photo created the old fashioned way (fro film) for reference may be a help since it will help you get the tonality right - sometimes your eyes may fool you into believing that an image is neutral while it is not.

  • T Schulz May 22, 2009 05:10 am

    I prefer using Corel PhotoPaint (part of CorelDRAW Graphics Suite). I find converting images to take far fewer steps and is much more intuitive than Adobe products. I can also see my changes previewed live on the full size image or in a side by side (ie. before and after) view before I make the changes permanent. Of course, once a change is made, you can always undo as well.

    As with Adobe there are several different ways to convert a black and white image. There's a menu option to simply convert to black and white, or you can desaturate, etc... in addition to being able to adjust hue, color tone, contrast, saturation, etc. if you so choose.

    This is what I use in Windows. Check out their website ( If you'd like to try it before buying it, you can download a free trial version.

    If you currently use Photopaint and want free support or advice, you can visit our YahooGroup at (CorelDRAW Users Group).

    In Linux (or Windows), you can use The Gimp to do the same things. This operates in a more similar fashion to Adobe Photoshop. ( Of course, since it's open source, it's free. Very powerful program, though.

  • Jackie May 22, 2009 05:03 am

    I have my own 'formula' for creating acceptable bl/wh from digital color photos - I had to create it b/c using the 'Remove Color,' 'Grayscale,' or even Desaturating options produce a very BLUE-and-white photo instead of a true Black and white. Has anyone else encountered this...I'm sure you have...why is it not discussed more?
    I use PS Elements and literally have to create my black and whites - they have a distinctive tone to them ...but they are truly my own :-).
    best to all!

  • Richard Holden May 19, 2009 02:32 am

    Another way to get more control over black and white conversions in Elements is to use a plugin such as this (it's free).

  • Arun May 17, 2009 04:56 am

    Wow.. It's just amazing to know how many different ways can exist to do one thing!
    I've seen so many other ways to do the B&W conversion, and this one seems interesting too.

    Some other methods I've used:
    - Using the Channel Mixer, and the Monochrome Option. This can be done with a little bit of Idea about the RGB of your picture.
    - Using the desaturate option

    I can't recollect others right away, but my question would be what is the advantage of this method over the others? One thing I can see, is the advantage of using a Layer for doing this, so we preserve the modifications to the layers, and can get desired results.

  • Chris Sutton May 16, 2009 11:08 am

    Thank you - I will have fun trying it out. Nice to have a technique for us lesser mortals who can only afford Elements as opposed to the full Photoshop!!