Making a black & white conversion from your color image files isn’t rocket science, but care should be taken to produce great art. Today, many cameras have a built-in function which allows the photographer to make a black & white image from the original color scene. While this feature is handy, you give up control of your image to an algorithm. Plus, if you’re a control freak like me, you may want that color image data later. Now you may say, “Hey Jarvis, you can always flip the switch back from B&W to full color and shoot both!” And I say, “But why?” Why stand there playing with the camera instead of making wonderful photographs? Let’s take a quick overview to see how.
When we open an image in Photoshop, It is an RGB image. That is, it has three color Channels comprised of Red, Green and Blue color information. The image also contains the color complement information of Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow. It’s good to keep all that information intact when ever possible. When we convert an image to grayscale we throw all that color data away, creating one “gray” channel. Also, when Photoshop does this it simple takes 50% of each RGB channel, which usually results in black & white image of low contrast. So in short, do not make your conversion this way.
Instead, use Photoshop’s Black & White Adjustment Layer. With the B&W Adjustment Layer, all of the color data remains with the image. It desaturates each of the six color channel’s information equally, but offers you sliders to control each channel of color data. When you first open this adjustment layer’s panel, it does the same thing that the Convert to Grayscale command will do, set all channels at 50%. However, now you can increase and decrease the amount of color information and contrail the contrast of the image. For example, when you take a photo of red apples with green leaves, the contrast of both the green and the red is almost equal. However, if you move the red information to a negative value, it will become visually darker and create a more “realistic” contrast of a “dark” red apple. This is the first important step in making a great black & white image.
I have made a video of using this technique, and a few others in creating the fine digital image and print. With this video, I give you a Quick & Dirty overview of how to handle B&W conversion in Photoshop. You’ll see how to give yourself maximum control over many aspects of the conversion process and end up with a beautiful image that no camera algorithm or One-Click-Wow in Photoshop or Lightroom can give you. Check it out. If you have any questions please leave a comment or drop me a line.