Classic Black & White



Photoshop is a powerhouse image-editing application with numerous ways to convert and tweak black-and-white images. Black-and-white conversions can be performed selectively for the best results. Most importantly, all of these adjustments can be made as layers, which can be blended as needed or even removed at a later time. In Photoshop CS4, the Adjustments panel conveniently groups most of these methods together for a much faster workflow.

The easiest way to desaturate an image is to use Image > Adjustment > Desaturate. This process is similar to in-camera modes, providing an automatic grayscale version of yourimage with evenly mixed Red, Green and Blue channels. The Lab Color mode (Image > Mode > Lab Color) is another way to achieve a grayscale image, though it’s based on Lightness (which is a mix of brightness and contrast). Do so by deselecting the “a” and “b” in the Channels palette after converting.

For another method that provides a lot of control, desaturate with the Hue/Saturation adjustment (Image > Adjustment > Hue/Saturation), which also gives you sliders for control of Hue and Lightness in the reds, yellows, greens, cyans, blues and magentas of the image. Toning options are added by checking the Colorize box.

The Channel Mixer (Image > Adjustments > Channel Mixer) is the choice of many professionals. Checking Monochrome at the bottom of the dialog box will provide a grayscale image based on the Red, Green and Blue color channels. By unchecking Monochrome, you can add tonality back into the black-and-white image, and there are templates for Blue, Green, Red, Orange and Yellow filters, as well as Infrared.

The black-and-white conversion in CS3 and CS4 (Image > Adjustments > Black & White) is perhaps the best mix of control and simplicity, providing excellent conversion with color sliders that adjust tonality by lightening or darkening the levels of the image’s original colors. There also are presets for quickly adjusting to a look, including Blue, Green, Yellow and Red filters, as well as High Contrast Blue and Red, Maximum White and Black, Neutral Density and Infrared. The Black-and-White mode in CS4 also includes two new presets, Darker and Lighter. All of these presets can be fine-tuned with the sliders for perfecting an image.



In Adobe Lightroom 2, first go to the Library module’s Quick Develop dialog box. Here, you’ll find a number of one-click presets for a variety of popular black-and-white styles.

Select Grayscale under the Treatment contextual menu, and you can apply anything from Aged Photo to Cyano-type to Sepia onto your conversion. For more options, in the Develop module, there are sliders for almost any general image edit, from Exposure to Saturation to Tone Curve. The whole setup is intuitive and easy to figure out, as changes are previewed while they’re made. You even can compare the color and black-and-white versions with a before-and-after view.


Apple Aperture is similar to Adobe Lightroom in that it’s built to be an intuitive image browser that also has a healthy feature set for tweaking photos. Images in Aperture can be worked on in full screen, and the Adjustments panel (H on the keyboard) provides you with control over exposure, levels, white balance, color and highlights and shadows.

The Monochrome Mixer, available under the plus sign in the top right of the panel (or Control-M), gives you options for experimenting with different filters, including Red, Orange, Yellow, Green and Blue. Color mixes of Red, Green and Blue channels can be adjusted manually, and Luminance and RGB histograms with sliders give more extended control. Aperture also edits nondestructively, so you always can revert back to the original image if you’re unhappy with your edits.

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