Black & white photography can be a powerful tool to bring out intense emotion, drama and contrast in a picture. It can also be used to de-emphasize distracting elements within a color photograph. Being devoid of color, it focuses the attention of the viewer to the area that conveys the story. In the picture above, the background was too busy with many colors competing for attention, so by turning it into black and white I focused the attention on the happy faces.
The monochrome (black and white) treatment is well suited to images that have sufficient tonality and contrast. If you plan to create a final image in monochrome, pay close attention to lighting, composition and visual contrast. Visual contrast can be achieved by placing darker elements in the picture next to light colored elements. Or by using negative space to create form. In the picture below, the bride and groom stand out from their contrasting backgrounds.
Black and White Photography Now
Back in the days of film, we bought specific black & white films for the desired final look. Some films were known to be good for push-processing, giving a distinct high contrast grainy look which lent itself well to gritty reportage subjects, not to mention excellent for shooting in low light. Others were known for their smooth grain.
With digital photography, the best way to create black and white images is to convert color images to black and white. If you shoot in JPEG format, the fastest way to produce monochrome images is to use the black & white shooting mode directly on your DSLR.
But the method with the highest degree of control, and ultimately quality, is to shoot in RAW, convert it into a JPEG, and use post-processing techniques to extract a monochrome image from the color image. In direct contrast to film, digital black and white images of different styles can be produced from one single source color image, which can then be made as grainy, smooth or high contrast as you wish, in Adobe Photoshop.
Converting Color Images to Black & White
In Adobe Photoshop, go to Image -> Adjustments -> Channel Mixer. Check the Monochrome box to tell Photoshop you want a black and white image. From there, it’s a matter of adjusting the individual Red, Green and Blue sliders to taste.
Choosing one of the RGB Color Channels
In addition to using the Channel Mixer, there is an alternative method. In Adobe Photoshop, open up your color image and look at the Channels palette. If your color image was shot with a DSLR, it should be in RGB mode. This means that in the Channels palette you should see 4 channels: RGB, R, G and B.
R is the red channel, G is the green channel, and B is the blue channel. RGB is the composite channel, which is when all 3 channels are combined to give you the final composite image. Click on the R channel to see a black & white version of the color image. Then click on the G channel and the B channel. Each channel will have a slightly different black & white version.
Look for the version that has the best separation of tones, which means that dark tones should be contrasted with light tones next to it. This gives the maximum contrast, thereby being the best black & white rendition of the color image. Once you identify the channel you want, click on that channel, do a Select All, then Copy, and then click on the RGB channel and Paste. You can choose to let the image (now a black and white image) remain in RGB mode, or convert it to Grayscale, before saving the file.
If you need more hand-holding in converting color images to black and white in Adobe Photoshop, and creating powerful black and white imagery, I highly recommend checking out this Udemy video tutorial by David Nightingale.
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