Black and White Conversion Options

About a year ago, I put together a list of my top five favorite ways to convert images to black and white.  As technology has advanced though, more options have become available, and I have learned a lot more.  So, in the spirit of keeping the blog topics up-to-date and current, I would like to re-visit this here today.  (This is also coming on the heels of the Black-and-White issue I finally finished of Rangefinder Magazine!)

  1. Camera Raw Conversion – If you aren’t working in camera raw, here is a big reason to think about it – converting images to black and white in camera raw allows you to make a conversion while retaining access and malleability to all image data. The camera raw dialogs that you should use to make conversions here include the saturation slider, then exposure and shadow sliders, followed by the Brightness slider. Don’t forget to play with the contrast slider a little to enhance the effect as desired. Last but not least, for advanced adjustments, the calibration tab can have effects similar to the Channel Mixer.
  2. Black and White Conversion – With Photoshop CS3 and now in CS4, the good folks over at Adobe have added a Black and White conversion  option in the image adjustments menu.  This is pure gold because you can duplicate the image before making adjustments and apply the effect to it’s own layer.  You can also add back in tonal values for specific b/w effects that previously were pretty much out of reach without many many edits, layer adjustments, masks and much much more.
  3. Channel Mixer – with your image open in Photoshop (7.0 or higher), you can select a specific color set you want to remove from or add emphasis to in an image. The traditional color sets or red, green and blue are available, as well as a constant (think brightness), and a check box for monochrome.
  4. Hue/Saturation Adjustment – whether as a dedicated layer, or directly to an image, the Hue/Saturation allows you to account for different intensity levels of a wide range of colors, from Red, Yellow, Green, Cyan, Blue, and Magenta. You can also adjust the range of color within one of the default ranges for each set by adjusting the left and right limiters of the color wheel at the bottom of the dialog window.
  5. Grayscale Conversions – most black-and-white images aren’t true black and whites, because a little color from a specific range is added back in for emphasis. To make an image truly a b/w, it would only have a range of black and white. This can be done using the grayscale option in Photoshop. Often, this is used as the last step in a digital approach to black and white photography so that saturation and brightness level loss is minimized.

So, what have I added and what have I removed?  The Black and White conversion method is the latest addition, and I jettisoned in-camera conversions.  While pretty much all cameras have the in-camera option to take images in black-and-white, as I have crawled my way up the learning curve, I am cognizant of the fact that if you lose image data in-camera, there is no getting it back afterward.

Well, that’s it – the new and improved post on Black and White conversion options!  If you’d like to read the original post, that can be pulled up from the archives here.  In the meantime, feel free to share your favorite techniques for black and white conversions here in the comments or via email.  As always, Happy Shooting and we’ll see you back here again tomorrow!

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4 comments for “Black and White Conversion Options

  1. March 23, 2009 at 8:34 am

    Feeling Better?

  2. March 23, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    I like the channel mixer approach a lot. Its flexible but not too convoluted. In some cases, a nice conversion, with the introduction of “noise” can really make an image. I convert a lot of my stuff to B&W and find myself doing it more and more. Great post Jason.

  3. Will
    March 24, 2009 at 4:39 am

    Would be interested to read a more detailed step by step approach for option 1 Camera Raw Conversion. Are you just desaturating in lightroom?

    • March 24, 2009 at 8:32 am

      There are several methods you can use, and a lot would probably be a function of whether you are going from ACR to LR or PS…

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