Photography

Convert to Black & White Like a Pro

While a lot of images look great in highly saturated colour, there’s no mistaking that some could benefit from a black and white conversion. Why? Well stripping the image back and washing away the colour rids the frame from any distractions caused by the various hues. With the colour gone, viewers can concentrate on the shape, form, and textures within your image so, in a way, the contents of the photo become even more important.

Software such as Photoshop and Lightroom offer various ways of converting to mono. There’s presets and options to use third-party plug-ins, such as Nik Collection’s Silver Efex Pro, and there’s no doubt these quick options save you time and can yield some great results. However, photographers usually like to keep control of how the image looks, so if you would like to know a more professional, manual approach to converting your image to black and white, so we’re going to show you how take control of your mono conversions.

Don’t worry, you won’t be sat in front of the screen for hours, all you need is three basic steps from start to finish – and you can choose whether to use Photoshop or Lightroom. Let’s get ready to go back to black….

Convert to mono in Lightroom

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Before: Here’s how the shot looked straight out of camera. Image by Matty Graham

Step 1: Open your image in Lightroom and then select the Develop module. On the right side of the interface are all your adjustment panels. First up, let’s get rid of all the colour, so in the Basic tab, locate the Saturation slider and drag it all the way to the left as this will make all the colour disappear.

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Drag the Saturation slider to -100.

Step 2: Now that the image has been desaturated, it’s time to make any global adjustments to balance the exposure. Alter the Shadows/Highlights and Whites/Blacks sliders until you are happy with their levels. Next, we want to add some punch to the frame, so increase both the Contrast and Clarity sliders can dragging them to the right Again, the amounts needed will vary between images so adjust them to your liking.

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Sort your global adjustments.

Step 3: Black and white images often benefit from a vignette to help focus attention towards the centre of the frame. Scroll down to the Effects tab and, under Post-Crop Vignetting, drag the Amount slider to the left until you’re happy with the vignette. You may also want to add a touch of Dehaze to add further punch to the image. You can now export your image by selecting File>Export…

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Add a vignette to focus attention to the centre of the frame.

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After: Here’s how the image has been transformed with those simple edits.

Convert to mono in Photoshop

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Before: Here’s how our image looked straight out of camera.

Step 1: There’s loads of ways to convert to mono in Photoshop, but here’s a non-destructive route that makes it easier to start-over should you not like the results. Open your image and head over to the Layers panel. Click on the ‘Create new fill or adjustment layer’ icon, which is identified by a half-black/half-white circle. A drop down menu will appear, so select ‘Black and White’.

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Start by adding a Black & White Adjustment Layer.

Step 2: A new adjustment layer will have been created and automatically selected, ready for you to work with. An adjustments panel should have appeared too, if it didn’t, just head up to Window and select Adjustments. This panel lists a number of colours, with sliders so you can adjust their intensity. Work through the colours, dragging the sliders to balance the shades in the frame. This step is down to personal taste, but I like to create contrast between the different shades in the frame by darkening skies and brightening foreground interest.

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Balance the shades in the frame using the sliders.

Step 3: With the shades and levels in the frame balanced to your taste, it’s time to inject some punch into the picture. Head back to the Layers panel again and click on the ‘Create new fill or adjustment layer’ icon one more time. This time, when the drop-down menu appears, select Brightness/Contrast. When the layer appears, head to the Adjustments panel and drag the Brightness and Contrast sliders to the right. Be careful not to cause the image to overexpose by dragging the Brightness slider too far. You can now save your file as a JPEG, .PSD or whichever format you prefer.

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Add a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer to add punch to your image.

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After: Stripping the image of colour helps viewers focus on shape.