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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.

Instense red tinted photo of trees under a cloudy sky - how to make image black and white

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.

Close up black and white image of a persons fingers playing guitar - how to make an image black and white in photoshop

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.

A monochrome image of a snowy mountain peak - make image black and white

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.

The classic Leica M Monochrom black and white camera

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.

A cropped blurred mans head in the foreground of a busy street scene - this is the image we want to convert to black and white

Adobe Photoshop

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

A screenshot of opening an image in Photoshop to convert to black and 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)

Screenshot of the adjustments button on Adobe Photoshop - make image black and white

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.

Screenshot of the colour sliders button on Adobe Photoshop - how to make an image black and white in photoshop

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.

Screenshot of using clipping on Photoshop - make image black and white

Here, I selected the settings that I feel work best for this image.

Screenshot of selecting settings to make image black and white on Photoshop

Now we are free to edit the image using other adjustments, such as Brightness/Contrast, Levels, Curves, and Exposure.

Screenshot of selecting brightness and contrast settings to make image black and white on Photoshop

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.

Screenshot of editing the tonal range to make image black and white on Photoshop

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.

Screenshot of saving your converted black and white image on Photoshop

And here we have our final image.

The final image after the process to convert image to black and white

By showing both images, we can see a before and after and evaluate the impact of the black and white conversion.

Diptych before and after the process to convert image to black and white

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

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.

Screenshot of opening develop module to make image black and white on Lightroom

Click on Black and White under the treatment area.

Screenshot of opening develop module to convert image black and white on Lightroom

Edit the image as you wish using the Basic panel adjustments, such as exposure, contrast, etc.

Screenshot of using develop module to make image black and white on Lightroom

Export the image by clicking on File>Export.

Screenshot of exporting your final photo after the process to convert an image black and white

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.

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

Thank you for reading...

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Thanks again for reading our articles!

Craig Hull

Craig is a photographer currently based in Budapest. His favourite photographic areas are street and documentary photography. Show him a darkroom and he'll be happy there for days. As long as there are music and snacks. Find him at craighullphotography.co.uk and Instagram/craighullphoto

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