Editor's Blog: Leslie Tries Black & White Image Conversion 5 Ways

Leslie Ayers's picture

Editor's Blog: Leslie Tries Black & White Image Conversion 5 Ways

One thing I've learned is never to ask a professional photographer or graphic designer how to convert a color image to black and white in Photoshop. Not because they don't have an answer, or because their methods are too difficult or complex (although that's sometimes the case), but because every answer is different. And I don't mind knowing a few good ways to reach the same goal - but, really, I just want to know the best way. To me, "best" means fastest and easiest, with the most visually stunning results.


The other reason I like "simple" processes in Photoshop is that I don't work in the app often enough to remember more complicated ones. The menu names and locations often seem, well, completely bizarre to me, so half the time it's all I can do to remember where to find the menu to resize an image.


Anyway, on to the quest: converting a color image to black and white. One thing I am so dying to use in Photoshop CS3 is the new Black and White Mode. But until I get my copy of CS3 - I hope it's not lost in the mail! - I have to be content with a few semi-automatic methods. I wanted to compare the results of five different ways to convert a color image to black and white, and I thought I'd bring y'all along for the ride.


In honor of (or perhaps to make light of?) the recent news that Leopard is delayed until October, I chose a photo of a leopard (purchased from Crestock.com) as my starting-point color image. Proceed to the next page to start the journey!


Meow! See how pretty he is in color?




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Brian Evans

Ever since you've made the switch from MacAddict to MacLife, I've been disappointed with the lack of direction. It's been like watching someone who's lost their way and has no sense of direction.

However, I was more than delighted with your latest (July 2007) issue. It seemed to be a cross between the old MacAddict and Wired Magazine. That's the hard charging meat and potatoes we've been screaming for. I hope this sudden found identity remains a constant.


Bill Crow

Still not as good as real Black and White film.


Bill Burkholder

For those who don't think film is dead, long live film in your head. Technology that is "perfected" is obsolete...

For the rest of you, our lab (Herff Jones Photography Charlotte) will shut down its film processes for good on June 30. Yaay! One more pro film lab converted to 100% digital.

As we learn to use the new digital tools, we find that they are *superior* to the analog tools they replace! They are far more precise, and their workflow solutions are much more useful and direct.

Beyond Photoshop, Lightroom, and Aperture, and the other tools available to amateurs and pro studios, is a wide array of enterprise level imaging software that has revolutionized the professional lab world. Much of it is proprietary, requiring gigantic PC networks running on (gasp!) Microsoft SQL Server databases with dozens of terabytes of storage and lots of custom development tacked onto Kodak DP2 Digital Print Production Software. It ain't Mac, but believe me, it is revolutionary by comparison with the old optical world. For extremely high volume photographers, it offers a level of automation and quality that keeps them selling and shooting... and out of the (digital) darkroom.

At the other end of the spectrum, photography can be a cottage industry phenomenon again, as it was at the turn of the 20th century. With a digital camera, lights, computer, software, and a high-end Epson or HP inkjet printer, a skilled photographer can turn out BETTER prints in black and white or color than the most skilled custom labs could yield with silver halide processes just ten years ago... or even today! And when prints are done, the images that created them can be re-purposed for the web or print publications with just a few mouse clicks.

LEARN THE TOOLS and you will not miss your film. My enlarger and film tanks are in my attic, as relics for my grandchildren to laugh at.



Thanks for the great article. I just took a photography class in which we converted digital images to B/W. I'm playing with them using the techniques you describe above instead of gray scale conversion and am pretty pleased, although the bright areas seem to get blown out a bit. It means a little more burning of the bright areas, but the result is very nice.



you could add a black to white gradient map. That's one step, nothing to configure, and it often leads to very nice results in images with good tonal range. Bonus: a gradient map is an adjustment layer complete with layer mask, blending modes, etc. Try a levels or curves adjustment! Set to 'overlay' to add richness to color photos! So many possibilities, and unlike using alpha channels you retain the full tonal integrity of your image.

Ultra down and dirty: add a new layer, fill with black, set the blend mode to 'color.' This works with any paint tool too.

Photoshop remains one fine bag of tricks.





Or you could create a new image using one of the colour channels. Using a flattened image, go to the options button of the Channels pallette, and click on "Split Channels." Presto, 3 new black and white images based on the information in each of the Red, Green and Blue channels. While not necessarily the best for creating a 'beautiful' image, these often work well for me in the forensic work I do.

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