Black and White from Colour Images – Part 1 – Digital Photography Tip of the Week

I may have mentioned in the past that I began my journey into photography by working with black and white images and film, from start to finish, including loading my own film cassettes, developing and printing my own photos. Still to this day, black and white has a special spot for me.

With digital photography, I am really limited to a single type of film in my camera. I don’t have different sensors (digital film) I can replace as I would have with film, but I can manipulate the images my camera creates in order to mimic how a traditional film behaved.

Most digital camera’s only record a full colour image*, so how do we get black and white photographs from a colour image. There are a few ways to do this. The first, and probably easiest, though not necessarily the one that will produce the best results, is to take you image to your local lab and ask them to print your photograph as a black and white image. The resulting image may be pleasing to many people, but will most likely lack the drama that many black and white images have.

Your other option is to manipulate the image yourself using a photo editor such as Adobe Photoshop CS2 , Adobe Elements 4 or Microsoft Digital Imaging Suite . There are many methods to convert a colour image to black and white. Over the next couple of weeks, I will provide instruction on a few of them.

If you camera has the option to record your images in black and white, I recommend that you don’t use and stick to shooting in colour it if you want the most options available to you in post processing. Depending on the camera, it may either convert the image to grayscale or desaturate, both of which will yield a less than ideal image. I will discuss both of them in an upcoming digital photography tip of the week. I know of a few photographers you like to shoot in black and white mode to help previsualize the scene before their final capture, but make that in colour to preserve the full amount of data in the image to work with.

* Digital image sensors really capture values of black and white, then use an algorithm to translate those to a colour image. Unless you are shooting RAW, though, the image recorded is full colour. If you are shooting RAW, you then use a RAW processor such as those that come with camera that have a RAW function, Adobe Camera Raw or Phase One Capture One LE .

Next week, I will discuss the grayscale and desaturate methods of converting a colour image to black and white.

The digital photography tip of the week is written by the PCIN Assistant Editor, Chris Empey. Chris is a long time photographer and is currently the President of the Niagara Falls Camera Club. You can see more of his photography at his Photo of the Day website. If you have a tip to send Chris, or a question about digital photography he can address in the newsletter, send it to

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