BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: New Questions

Photography Question 
Jason Gehrman
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/12/2005

Digital Color to B&W

I use a pentax ist ds, and like all SLRs, you see the world in colour. I wanted to know if anybody had any tips for changing colour photos to black and white using Photoshop. I know you can desaturate the photo, but it doesn't quite have the B&W film quality to it.

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5/21/2006 4:21:22 PM

Darren J. Gilcher
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/1/2005
  Yes you can. Open the file. Make an adjustment layer and select Hue/Saturation then click OK. Now make another adjustment layer and select Hue and Saturation. Move the saturation slider all the way to the left at -100. The pic should be B&W now. Click OK. Now click on the first adj. layer and in the box where it says normal click and slide down and select color. After that double click on the layer and choose Hue and Saturation. The hue slider will do the tonal adjusting, and in the upper box that says master, choose only one color to adjust at a time. There is also a free plug-in from "Earthbound Light" for black and white. It works well but for some reason when I use it I can't do anything else afterwards like dodge and burn or sharpen. Maybe you would have better luck than me. Good luck

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5/21/2006 5:39:47 PM

BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/6/2004
  Here is what one BP member told me:
"I used the lightness channel method discussed by Scott Kelby. In the image drop down select lab color then go to channels and select the lightness channel. CTR "J" and you have a duplicate layer. Select blending mode of multiply. Then fine tune the look by using the % slider for that layer. Every time I've tried this it looks like about 50% looks good."

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5/21/2006 9:17:42 PM

BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/6/2004
  And look at this thread:"
There are some great plug-ins and techniques mentioned!

Editor's Note: For some great B&W inspiration, check out the Monthly Theme finalists in the April contest: Black and White.

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5/21/2006 9:20:24 PM

Roger Johnson   Try this in PS Elements: 1)Open levels layer and click o.k. (don't change anything); 2) Open hugh & Saturation layer and slide the saturation slider all the way to the left, then click o.k. 3) Now double click on the levels layer, click on the channels arrow and work individually with the red, green and blue channels. This has worked very well for me, though I definitely intend to give Darren G's method (see above) a try.

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5/23/2006 8:44:28 AM

James E. Hoffman   Go to TUCOWS.COM and download IrfanView2\i_view32.exe. It is free and is my up front imaging software before I decide which other software to use to fix or adjust an image. The drop down menu under IMAGE has a selection called grayscale which works great for creating B&W images from color. Also under edit there is UNDO if you do not like the results. You can them go to photoshop and do whatever you need such as sharpen or crop, etc.

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5/23/2006 9:08:32 AM

George R. Bard
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/9/2006
  There are several good free plug ins available. I use Virtual Photographer from Optikverve labs. I've tried others but this is pretty instinctive.

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5/23/2006 9:13:20 AM

Roy Blinston
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/4/2005
  The two above explanations make it sound quite complicated. I have been using Photoshop for years and years. My method is very simple:
(1) Mode > Greyscale > then mode RGB. Voila (finished in seconds).
This will also gove a "true" greyscale appearance because when changing modes from RGB to Greyscale in effect you have removed "all resisudal colour" in "all channels". No more messing around with levels and saturation. It will apear as a "true B&W image". Don't forget to convert it back to RGB before saving, as this will then increase tonal values and give rich blacks. Sepia colours always work better this way too . True sepia appearance. The guy at my Lab said to me the other day my sepia images are the best he has ever seen, unlike many others that can't quite get that "look".

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5/23/2006 11:51:25 AM

Dee Caraballo
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/3/2003
  One of my favorite Scott Kelby techniques is this:

Open the picture then show channels. Select one of the channels, select the image and copy. Open a new file and paste the channel. Go back to the original image and do the same but selecting one of the remaining two channels. Paste that over the first channel on the previous image, etc.

When you have all three channels copied over to the new image, you can move the layers around, play with the opacity, or keep the best of one and erase to expose the best of another. It's got endless possibilities.

I find that different images work best with different methods, but this works rather well for most of mine. And it's fun!

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5/23/2006 12:21:36 PM

Judy T. Howle   I use the channel mixer. Seems very simple to me. Just adjust the three channels until you get the look you want. I first read about this method in Katrin Eismann's book Photoshop Restoration and Retouching.


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5/23/2006 2:03:22 PM

Mike Dougherty  
I find that if you change that if you add contrast to the photo and then adjust the color balance on the shot then turn it to greyscale you might get a more black and white look to your shot. If your camera has a BW setting like my Olympus E-300 that also works really well.
Mike D

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5/23/2006 2:50:07 PM

Sid Pearce   Try Image> Calculations. The variations in tones and contrast are enormous. You may think you need a licence to drive it but the panel is quite intuitive really.

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5/24/2006 2:29:34 AM

anonymous A.    I opened a couple of images and worked my way through each of these methods: all work, of course, but for 90% of images I sugggest the standard "pro" method is still the simplest, quickest and gives the most satisfying results.

Open the Color/Channel Mixer and tick the Greyscale box. This has the same effect as selecting Black and White then changing the mode back to RGB but without any loss of data which then has to be recreated. Now adjust the 3 slider to get the exact effect you want. The Red channel will always start at 100. As a rule of thumb it will need very little adjustment and the best final image will usually have the 3 channels adding up to about 100.

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5/25/2006 3:36:07 AM

Paul Tobeck
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/19/2005
  As with anything we do in Photoshop, there are a hundred ways of doing the same thing, and all work well to accomplish the same goal. It all comes down to trying different methods and find what works well for you. I myself prefer the Channel mixer, along with a couple of Dodge and Burn Adjustment layers. John Paul Caponigro has an excellent article on using the channel mixer that I've seen online in several places. A simple Google search should bring it up.
One finishing touch I like to do to my B&W's, especially if they were shot digitally, is to add a small amount of grain to it (Filter>Noise>Add Noise and check the Monochromatic box). It gives the print a more realistic appearance since digital capture is typically too smooth for my taste.

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5/25/2006 4:48:40 AM

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