A few weeks ago I posted an article titled Black And White – An Old Way To Renew Your Digital Photos. In that article I discussed the beauty of converting digital photos to black and white. So I thought I would also share with you my quick and easy workflow that I have used in Photoshop for many years to convert all of my photos to black and white.
Now, if you Google tutorials on converting images to black and white in Photoshop, you will find there are probably about 10 different ways to do it. But the workflows used in many other tutorials I have seen are very long and intensive and in many cases unnecessary and/or overkill in my opinion. And I think you will find that my technique is very fast and generally gives great results with just two easy steps.
I perform my technique using only adjustment layers in Photoshop. So this means the conversion I do is not destructive to the original photo and the changes I make can be edited and/or completely removed from the digital image at anytime without damaging the original photo.
So let’s get started. I am using Photoshop version CS6, which means the screen shots in this workflow come from CS6. If you are using another version of Photoshop then perhaps your settings might look a bit different, but this method I am using should be possible with all versions of Photoshop, at least as far back as version CS3.
I am going to use the following image for purposes of this tutorial, which you are also welcome to save to your computer to practice with and see if you can achieve the same results as I do in this tutorial:
So, the first thing I do is open up my image in Photoshop. Then I click on the Channels palette tab. If you don’t have this palette visible in Photoshop, or any of the other palettes I will be using, you can make them appear by going to the Windows menu.
Once the Channels palette is active click on each of the red, green, and blue channels one by one. As You click on them they will show you your full image in black and white by applying just one black and white color channel to your image at a time. The purpose of this is to see which of the color channels looks the best in black and white for the particular image you are working on. Then, once you have decided which channel you like best for your image, file that to memory and click back on the RGB channel to return the image itself back to its original colored state. Note that by clicking on the color channels you are not actually changing the color to black and white. You are merely previewing how each one of them would look in black and white for your image.
Next, you want to click on the Layers palette to bring your image back to where you can add other layers to it.
Then you want to add a Channel Mixer adjustment layer. You do this by going down to the bottom of the layers palette window and clicking on the little half filled circle. This will bring up a pop-up menu of adjustment layers that you can add to your image. Then click on Channel Mixer to add a channel mixer adjustment layer.
When you do this a dialogue box will come up where it is necessary to make some settings. First, click on Monochrome. This will turn your image to black and white and it will give you a mix of the three color channels. The default setting is 40% red, 40% green, and 20% blue, which together total 100%.
Now, based on my channel mixer preview that I did previously, I determined that my image here looks best in the green channel. But I am not going to give it all green. I am still going to give it a mix of the 3 channels, but by favoring the green channel. So in my case I am changing the green to 60% and the red and blue channels to 20% each. Again, this totals 100%. It is also not recommended to give the channels a combined total of more than 100%, but on some rare occasions I do increase the percentages to total 105%-110% as I find on certain images it gives a nice bit of extra added pop.
On my image here I am only going to give it 100% though and below is the result of red 20%, green 60%, and blue 20%. Also, in some cases, the default settings of red, green, and blue look good enough the way they are and there is no need to change anything. In those instances just hit the monochrome button and move on.
Note that the adjustment layer I just added can be deleted from the image at anytime and the image will be restored to its original color. So this adjustment is always reversible as with the others I plan to make.
To be honest though, you can actually stop here if you want to and do nothing more to the image if you are satisfied with the black and white tones already. That’s why this is such a quick and easy tutorial as you can simply convert to black and white with only one adjustment. But in my case I am going to go on adjusting it a bit more to show you some more ways you can improve on contrast a bit and give your final image a bit more richness.
So, now, go back to the adjustment layers menu at the bottom of the layers palette and add a Levels adjustment layer.
Then, in the Levels dialogue box, play with the sliders to perhaps darken the shadows a bit (left slider) and brighten the highlights a bit too (right slider). Below you can see the Levels settings I used for this image and I also darkened the midtones a bit (middle slider) as well. There is no right or wrong to this and you just need to play with it and decide what looks best and to your taste.
Below is the image with the Levels adjustment added. You can see I lost some detail in the hair when I darkened the shadows, but the image now looks a bit richer overall and I don’t mind losing a bit of detail in the hair to gain some more contrast. Again, if you liked your image already with just the Channel Mixer adjustment layer you could stop there and not adjust Levels.
Now, finally, if you still want to add a bit more contrast and pop to your image, then you can go back to the adjustment layers menu once more and add a Brightness & Contrast adjustment layer. And when the dialogue box comes up you can simply choose an amount of contrast to add to your image.
For this image I added Contrast of 7, but you can generally use up to 10 or even 15 on some images.
Below is the result now with extra bit of added contrast, which doesn’t look so much different from the previous image, but it has just a bit more pop.
So now you’re done and if you did everything right your layers in Photoshop should look like this:
So that’s it. If you have any questions or comments on this workflow at all then please feel free to post them below.