Photography tips – simple b&w conversion

I said I would post how I do my black and white conversion, but I also wanted to do it in Picassa to show that you can get a really similar effect to Photoshop.

Here is Picassa:

1. Go to the “tuning” tab and move the shadow, highlights and fill light.  I added a lot of shadow, a bit of hightlight and a little fill light.  Don’t pay attention to the color, but make sure you aren’t creating blowouts in the highlights (aka glowing spots).

2. Go to the Effects tab and convert to black and white.

3. See if you like the effect and if not, you can go back to the tuning tab and move the sliders around more.

4. If the image isn’t sharp enough, go to the effect tab and sharpen.  I find this usually over sharpens my pictures but my camera usually has a pretty good focus so I don’t usually need much.  I didn’t sharpen this one because it made her hair all straw like.  That’s bad.


Now for Photoshop Elements

1. Defog (Filter->Sharpen->Unsharpen Mask-> 20/60/0)

2. Gradient Map adjustment layer.  I did a screenshot so you could see which one to select.  It will look different in Elements since I did this in CS2.

Gradient Map

3. Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer.  As in Picassa, move the sliders around until you see a nice contrast.  Usually to get the contrast I want I blow the highlights.  This is where having the capability to use layers is nice.  I just erase those areas where the highlights are blown.


Brightness contrast



4. Flatten image.  Now I fix stuff.  She had some food/dried boogers that would show up when this shot is blown up bigger.  So I used the healing brush and fixed those spots.  Then, I used the dodge tool around her eyes, since the whites of her eyes were dark.  This lightened them up.


5. Next I sharpened the image up a little bit. 


The majority of the bw conversion I have done lately have another step in between Gradient Map and the Brightness/Contrast.  It is the Channel Mixer adjustment layer.  This allows you a lot more control over the different color channels.  I move the red channel down and adjust the other ones to taste.  These adjustments are all about watching how these moves affect the picture.  I make sure that the bw is not muddy, where you don’t see much gray, and it is more darks and whites.  Then I make sure that I am not blowing the highlights, and if I do, I make sure I can erase the blowouts on the top layer.

If you look at the two examples it doesn’t look like there is much of a difference.  On a small scale there really isn’t.  It is when you want to blow them up to a bigger print that you would see the differences (sharpness, highlights aren’t blown, messinesses fixed).  That is where it pays to spend more time fixing your photos.

Oh and here is the shot straight out of the camera so you can see what I started with:



7 Replies to “Photography tips – simple b&w conversion”

  1. Stacy, I love you for this! I somehow never knew about gradient map adjustment layers…I just gave it a try and it’s wonderful, a much richer conversion than simply removing saturation. Thank you!!!

  2. Hope you all find it useful! I got this conversion method from Scott Kelby’s Photoshop book, which I highly recommend.

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