Digital Black and White Photography with Adobe Photoshop

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Black and White: it’s not just for dogs anymore – Digital Black and White Photography with Adobe Photoshop

The more you learn about Photoshop the more you’ll learn that there are multiple, sometimes myriad, ways to do the same thing. It’s no different with converting to B&W. If you’ve ever tried to convert a photo before you may have gone: Image -> Mode -> Grayscale. That will work but it offers you no control over the output. All it does is discard the color and leave you with the brightness values for each pixel. That just won’t do! A digital photo or scanned image is a RGB (Red, Green, Blue) image. All that means is that there are really three images laid on top of each other. Each embedded image corresponds to the brightness of that particular color. In Photoshop these embedded images are represented in the “Channels” palette. From the menu bar go to: Windows -> Channels. You should see four thumbnails there. The top one being “RGB” so by default you’re seeing the combination of all three channels

Click on the “Red” channel and notice what happens to your photo. You’ll see a B&W image that represents the luminosity of the red pixels in your photo. .
The keyboard shortcut to switch Channels is Ctrl + ~, 1, 2, 3 for RGB, Red, Green, Blue respectively.

If your photo has blue sky in it then you’ll see that the sky is very dark but if you click on the “Blue” channel you’ll see that it’s pretty bright. The same goes for plants. The green in the image will show up fairly dark under the blue and red channels but the green channel will be light corresponding to areas of green in your photo.

The best method of making a B&W photo is to combine these three channels in such a way as to bring out the best detail and contrast. To do that we’ll use the “Channel Mixer” or, more precisely, the “Channel Mixer Adjustment Layer”. (Come back soon for a detailed article on the benefits and uses of Adjustment Layers.)

To do the conversion go to: Layer -> New Adjustment Layer -> Channel Mixer… First you will come to a dialog to name the layer – just like any new layer. Give the layer a meaningful name that you can pick it out later in the layers palette or leave it as the default – your call. You can leave the “color” as is but I would suggest changing it to “Gray” to make it obvious in the layers palette. Once you click “Ok” you’ll go to the “Channel Mixer” dialog box.

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