Despite the origins of the black and white photograph, producing greyscale images in the age of digital photography is definitely not an ‘old skool’ activity. The sheer power and beauty of a well-produced monochrome image means that this style of photography is as popular as ever. In fact, producing black and white pictures digitally provides us with more choices and more power to customise and fine-tune these images than ever was the case when film was king.
To give you some idea of the possibilities, in this tutorial we take the same image and convert it to greyscale in three different ways. (Above) All the techniques have their own strengths and weakness. Try them all and find your favourite.
HUE AND SATURATION METHOD
Photoshop Elements uses the term ‘saturation’ to refer to the strength of the colours in a picture. Increasing saturation makes the colours in a picture more vivid; decreasing saturation makes the hues weaker. The program employs the Hue/Saturation (Enhance > Adjust Color > Hue Saturation) control to adjust the colour’s strength. If the Saturation slider is moved all the way to the left of the dialogue (to a setting of –100) then all colour is removed from the picture. You are effectively left with a greyscale or black and white photo that is still an RGB file. This means that even though the photo no longer contains any colour, the colour mode it is stored in can still support colour. So if you want to try a little digital hand colouring, or experiment with pictures that contain monochrome as well as colour components, then this is the technique for you.
Be warned though, once your picture is desaturated the colour is lost forever and so it is always a good idea to use layers, making a background copy first. Or alternatively, save a copy of the colour version of the image before proceeding to change the file.
The easiest way to remove the colour from a photo is to select the Hue/Saturation control from the Adjust Color heading in the Enhance menu and drag the Saturation slider all the way to the left (-100). Alternatively, you could use the Enhance > Adjust Color > Remove Color option which produces the same results as moving the Saturation slider in the Hue/Saturation feature.
Such simple conversion techniques often need a little tweaking afterwards in order to balance the tones. Start adding in a Levels adjustment layer above the image layer. Drag the black and white input sliders towards the centre to add contrast (or the output sliders inwards to reduce contrast). Moving the midtone input slider to the right will darken the photo, and moving it to the left will lighten it.
Finally, add some drama to the picture by selectively lightening and darkening parts of the image using the Dodging and Burning-in tools. For a non-destructive alternative, add a new blank layer above the image layer and change the Blend Mode to Soft Light. Then use a white soft-edged brush to lighten areas and a black soft-edged brush to burn in detail.
Photoshop: Colour to Black and White: Page 2
Elements 5.0 contains a new Convert to Black and White feature which allows you to customise the way colour areas are mapped to grey during conversion. The dialogue consists of large before and after previews, six conversion presets based on popular subject types, an Amount slider that controls the strength of the changes, and eight thumbnail buttons for fine-tuning. This enables more sophisticated conversions by allowing you to adjust which colours (red, green or blue) feature more prominently in the final result.
With the colour image open in the Full Edit workspace, go to Enhance > Convert to Black and White. Click through the different conversion styles, checking the After preview for a suitable result.
To customise the conversion, select a conversion style that is closest to your desired result, then fine-tune by clicking one of the adjustment buttons – more blue/less blue, etc. For a more dramatic effect, also click the opposite of another option – less/more red.
Where the changes made with each click of an adjustment button are too great, use the Adjustment Intensity slider (bottom left of the dialogue). Move the slider left for smaller increments of change, and to the right for more dramatic effects. Click OK to apply the conversion, Reset to remove current settings or Cancel to quit.
To balance out the resulting tones in the converted image, add a new blank layer. Change the layer’s blend mode to Soft Light and label the layer Dodge and Burn. Darken parts of the image by painting on the layer with a black soft-edged brush. To lighten parts, switch the foreground colour to white before painting over the chosen area.
NON DESTRUCTIVE METHOD
This technique is based upon a custom conversion process created by Russell Brown from Adobe. It uses the Adjustment Layers technology in Photoshop Elements as a way to both convert the colour image to black and white (desaturate) and also to control how the colours are represented in the greyscale. Like a lot of Russell’s techniques it leaves the original image unchanged in the background, and hence this style of image enhancing is called non-destructive editing.
Make a new Hue/Saturation adjustment layer above your background. Don’t make any changes to the default settings for this layer. Set the mode of the adjustment layer to Color. Label
this layer ‘Filter’.
Make a second Hue/Saturation layer above the Filter layer and alter the settings so Saturation is -100. Call this layer Black and White conversion. The mono image now on screen is what we would expect if we just desaturated the coloured original.
Next double-click on the layer thumbnail in the Filter layer and move the Hue slider. This changes the way that the colour values are translated to black and white. Similarly, if you move the Saturation slider you can emphasise particular parts of the image.
Finally, introduce some dodging and burning by adding a blank layer above the background layer. Change the Blend mode of this layer to Soft Light and then ‘burn in’ using a black soft-edged brush or ‘dodge’ using a white soft-edged brush.