One of the best things about shooting digital is that you don’t need to choose black and white or colour when you load the film, or even when you set up your camera and press the shutter. Not only can it all be done on the computer afterwards, you actually get better results that way. You can use it on anything from scenic landscapes to arty portraits and being digital you can always go back to colour if you don’t like it. In this post I will explain how to convert a colour images to black and white using the full editor in Photoshop Elements. Hopefully with a bit of luck you will end up with something that looks a bit like this:
Taking the right photo
Not every photo will look great in black and white so there are a few things to consider when either taking a shot or picking which shots to do the B&W thing to. Look for strong compositional elements that don’t rely on colour to convey the story of the picture, contrast between light and dark is very important as well otherwise the photo may come out grey and dull. Experiment, it can’t hurt but if your B&Ws aren’t exciting you it may be the photos rather that the post processing that needs to be improved.
The wrong way to convert
Probably the easiest way to convert an image to greyscale is to reduce the saturation to zero (this is what will happen in your camera if you shoot straight to black and white), don’t do it. You will end up with dull photos lacking in drama, this is because all of the colours will be converted to the same amount of grey, regardless of their importance within the image. This is also why you should always shoot in colour and convert later.
The right way to do it – The tutorial bit
- Pick a suitable suitable image and open it in the full editor within Photoshop Elements. If you shot in RAW then you will need to all of your normal adjustments but those relating to color such as white balance are less important than usual but I like to get a half decent colour version anyway as a base for what comes next. Duplicate you background layer and you should have something a bit like this.
- Select the “convert to black and white” option via the Enhance menu or press Ctrl+Alt+B (cmd+opt+B on the Mac) to bring up the B&W dialogue box. Here you have various options for different types of black and white images and some sliders to play with.
The sliders control the relative brightness applied to the different colour channels of the colour image. This gives you much more control over the final outcome of the B&W. The styles down the left are simply different presets for positions of the sliders and are the best place to start with your conversion, just flick through until you find the one you like the most. For this pic I chose Vivid Landscape.
- You now have your black and white image which can be edited as you normally would a colour image. I have added some contrast using levels, darkend the sky to add drama and applied some sharpening to accentuate the detail in the shot. What you do will depend on your image but the beauty of Photoshop Elements is that you can easily do a bit of trial and error until you get what you like.
That’s it – Done
Simple wasn’t it, so get out there and try it. Try shooting with black and white in mind and you may get some spectacular results and just have a play around in PSE. Keep the original file to go back to if your screw it all up and in the end you might just get something you really like.