Use Photoshop for the Perfect Black and White Photo

By: Shaun Pearce

Colour photography is now the norm, and is perfect for most situations; however, there are some times when you want the power and simplicity of a black and white photo.

Black and white photography requires a different set of skills to colour, as the picture is formed purely from areas of light and shade. These days, black and white film is increasingly hard to come by, and unless you're lucky enough to have a specialist lab near you, you'll find the sort of machine processing they do at "one hour" photo places leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to processing black and white film.

Many modern digital cameras have a dedicated black and white mode, but mostly they just desaturate the picture and make it look washed out. It often works out better to shoot in colour and convert the picture in Photoshop.

Of course, the easiest way of making a colour photo black and white in Photoshop is to convert the mode to grayscale (Image > Mode > Grayscale), but this does limit your options if you want to enhance the picture later on.

In traditional black and white photography, coloured filters are sometimes placed over the lens to create a dramatic contrast. This is done because hues that seem quite different in real life (in colour) can merge into one shade of grey when seen in monochrome. The intensity of the colours are the same, even though the actual colours are different.

For example, a blue sky with white clouds can appear weak and washed out in a black and white photograph. If you place a red filter over the lens, it will darken the blue sky and make the white clouds stand out more. This is because the red filter blocks the blue colour waves more effectively than it does colours that are nearer to red.

The great thing about Photoshop is it enables you to experiment and get the effect just right. The method I find works best involves keeping the picture in RGB mode, and adjusting one of the colour channels.

If you go to the Layers palette, click the Channels tab, then click on (say) the Red channel, you'll see an image that resembles a red filter over the lens of a camera with black and white film. The darkening of the blue tinted areas will make a moody, sophisticated image. For comparison, click on the Green channel and then the Blue. The results will be surprising -- and very different!

I like to then fine tune the result by adjusting the Levels. Keep your chosen channel selected, and then go to Image > Adjustments > Levels, and adjust the sliders until you get the desired result. Then be sure to save the picture as a new file to preserve your original.

Incidentally, if you apply this process to two channels at the same time, you can get some pretty stunning colour effects too!

Photoshop
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 
 • 

» More on Photoshop
 



Share this article :
Click to see more related articles