Black and White from Colour Images – Part 4 – Digital Photography Tip of the Week

Over the past few weeks, I have discussed different methods to create black and white photographs from your colour images. I covered the three main conversion techniques, convert to grayscale, desaturate you image, and using the channel mixer. Of course, there are still even more ways to convert you image to a black and white photo.

Both methods outlined here today involves using features of Adobe Photoshop that are not supported by Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0.

One method that I use quite frequently involves converting your image to the LAB colour space.

  1. Open the image for editing
  2. Convert the image to LAB color space: Image => Mode => Lab Color
  3. Select the Lightness channel in the Photoshop Channels Palette
  4. Convert the image to grayscale using: Image => Mode => Grayscale
  5. CTRL-Click (CMD-Click on Macs) on the Gray channel in the Channels Palette
  6. Choose Select => Inversere from the menu
  7. Convert to RGB using Image => Mode => RGB Color
  8. Create a Solid Adjustment Layer: Layer => New Fill Layer => Solid Color
  9. Pick a colour (darker, richer tends to work better)
  10. Change the layer mode to overlay and adjust opacity as needed

This method, while seemingly more complicated, is a very quick process. The addition of the colour layer provides a little bit of tinting to the photograph as well. You can use blues to simulate a cold feeling in your image, or a yellow or orange to warm the tones. Brown (again, orange) can be used to create a sepia tone to your image.

Another method I use involves taking something from the print industry; duotones. The first process (and the other processes I have gone through) apply toning equally to the who image. Creating a duotone image is similar to the traditional wet darkroom technique of split-toning. To create a duotone image:

  1. First create your black and white image with whatever process you like
  2. Convert to Grayscale: Image => Mode => Grayscale
  3. Convert to Duotone: Image => Mode => Duotone
  4. Select a color to tone the image with by clicking one of the colored boxed that are part of the duotone window
  5. Adjust the intensity of the duotone by adjusting the curve for the colour you have choosing
  6. When you are happy with the tone of the image, press ok.
  7. Convert your image back to RGB for saving and printing.

Both methods outlined here today will help add depth to an image, and can be used to help control the emotion of the image.

When printing black and white photographs, either at home or at a mini-lab, know what color you image is supposed to be. If you have not applied any toning to the image, the final print should be very neutral. Many lab printers have trouble printing black and white images. I have had prints come back that are noticeably green or even purple. If you are not happy with the images you get back from your lab, have the lab reprint them for you, and be sure to explain what you are unhappy with the photo.

I hope this ongoing series of black and white conversion techniques has been helpful to you. Great black and white prints are not too difficult to achieve, but they are worth the extra time you put into them.

Until next time, happy shooting.

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

Comments 1

  • Dear Chris

    Just a quick thank you note for writing four great articles. I have followed each step and have learnt a lot more about more about the process that takes place after the shutter has done its job.

    I hope that you will continue the series.

    All the best

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