A Different Way to Black and White

London was great yesterday and I have loads of photos to share, but not now… Today I have a tutorial on making a pretty sexy black and white photo from a grubby colour shot‚Äì without using desaturate or grayscale. Enjoy.

I started with a low light, noisy photo of myself and wanted to salvage it by making it into a black and white. The shot never left RGB. For the demo, all you need is Photoshop, but I also use a fabulous plug-in called Neat Image. You can skip the Neat Image step if you like.

ChanmixtutHere’s the shot, before on the right and after on the left.

First, make that copy of the Background Layer, so you aren’t screwing up the original. Then with the new layer selected, go to Image > Adjustments > Channel Mixer. Play with these settings until you’re happy with the basic tonal qualities of the photo. My settings were somewhere in this neighbourhood…Chanmixexample

The key is to check the Monochrome box at the bottom of the window. You’re still in RGB, but better. 🙂

NeatimageHere’s where Neat Image came in to clean up the low light effect on my skin. My Blue channel was especially noisy, but I didn’t need to play with any of that thanks to Neat Image. I fiddled with the High, Med and Low sliders only for this, but you’ll need to do your own research for what works best for you with the plug-in. Trust me, it’s an awesome tool.

VariationsNow to add a cool cast to the “black and white.” Go to Image > Adjustments > Variations. All of the examples will look way too garish. That’s ok‚Äì pick one you like anyway. I went for Cyan on the Midtones.

It will look awful to begin with, but there’s a really good adjustment in Photoshop called Fade. Find it tucked away in the Edit menu. You’ll see it takes on whatever effect you’ve just applied! I reduced the Opacity of my Cyan Variation to around 27% in a Normal Blending Mode.

Tahdah! A decent black and white photo without touching grayscale or desaturate commands. Here’s a low res of my final photo.Bwchanmixfinal
Keeping your picture in RGB gives you more control and more ways to alter the photo one channel at a time if you need to. It’s a bit more intimidating to do than grayscale or desaturate, but you’ll love the results.


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2 thoughts on “A Different Way to Black and White”

  1. Hi jEN,

    I stumbled across your site (love it BTW, you’re a riot ;-)). You should try the LAB color profile. It uses A and B colors with a grayscale luminance channel for light and dark values. Hence the luminance channel make an almost perfect B&W image. Just fill the A and B channels with black, then convert to grayscale. Viola!

    I will check your site out some more in-depth later.

    – Brad

  2. Ah yes- LAB. I’ve played with it several times and it’s amazing the kind of resurrection you can perform using that colorspace. Thanks for adding a good tip to my post. 🙂

    Welcome to my blog, Brad!


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