Color Image to Black and White Picture

Color to Black and White

Photo Enhancements is able to take your color photo and convert all or part of it into black and white. Sepia photos can also be made from your photo. What may have looked an ordinary color photo can have new meaning when we change it to black and white.

Convert a Color Photo to Black and White Image

In traditional photography we are forced to choose between color or black and white at the time of shooting. Digital photography however gives us the option to photograph our scene in color, and then convert it to black and white later, so that we can compare the two - the best of both worlds!

Digital Black and White the Wrong Way

Two of the most commonly used methods of shooting digital black and white photos are either by using the in-camera 'black and white' mode, or by using the 'greyscale conversion' option in your graphics software. However, both of these tend to be very simple conversions, and usually leave us with an image which is flat and bland.

Digital photos are composed of three channels - red, green and blue. The greyscale version of each of these channels looks different, bringing out texture and detail in different areas. 'Black and white' camera modes and software 'greyscale' conversions work by either combining equal amounts of these channels, or even worse by just discarding two of the channels and using the greyscale of the remaining one.

Ideally we would like to have full control over which channels are used in producing our black and white image, and the proportions in which they are mixed. Thankfully most graphics programs, such as Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro and GIMP offer a tool to do just this - the Channel Mixer.

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Converting to Black and White Using the Channel Mixer

This tutorial is written specifically for Photoshop, but it works in almost exactly the same way in any graphics program, so you'll still be able to follow along:

Start by loading in your color image.

Begin by taking a look at each of the three color channels, just to get an idea what they all look like, and to see if there are any which look better than the others. Press Ctrl+1 to display Red, Ctrl+2 to show Green and Ctrl+3 for Blue. Press Ctrl+~ when you're done to switch back to color mode.

Now that we have seen our three channels it's time to convert our image to black and white by using a combination of them.

Go to Image > Adjustments > Channel Mixer. You will see the dialogue box:

Tick the box at the bottom which says 'monochrome'. You should see your image change to black and white.

Next, adjust the three sliders labelled Red, Green and Blue until you get an image that you like. The 'best' settings depend on the image and your personal taste, but keep their total around 100%, otherwise you'll lighten or darken the image. If you do find that your total is too high or low, you can use the Constant slider beneath to compensate.

Notice that you can even set channels to negative values, which can produce some interesting effects.

When you're happy with your image you can click ok and save your newly converted black and white image.

Black and White Photo Conversion

Most images were produced in black and white for nearly a hundred years after the invention of photography, but now colour images have become commonplace. Creating strong three dimensional images on a piece of paper is one of the best attributes of black and white photography, as the effect can be more striking than with a colour photograph. Without the colour to distract us we become more aware of the subtle tones which can be found within a black and white image. In this article I will share the technique I use that will help you create beautiful, striking and moody black and white images from your colour photographs.

Digital cameras have a black and white mode but more information and detail will be recorded in colour, which will also create a higher quality printed image. This is why I always shoot in colour then convert images later. There are several ways of converting an image to black and white using Photoshop and many other image editing programs. You could simply desaturate the colours, but creating a black and white image with real tone and definition goes beyond this. Levels, curves and the Unsharp Mask can be used creatively with black and white conversion to provide further control over tones and contrast to create a stunning image.

Channel Mixer - I have found that using the Photoshop Channel Mixer is the easiest way to convert an image to black and white and produces the best results. The Channel Mixer allows you to control how much red, green and blue contribute to the final monochrome image.

The Channel Mixer can be selected from the adjustment layer popup menu in the layers palette or you can also access it from under the image menu.

Clicking on the left tick box entitled Monochrome will convert your photograph into a greyscale image, and gives you the ability to blend the red, green and blue channels. Adjust each of the sliders to produce an image to your liking. As a rule make sure that the total values for each channel adds up to 100%. This creates monochrome images that are the equivalent of ones shot on black and white film through red, green or blue filters. For example if you wanted to maximize cloud contrast in a blue sky, then a red filter would achieve this. I usually set the red channel to 0 and the green channel to 100 to cut down on the amount of noise, or sometimes a combination of red and green depending on the image.

Curves and Levels - Brightness and contrast can be adjusted in Photoshop by using the curves and levels tools, which can be found under Image > Adjustments Curves/Levels. Both curves and levels allow you to adjust the tonal range of an image. When using the levels command you can make adjustments to just three variables, highlights, shadows and midtones. I prefer to use curves as it gives you more precision. With curves you can adjust any point along a scale while keeping up to 15 other values constant. By adjusting the black point and white point in curves you can give your image more contrast. At opposite ends of the diagonal line you will find a small dot. When you grab hold one of the dots with your mouse and drag it around you will see the image change. To create more contrast drag the black point lower and the white point higher, so that either end of the diagonal line is curved. Practice using curves and levels and explore the different effects you can achieve with your images.

Unsharp Mask - The Unsharp Mask is my preferred tool for sharpening images, which can be found under Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask. It is a traditional film compositing technique used to sharpen edges in an image and corrects blurring. The Unsharp Mask locates pixels that differ from surrounding pixels by the threshold you specify and increases the pixels' contrast by the amount you specify. In order to get the look which I desire in my images I use the Unsharp Mask twice. I begin by using a high radius and lower amount, such as a radius of 50 pixels and an amount of 30%. This gives the image a much more intense look and details will stand out. The second time I use a lower radius of 1 pixel with a higher amount of 30%, which will correct any blurring and sharpen the image.

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