When photographing a scene, you may feel that it may look better in black and white. Colours can be difficult to correct, especially when we are using two or more light sources. As all light emits a different colour temperature, a black and white image is more pleasing to the eye.
Moreover, if you find that colours in your image are distracting from the main subject or focal point, desaturating and making your image black and white is a viable option.
Why Create Black and White Images
Many people feel that black and white images are more artistic, and show more creativity in a scene. A black and white nude, for example, is seen more as art than a colour image, which could be misconstrued as a glamour photograph.
Black and white images focus on contrast, light and texture, whereas colour images focus more on composition, perspective and, well, colour.
There are a few reasons why you will find black and white works better than colour.
If you are entering a competition where the images need to be black and white, then you definitely need to convert your image. A client may also require a black and white image, forcing you to step away from the original colours.
It may also fit your style. Ansel Adams photographed entirely in black and white, and his images would not have been as powerful in colour.
You may feel that the dynamic range of an image isn’t as strong as it could be. This lowers the powerfulness of an image. You can try to save the image by turning it into a contrasted black and white photograph.
As black and white allows us to focus on the image in different ways, a conversion could be the best option.
Colours are tricky things to get right. There is a whole theory behind colours and which ones work well together. If you have a perfectly composed scene, but the colours contrast against each other, get rid of the colours. The photograph still works well.
Unless you are using a dedicated black and white camera, such as the Leica M Monochrom, every image you take is in colour. Even if you set your DSLR or mirrorless system to shoot in black and white, the end RAW file will retain its colour information.
Converting Your Images
You are able to make image black and white in a number of ways. There are the right ways and the wrong ways. You may achieve a similar end result, but your image could lose tonal range and resolution.
The right way is easy enough, as long as you follow our step-by-step guide.
Here, we have our image. I feel it could work well as a converted black and white.
Adobe Photoshop is one of the best tools to use in converting your images to Black and White.
By going to Photoshop and opening your image, you might be tempted to go to Image>Mode and change the colour profile to ‘Grayscale‘. DONT DO THIS!
This changes the colour profile, losing pixel information in the colours. This may seem counter-intuitive, but the colours in your image will help the tonal range, even if you cant see them.
Option One – Image>Adjustments>Black&White
Option Two – Click on the adjustments button in the sidebar, then the black and white icon, which is the black and white box divided diagonally. (Pssst… if you can’t find the ‘adjustments’ panel in the sidebar, make sure it is selected by going to Window>Adjustments)
When clicking on this icon, the image will turn black and white, and you will arrive in the Properties tab.
You will see coloured sliders, as behind the black and white mask, the colours still affect the image.
Edit the image as you see fit by playing around with the sliders. Move each one left and right to see the effect it has on the image.
Be careful not to go to the extremes, as parts of your image will start ‘clipping’. As long as the preview button is selected, you’ll see a real-time preview of your changes.
Here, I selected the settings that I feel work best for this image.
Now we are free to edit the image using other adjustments, such as Brightness/Contrast, Levels, Curves, and Exposure.
Whatever you wish to change, make sure your original background layer is selected. I tried to change the curves of the image and saw no effect.
When we convert this image to black and white, it creates a layer which is selected by default. Come out of it to edit.
Using curves, you are able to edit the tonal range of the image. Here, I added a contrast and changed the image by drapping the curve line to where I feel it works in the image.
Press OK, then File>Save As. This software is destructive, meaning, if you edit your images and press ‘save‘, this will overwrite your initial image. To stop this, click on ‘save as‘, and rename the edited file.
And here we have our final image.
By showing both images, we can see a before and after and evaluate the impact of the black and white conversion.
You can use a few other ways to convert your colour shot to a black and white image.
By using Hue/Saturation, you can pull all of the colour out of the image. Using the Gradient Map Tool is another viable non-destructive option, as is using the Channel Mixer.
Adobe Lightroom is the easiest way to convert a colour image to black and white. Every Lightroom process is non-destructive.
This means your original image will not be overwritten unless you set it to overwrite it. Even then, by using the reset button, you can get your original image back in one click.
Option One – Go the B&W tab in the Colour/HSL/B&W panel
Option Two – Set Treatment to Black & White in the Basic panel
First, open your image in Lightroom. Head over to the Develop module.
Click on Black and White under the treatment area.
Edit the image as you wish using the Basic panel adjustments, such as exposure, contrast, etc.
Export the image by clicking on File>Export.
And there you go. Two different software options giving you many ways to convert your images to black and white.
There is no exact way in levels of adjustments, it is all up to you, your taste and your scene. Play around with the sliders until you like what you see.