B&W conversion in Photoshop, Camera Raw and Lightroom

Converting photo to Black and White is good way to be creative. Advantage of conversion is that B&W photo will always show more shades of gray than color version. Although some cameras have ability to shoot B&W photos most professional Black and White photographers recommends shooting in color then to convert to B&W. B&W photo can be:
  • High Key where white color is dominant.
  • Low Key where black color is dominant.
  • Shades of Gray where shades of gray are dominant.
Bear in mind that when photographers speaks about B&W they usually think about good contrast image.

B&W conversion in Adobe Camera Raw
Lets start from Adobe Camera Raw. Open photo in this Photoshop plugin and good idea is to balance colors and tones before conversion.

Balance colors and tones in Adobe Camera Raw

Click on HSL/Grayscale tab then in check mark field Convert to Grayscale. Your photo will be converted to B&W with ability to enhance conversion with sliders for Red, Oranges, Yellows and so on. Move sliders and watch on screen what’s happening with photo.

Convert photo to Black & White in Adobe Camera Raw

Use and TAT tool which automatically detects color below and selects corresponding slider. Click in photo with TAT tool selected and drag to make that color lighter or darker.

Adjust color in Adobe Camera Raw using TAT tool

You can enhance conversion and from Basics tab which offers many sliders to adjust colors and tonality of photo. Use all available sliders to get final result you like.

Adjust Black & White conversion from Basics tab ib Adobe Camera Raw

Split Toning tab can help you to further enhance conversion. In this tab you can tint separately highlights and shadows.

Of course you can use and Brush and Graduated filter to enhance your creative work. At this blog you can find link to free OnOne presets for Camera Raw and Lightroom which includes and B&W presets.

Choose preset for Black & White image in Adobe Camera Raw

To not forget to mention that you can open photo in Photoshop by clicking on Button Open and continue to work with photo using thousands of Photoshop commands and filters. Hold down Shift while clicking on Open button (turns into Open Object) and you will have ability to go back in Camera Raw at any time by double clicking on Smart Object thumbnail in Layers palette.

B&W conversion in Photoshop
Photoshop offers many different ways to convert photo to B&W but I will mention only few of them. Simplest way to convert photo to B&W is from Image > Mode > Grayscale. Because Lab color mode handles luminance levels separately from color information’s it is even better to convert photo to Lab: Image > Mode > Lab Color then to Grayscale. B&W conversion can be done with Black and White non destructive adjustment which is located in Adjustments panel (also and from Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Black & White). You can play with available sliders or use presets for conversion or as starting point. To apply preset click on triangle next to Black and White header and click name of preset. To go back to default conversion choose default from preset list.

Choose preset for Black & White conversion in Adobe Photoshop

Another way is from Channel Mixer adjustment from Adjustments palette (Layer > New Adjustments Layer > Channel > Mixer). First click on Channel Mixer icon or choose adjustment from layer menu then click in front of Monochrome to appear check mark. And here you have many useful presets from Channel Mixer drop-down list at top of this tab.

Convert photo to Black & White in Photoshop using Channel Mixer adjustment

If you prefer manually to adjust sliders usually good results gives combination when Blue channel is in minus and Red and Green in plus. Watch and Total amount at bottom which have to be at 100%, otherwise you will see warning in front of percentage number.

Adjust channels in Channel Mixer in Photoshop

One more way is to convert photo from lab color mode. Go to Image > Mode > Lab. Then go to Image > Adjustments > Equalize to equalize histogram (this is optional). This command uses brightest pixels to represents white color and darkest for black, all other pixels in image becomes shades of gray. Equalizing can be done and in RGB mode but Lab will always give you better results. Go back to RGB mode from Image > Mode > RGB then convert photo to B&W.

Equalize histogram in Photoshop

In Photoshop you can use Duotone mode as substitution for Camera Raw and Lightroom Split Toning which is not present in Photoshop. Duotone shows image with two, three or four colors where one color is always black. First convert photo in Grayscale from Image > Mode > Grayscale. Duotone option is grayed out otherwise when you work in RGB for example. Then choose Duotone from the same sub-menu and Duotone Options dialog will open on screen. In this dialog choose one of many presets or customize existing by clicking in square with color. Select Ink color dialog will open, choose color and confirm. When you are done go back to RGB mode from Image > Mode > RGB.

Choose Duotone preset in Photoshop

If you are serious about B&W then you may be interested in Silver Efex Pro plugin for Photoshop and Lightroom which is best in his category, great time saver and also offers some options not available in Photoshop.

B&W conversion in Photoshop Lightroom
Photoshop Lightroom offers almost identical B&W conversion possibilities as Camera Raw. Even tabs have the same names: Basic, Split Toning.. Lightroom have many B&W presets which comes with installation and they are available from from Presets panel on left side of screen. Use presets for conversion or as starting point then enhance it from panels on right side of screen: Basics, Detail, Split Toning, HSL/Color/B&W in Develop module.

Use presets in Photoshop Lightroom for Black & White conversion

You can continue working with photo in Photoshop. When you are done in Lightroom right click on photos and choose Edit In > Edit in Adobe Photohsop or Open as Smart Object in Photoshop. In Lightroom U can create virtual copies which does not requires additional space on disc (almost nothing) and open it in Photoshop. Two or more versions or virtual copies of same photo can be opened as layers in Photoshop. Advantage is that you can create B&W versions or virtual copies and combine them in Photoshop using layer masks. First create virtual copies from Photo > Create Virtual Copy (Ctrl + , ), adjust them independently then select them in Filmstrip, right click and choose Edit In > Open as Layers in Photoshop.

Edit in Adobe Photoshop from Photoshop Lightroom

Use Photoshop layer masks to achieve desired results.

Combine two or more Black & White photos in Photoshop using masks

When we speak about B&W and creativity I must mention Chris Orwig which is great guy and photographer and if you are interesting in photo creativity he is best instructor in my opinion. His instructions and videos for Photoshop and Lightroom can be found at lynda.com software tutorials.

Photoshop Help / Understanding color adjustments
Make color and tonal adjustments in Camera Raw
Using Photoshop Lightroom 4 / Developing photos / Apply local adjustments

Products used in this tutorial: Adobe Photoshop CS5, Adobe Camera Raw 6, Photoshop Lightroom 3


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