So why would you bother with black and white imagery when we live in a world full of color? There are many reasons why, but a simple answer is that a black and white image can be quite powerful.
A close up of a man’s or woman’s face, heavily lined from age, photographed in black and white may elicit a stronger emotion than the same image in color. The viewer focuses in on the texture and contrast of the image.
A heavy fog or mist over a landscape is much spookier in monochrome than in color. That’s why those old black and white movies are so good.
Converting to Black and White in Photoshop
Converting a color to black and white in Photoshop is a relatively easy task. Open the image that you want to convert to black and white. Choose from the Image Menu>Mode>Grayscale. A dialog box appears, asking you if you want to, “Discard color information?”. Click Discard, but I would not recommend this method. All the color information has now been lost.
Instead, I’m going to show you a more effective way for converting your images to black and white in Photoshop. I like to use the Channel Mixer method. In Photoshop, choose the Channel Mixer icon from the adjustments palette or you can choose Layer>New Adjustments>Channel Mixer and click OK.
There is a check box next to the word Monochrome, on the lower left side in the Channel Mixer box. When you click on that, your image will turn to grayscale. The default settings are Red 40%, Green 40% and Blue 20%. See screenshot below. However, this is where I like to make my own changes.
The Red channel holds the most detail. The blue channel holds the most noise. The look that you’re after will depend on your choice. For this image, I moved the red slider to +80%, the green slider to +43% and the blue to -23%. The general rule of thumb is that the percentages should total to 100% (80+43-23=100).
Adding a Color Tint
Next, let’s add some color to a black and white image, or rather a tint. Let’s start with a sepia tone, which is a reddish-brown color that gives those old vintage photos that classical look.
Using the same image that you have just converted to black and white using the Channel Mixer – add another new adjustment layer, Color Balance. Similar to the Channel Mixer, choose Layer>New Adjustments>Color Balance
Name this layer, Shadows. In the properties panel, click to the right where it says Tone, it defaults to Midtones but you have the option of two others, choose Shadows, as you only want the color to effect the shadows. Move the red slider over to 55%, then move the yellow slider to the left -40% to give the image that classic reddish brown look. See the animated gif below.
Now if you want the color to affect only the highlights. First, turn off the layer visibility on the Shadows layer. Add another Color Balance layer, choose Layer>New Adjustments>Color Balance and name this one Highlights. Same as above, click to the right of Tone where it says Midtones and choose Highlights. Move the yellow slider to the left -55%. This gives the image an Antique look. See image below left.
Turn the visibility for the Shadows layer back on and you now have a split-tone look, as you have just added two different hues to the highlights and shadows. See image above right.
Split toning in ACR
To achieve this same effect in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) it’s even easier. With your image open in ACR, having done the basic edits. Click the HSL/Grayscale tab, then check on the Convert to Grayscale box. Similar to the Channel Mixer adjustment layer in Photoshop the color sliders can be adjusted to make your own custom changes.
Click the Split Toning tab. Move the Highlights Hue to yellow and the Saturation over to the middle to start. Move the Shadows Hue to a red tone, and the Saturation to the middle as well. Then adjust the Saturation for the Shadows (I used 61) and the Highlights (I used 57).
As with most techniques in Photoshop, there are many ways of achieving the same results. It comes down to preference, and most importantly, time. So here’s a really quick, and very effective way, to convert your color photo to black and white and add a sepia tone, or even a duotone.
Normally, I don’t bother or rave about the presets that come bundled with Photoshop. But in the Gradient Editor, I beg to differ. There is a set called Photographic Toning, which consists of 38 presets in total, and I think these do an amazing job! Here’s how I applied this duotone effect to this image.
Go to Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Gradient Map or you can click on the last icon in the bottom row of the Adjustments panel. Ensure your Foreground and Background colors are set to Black and White. This will apply the default gradient, which is foreground to background and turn your image to black and white.
Click on the gradient and the Gradient Editor menu appears. Click on the gear icon at the top right corner of the Presets section, and another pop-up menu appears. Photographic Toning is down near the bottom of the list. When you click on it, a dialog box appears asking you to replace the current default gradients with the ones that you are loading. Just click Ok.
I chose Blue2 (the sixteenth one) to give it this greenish, turquoise color. As with any adjustment layer, you can lower the opacity or change the blend mode, but in this case, I did a slight Blend-if on both layers. By right-clicking on the layer, this brings up the Layer Style pop-up menu with the different blending options.
Go down to the Blend-if section. You will see ‘This Layer’ and the ‘Underlying Layer’ . Both of these options have a white slider. Hold down the Alt key, which splits it into halves, and slide the left portion to the left (as shown above). This brings back some of the highlights to give the image a more cross-processed look. See image below.
There is a great range of Sepia presets to choose from which are worth trying out too.
Have you converted your color photos to black and white? What techniques did you use? If so please share in the comments below.
Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of articles this week featuring black and white photography tips. Look for earlier ones below and more daily over the next few days.
- 5 Simple Ways to Create Expressive Photos in Black and White
- Tips for Black and White Wildlife Photography
- 7 Tips for Black and White Portrait Photography
- 28 Images with Strong Black and White Compositions
- Weekly Photography Challenge – Black and White Techniques
- Tips for Black and White Wildlife Photography