Converting to Black and White - advice please

Started Nov 13, 2012 | Discussions thread
NBDR Regular Member • Posts: 272
No "one best method" for converting from color to BW

JulesJ wrote:

ML_Digital_nYc wrote:

Some tips...

Always process in color, then bring your image into photoshop and use adjustment layers above your image to turn your image into a greyscale. There will be a day when you may have done some retouching to one of your images, and say I wish I had this image in color.

-A great technique for portraits, especially images that were shot well with lighting, is the place a hue/sat adjustment layer a the top most layer, set to -100...completely desaturation the image in appearance only. Then add a curve adjustment layer underneath that hue/sat adjustment, and apply a very steep "S" curve to the R & B channels. Of course each image will need fine tuning. But this method spikes the green and reds in your image to create a very contrasty look... you could make a person look as if they're coated in paint or some sort of shiny silver makeup if you go far enough. But that's up to your taste!

-Fast Eddie

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Your favorite retoucher's favorite retoucher.

I'm amazed all you guys suggest anything but using the tool designed for this in CS5 and 6. It's in the adjustment layers and unsurprisingly called Black and White. But before you do that open a curves adjustment layer and a levels adjustment layer just as you would with any photo. Using these three layers you can get a B&W conversion as good as you will ever get with third party plugins. Master the use of these adjustment layers and you need nothing else. If people are in your image then try the Red and Yellow sliders and the B&W layer.

Our business specialises in B&W portraits and prints, apart from general retouching and spotting those three layers are 90% of the time all I need for the B&W conversion.


I think it's fair to say that there are a number of ways to convert color --> BW using Photoshop, e.g., grayscale, desaturate command, desat via Hue/Sat adjustment, isolating individual RGB channels as layers, channel mixer (monochrome), L channel, BW adjustment layer, gradients, dual hue/sat adjustment layers (Dr. Brown method), Kent's hue/sat + selective color method, calculations command and ACR, not to mention (but I will) numerous combinations of adjustment layers recorded as actions or not.

The method one should/could use is somewhat dependent on source image characteristics and artistic or commerrcial intent, as well as "How much time is one willing to spend tinkering to get the final result." In other words it's a matter of taste, intent and/or time.

NIK Silver Efex Pro may be overkill for some commercial portrait styles (I don't know; portraits are not my thing), but I sure like SEP for scenics. While I like Topaz plugins in general, I never use their BW offering any more.

Recently I have begun using ACR's grayscale functionalty (I like ACR's 8 color sliders vs. 6 in BW adjustment layers, plus ACRs other controls) and opening in PS as a Smart Object to retain adjustment layer-like tweaking flexibility.

One thing we can all probably agree on: One can almost always do better than a grayscale or desaturate conversion.

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'Live for today, but plan for tomorrow.'

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