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Sally Jane Photographic Art

Adobe Photoshop Tutorial


Photoshop Layers Pallet - Adjustment Layers - Black & White conversion

I previously discussed black and white conversions using the Channel Mixer option but also promised to tell you of another option available to users of Photoshop cs3 and above. Adobe has given Photoshop users a new adjustment layer specifically for black and white conversions that is simpler to use and slightly more flexible. Once again, it is located in the adjustment layers options at the bottom of the layers pallet. Don't worry if you can't find it, I'll show you where it is in a minute. first lets look at the example image.

I've chosen one with a wide variety of colour and a nice plain blue sky to demonstrate the effect best.

Lest get started. First, I would recommend you switch to 16 bit mode for best results. It will work fine in 8 bit but I think you get a smoother finished image if the conversion has been done in 16 bit and then converted back to 8 bit after flattening the layers. If you don't know about 16 and 8 bit editing please go through my tutorial on it here.

To access the Black and white conversion adjustment layer go to the layers pallet at the bottom right of your screen. If it is not visible click on 'Window' on the top toolbar and select 'Layers' from the drop down list or just hit F7 on your keyboard. Right at the bottom of the pallet you will see half a dozen little icons. One of the icons in the centre will look like a circle which is half black and half white. Click on this and you will get a pop up list of all the adjustment layers you can use. Select 'Black & White...' as shown right.

Instantly your image will be converted to appear black and white and you will see a large control panel with the default settings set (see below). You could just accept these settings if you are happy with this but often you will want to tweak them a bit to really make the image pop.

On the right hand side just beneath the three buttons you will see a tiny checkbox with the word 'Preview' next to it. Make sure this is checked so you can see your changes as you make them on the fly. It should be checked by default but still worth checking.

At the top od the control panel there is a drop down area called 'Presets'. This give you a whole bunch of preset settings for various effects. I suggest you take a look at them and see if there is anything you like but personally I like to make my settings individually for each image. You will also see there is a 'Custom' setting that allows you to create and save your own presets.

Next there are six colour sliders. These controls the colour channels although the order is a little different than we are used to seeing in Photoshop. Normally you would have a slider the controls Red & Cyan, Green & Magenta and Blue & Yellow but here they have all been given their own slider. Moving the slider to the right lightens that channel while moving it left darkens it.

In this image I have moved the red slider all the way to the right. Notice how the red and orange flowers have turned almost white and even the gravel path, that was slightly orange, has lightened.

Here, above, I have done the reverse a moved the red slider all the way to the left. Now the flowers appear black and the path is very dark. Not all the sliders are so obvious though so don't be fooled. You might think the grass and foliage would be controlled by the green slider but you would only be partly right. In the main, foliage is best controlled by the Yellow slider.

Here I have moved the yellow slider all the way to the right and now you almost need sunglasses on to look at it. The grass and foliage has really lightened and the yellow stone work is completely blown out.

Now if I move it all the way to the left the grass and foliage have turned black but the detail has come back nicely in the walls. Lets see what effect the green slider has.

Well, certainly the grass has lightened slightly but it's actually lost a lot of detail too. Notice, though, it has not touched the stone work.

Moving the green slider all the way left has darkened the foliage slightly but not really done that much considering the strength of the adjustment.

When it comes to changing the shade of the sky both the blue and cyan sliders will be effective and I usually use them together. If you have a seascape with a blue ocean it is often the cyan slider that will be of most use. One thing you will need to be careful of, with both of these sliders, is bringing noise into the image when darkening these channels.

The above two images show the effects of either dragging the cyan slider or the blue slider too far to the left. The sky has not just darkened, it has become very spotty with noise as a result. There is a fix for this which we will look at in a little while but try not to darken these channels more than absolutely necessary. That is one of the reasons I like to use a little of both.

The last channel slider is Magenta but I seldom find any images with much in this channel to effect. I this image a couple of the flowers were effected slightly but with most images the magenta slider has no effect at all in monochrome.


Right at the bottom there are two greyed out sliders and a tiny check box called 'Tint'. This is where you can add a sepia tone or other tint. Check the check box to enable these sliders. By default it will be set on Sepia.

The default sepia to my mind is a bit strong but, like everything else in Photoshop, that can be controlled. There are two sliders, one controls the colour of the tint and one the strength or 'saturation'. By moving the saturation slider to the left you can tone down the strength of the tint.

By moving the top slider you can change the colour completely and below you can see I have changed the tint to blue.

That's still too strong for this image however, I do like to add a hint of blue sometimes to 'Black and White' images just to give a slightly smoother feel.

The saturation now is down to 4% which you might think is not worth doing but in the days of film and photographic paper some papers would produce this effect from a purely black and white image. It all depends on what you want to achieve.

OK, so I am happy with my 'Black and White' settings but what about that sky? If you look closely you will see it looks like a bad case of freckles. This was the noise we created when we darkened the blue and cyan channels. This needs to be fixed.

Using the magic wand select the sky making sure you have the background image selected in your layers pallet. You might need to take several samples to get all the sky selected and to do that you need to hold down the shift key as you sample. See my tutorial on the Magic Wand Tool for better instructions on this.

Now hit ctrl + J on your keyboard to duplicate the selected sky area to a new layer above the current one as shone in the image here left.

Ctrl+ click on the thumbnail in this layer to reselect the sky area again. This is important because we want to constrain the next step to this area only and not allow it to spill outside.

Now go to the 'Filter' menu on the top toolbar. From the drop down list select 'Blur' and 'Gaussian Blur'. A new window will pop up with a preview pane and a slider. the preview pane may appear blank as it will be zoomed into a small area in the centre of the image which in this example is outside of the selected sky. You can drag in the preview pane to relocate it or, as I tend to do, by having the 'Preview' check box checked you can see your changes directly on your image. sometimes, though, it is best to see the changes at 100% which is what this preview pane allows you to do.

The slider allows you to control how much blurring your require. For this purpose you want just enough blue to make the freckles disappear without causing any banding in the sky instead. Working in 16 bit mode helps reduce the effects of banding especially as the layers are flattened. I have it set to 10% here but this will vary depending on the resolution of the image and the severity of the noise.

Once you are happy with the result flatten the layers. Go to 'Layers' on the top menu bar and select 'Flatten Layers' at the bottom of tech drop down list. You can now convert the image back to 8 bit mode if you were working in 16 bit. All that is left to do now is to save you image but remember to give it a new name so you don't over-write the original.

Just for a comparison the image below is the same image but this was converted to Black and White by just changing the mode from RGB Colour to Greyscale.

I'll let you decide which you prefer as there simply is no right or wrong way to do this but you really have no control over how the conversion is made using that technique whereas by using the adjustment layer as described you are much freer to make the most of your images.


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