PHOTOSHOP Color to black and white

02Jan07

Digital post-process manipulation is a great way to fix any problems with the actual picture as well as to improve an already existing shot. Color can be changed within seconds, as opposed to minutes and hours in a conventional darkroom.

I found digital manipulation to be a great way to learn the basics of color and contrast as well as saturation. Digital was perfect in my eyes until they were opened to the lack of black and white options. I was not happy with shooting black and white from my digital camera by turning it to grayscale mode. This worked but then left me stuck. I finally did some research and found that I could make a color image black and white. All description below are done from Photoshop.

The Wrong Way

I started to create black and white by going to image>adjustments>desaturate. This did make the image into black and white, but gave
me no control. I couldn't decide whether the reds became black, gray, or white. This technique was not for me. I needed control.

The Solution

After a little more searching I discovered that each Red, Green, and Blue channel created a grayscale image when isolated and each image portrayed the color differently. I decided then that I had to learn how to use this knowledge to
control the color to grayscale conversion. I soon realized that I could do this in the channel mixer.

Here's how I do it.

Getting An Idea

This step can be skipped but I find it to be useful.

Before you decide to change an image you should look at each individual channel representation of the image. To do this go to the "channels" palette, located with the "layers"


Click on each channel and see how it looks. See the images below for an example.

Color Red Green Blue

With this particular image I like the look of the red channel. On some photos I like the green and the blue but hate the red. Make sure you take note of the channel you like.

The Actual Conversion

At this point you select the RGB channel in the palette. You should also make a snapshot so that you can revert back if you change your mind. If you want you can make an adjustment layer instead of the snapshot.

With RGB selected go to image>_adjustments>_Channel Mixer. In the channel mixer select "monochrome" and start moving the channels. The trick is that you must adjust the channel sliders to what you want but they must add up to 100 if you do not want to change the lightness of the image. When I do this I usually adjust it until I like it and the exposure looks about right then I do the math and make small changes.

I generally just do 100% of a channel I picked earlier when I was getting an idea but sometimes I would take 70% green and 30% blue if I liked the green more than the blue channel but still liked the blue channel effect. This is up to you. Below is how I chose to do this photo.


Move your mouse over the photo to see it in color

I chose these setting because I hated the way the green channel made the flowers black and I liked the red channel. I didn't see any reason to mess with the blue in this particular case. This image is easy to convert because it has a many colors and each channel looks drastically different. Some images do not look very different. In this case I just play around until I like it.

Adjustment Layers

In Photoshop adjustment layers are just layers which do the same as the regular control but make it a removable effect in the form of a layer. There isn't much more to say about them except that they are good if you tone images in RGB color mode with Color Balance because it allows you to change the intensity (opacity). A few people swear by them because you can remove what you did without going back in the history palette and losing work up to the adjustment.

To create an adjustment layer go to Layer > New
Adjustment Layer and select the type you want. It is very simple!

Some Notes

I did this in Photoshop 7.0. I don't know about being able to see the different channels ahead of time in other editors, but most any photo editor has a channels mixer. I know both PSP (Paint Shop Pro) and PWP (Picture Window Pro) have the option.

I would highly suggest making copies of images in Photoshop and playing around. Its the best way to get practice.

© 2002 / 2003 Justin Winokur. Jwink@email.com & photosbyjustin.com
© http://www.photo.net/
© 2000 / 2006 Luminal Path Corporation and contributors. Contributed content used with permission.



2 Responses to “PHOTOSHOP Color to black and white”

  1. Thanks for the inspiring tutorial. I also get best results with the channel mixer.

  2. 2 ...

    dear grafiker_munchen, you are welcome.


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