Cameta 101: 6 Ways to Convert Photos to Black & White in Photoshop

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Converting a photo to black and white can really alter the mood of it. Black and white focuses on light and shadow and the beautiful nuances in between. It can add drama and leaves you with no distracting colors, only the way the light hits objects in the frame. A lot of people take a picture with their smartphone and convert it to black and white. While this method works, there is much more latitude when using Photoshop. There are many different ways to convert to black and white which is great because each picture may warrant a different outcome.

NOTE: This guide uses Photoshop CS6 as a reference.  The latest version (as of 2016) is Photoshop CC (part of the Adobe Creative Cloud series of apps), but anything you learn here can be applied in almost any recent version of the software.

Non-permanent:

The non-permanent ways consist of layers that are applied to the image. A layer can be deleted if you don’t like the way it makes the image look. It only becomes a permanent change when you flatten or save the image as a jpeg. Remember to save the black and white version as title_b&w or title_02 so you still have access to your color photo.

1. Hue and Saturation Adjustment Layer
Layer → New Adjustment Layer → Hue/Saturation → OK → Slide saturation to -100

This is very straight forward, you are removing all saturation to get a black and white image.

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2. Black and White Adjustment Layer
Layer → New Adjustment Layer → Black & White → OK

This method changes the image to black and white, but you can alter the tones of the colors to make adjustments. I like this layer because you can fine tune the tones. On a side note, isn’t my cat so cute?!

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3. Channel Mixer Adjustment Layer
Layer → New Adjustment Layer → Channel Mixer → Check Monochrome

The tones of the colors can be adjusted in the red, green and blue channels. When I was in school, my professor said Red: 60, Green: 30 and Blue: 10 is close to film. From there, you can move the sliders to make more adjustments.

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Permanent:

The permanent changes are not able to be altered once applied. This is why I like to save the black and white version with title_b&w or title_02 so that the original is still intact.

4. Grayscale Mode
Image → Mode → Grayscale → Discard

This is another straight forward way of conversion. It is nice and quick, but there isn’t any room to play because the color information is discarded.

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5. Lab Color
Image → Mode → Lab Color
Channel → Lightness
Image → Mode → Grayscale

This method keeps detail in the shadows so that the subtleties don’t disappear. Grayscale mode looks pretty dark, but Lab Color with Grayscale is lighter with more detail.

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Grayscale Lab Color with Grayscale

6. Gradient Map
Layer → New Adjustment Layer → Gradient Map → OK

This method is quick and changes the colors to black and white tones. To me, it looks a little muddy, but it’s good for a fast conversion.

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So, now that you know how to convert to black and white in six different ways you can play around and see what works. Maybe you want a dark moody picture or maybe you want more control over the tones, it all depends on the image and your vision. Do you have any methods that I didn’t cover? Please comment below 🙂

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