Dynamic Black & White from Your Color Images Using Photoshop

I want to share the answer to a question I received from one of my readers in order to also help you with using the features of Photoshop.

A question from Dave W in Maui, Hawaii:

Can you create a black & white image from a color digital image? My camera has a B&W setting, so should I start there first? And can these be printed properly? Mahalo!


Yes, you can create stunning black and white images from your color images! And once you discover the Black and White Adjustment Layer, a whole slew of creative opportunities present themselves, even on images you may never before have considered converting to a black and white image. But give yourself options – I’d strongly recommend shooting all of your photos in color and then converting them to Black and White in Photoshop.

Here’s why you should shoot in color first:

There’s More Information: An RGB (color) image has 3 times as much information as an image shot in Grayscale (black and white), and information is King when it comes to digital imaging – the more the merrier, which reduces posterization and pixelization. Which leads to …

There’s More Control– Two ways:

First: You can use a Black and White Adjustment Layer (not available in Photoshop Elements). This allows you to individually control the brightness of the three Primary Colors, as well as their Complementary colors. It also allows you to take advantage of the power of Layer Masks (see below). For example, I started with the original image shown.

Screen shot of Photoshop Black & White Adjustment Layer and colored bee and flower by John Watts.

In sample “1” (shown below), I lightened Red, Yellow, Blue and Magenta, then darkened Green and Cyan.

In sample “2”, I lightened Yellow, Green and Cyan, then darkened Red, Blue and Magenta.

Same image, yet two totally different tonal results!

Screen shot of flower changed to black and white and hand-colored bee using Photoshop Black & White Adjustment Layer by John Watts.

Second: You can use the power of Layer Masks (built-in to the Adjustment Layer) to selectively “colorize” items or areas in your image. See Sample “3”. By creating a Black and White Adjustment Layer, then “hiding” the effects of the Black and White adjustment on the bee and small portion of the flower, you’ll get a completely different look which accentuates the main subject.

By the way, do you need more information on Layer Masks? Check out my 5-part Apogee column on The Power of Layer Masks.

Printing Options: You can get great results with certain color printers, such as a LightJet (like I use) or most High-end Photo Inkjet printers. You no longer need a dedicated Black and White printer.

More Creativity: Once you discover and explore the Black and White Adjustment Layer, a whole new world of creative possibilities will open. Enjoy!

Until next column, have fun and stay well.

by John Watts, Watts Digital Imaging

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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