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Black and Whites

March 1, 2010

I have tried many different methods of converting pictures to black and white in Photoshop and I’ve found that my favorite way of doing it is in ACR.  I shoot RAW so it works easily.  (If you shoot in jpeg you can open them in ACR in Photoshop CS3 & 4 but they’re much more contrasty so the settings are different).

(Someone just reminded me that ACR and Lightroom have all the same sliders for developing, so this will work in Lightroom as well).

This is the picture I’m going to convert, prior to any adjustments.

Once open in ACR the first thing I do is go to the 4th tab over (highlighted in yellow) called HSL/Grayscale.  I click the Convert to Grayscale button and voilà, I have a basic conversion to work with.  You can adjust each of the color sliders, making that range of colors lighter or darker.

I find that the suggested conversion tends to be flat so I am generally adjusting to add more contrast.

Red, Orange and Yellow generally adjust the skin tone.  Be careful not to make the lips too dark, which I have a tendency to do.

Next I go to the second tab over, Tone Curve.  I usually adjust the middle two sliders, making the darks a bit darker and the lights a bit lighter.

I then go to the main tab and adjust the White Balance sliders, which make the overall picture lighter and darker in areas.  You just have to fiddle around and see what you like.

I also adjust the other sliders to taste.

Instead of using the Recovery slider to fix blown highlights, here I use it to darken the picture a bit.

I also like increasing the Fill Light, which makes the shadowed areas lighter.  Don’t go overboard or it gets a weird HDR sort of look.

I tend to pull back on the Blacks slider and then increase the contrast because I find it’s very easy to make the eyes too dark and that seems to balance it out.

I also like to increase the Clarity slider, as you can see.

I don’t have a set number for each slider ~ I go back and forth and adjust each until I like what I see.  For me it’s important to have a balance of light and dark, and for the overall picture not to look too muddy.  Like I mentioned I pay close attention to the eyes, trying to make sure they don’t look too dark.

One last step I sometimes do is add Split Toning, by going to the fifth tab over.  Here you can add a color to highlights and the shadows ~ it’s an easy way to add a nice tone to the picture.  (I made this example but decided to leave it out in my final picture).

Once I have things looking like I want I open the picture in Photoshop.

Now in Photoshop I convert the picture to RGB.

I then add Gradient Map Adjustment layers.  Here I just added a black to white, kept it at normal and took it down to 21%.

Sometimes I change the mode to Soft Light, to add more contrast.

Sometimes I change the color of the gradient, going from black to a dark brown.  I’ll then reduce the opacity and change the mode to Overlay, Soft Light, Hard Light, Vivid Light ~ it depends on the picture and the look I want.

Sometimes I have one Gradient Map, sometimes two, sometimes three…  it really differs from picture to picture.

I also added a Level Adjustment Layer and brought each end in a little bit, to add a bit more contrast.

I painted her eyes back on both layers because, like I said twice already, I don’t like dark eyes 🙂

And the final picture.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. Miriam permalink
    March 1, 2010 2:35 pm

    Photo looks awsome ! Thanks for the tutorial I’ve tried this on photos of my children but both have dark hair and brown eyes so converting their photos to B&W gave them shadowy eyes and flat hair tones this tutorial will defenitly help me with that

  2. March 1, 2010 2:44 pm

    i just see this on my email!
    this is an stunning result ! really good work! congrats!
    and thanks for post this awesome tutorials!

  3. March 1, 2010 3:02 pm

    the gradient map was an added idea I had not used before

  4. March 1, 2010 3:33 pm

    Beautiful! Thank you so much!

  5. March 1, 2010 6:13 pm

    AWESOME !! Thank you !!

  6. lyn permalink
    March 1, 2010 9:27 pm

    any ideas on how to lighten the irises that don’t require massive PSing?? mine are all coming out super dark–even for blue eyes.

    • elycerose permalink*
      March 1, 2010 9:47 pm

      It’s hard to say ~ sometimes using the dodge tool, set at a really low opacity works, if you make a duplicate copy and go over the eyes lightly.

  7. March 1, 2010 9:30 pm

    Thanks for the tutorial.

  8. Marni permalink
    March 2, 2010 12:16 am

    Thank you so much but I don’t understand how you painted her eyes back to lighten them! Excuse my ignorance!

    • elycerose permalink*
      March 2, 2010 6:27 am

      Marni ~ I used the layer mask attached to the adjustment layers. I explained them here. Basically, if you look at the adjustment layer on the layer palette, there is a little white box attached to the layer ~ that is a layer mask. Click on it one time, so it’s selected. Then take your paintbrush tool, with the foreground color set to black, and paint over the areas you don’t want the adjustment layer to effect.

  9. Stacey permalink
    March 2, 2010 6:27 am

    Great tutorial. Love them all. Thank u so much!

  10. Ken Robinson permalink
    March 2, 2010 5:29 pm

    Awesome work! I can’t wait to try this !! Thanks…..

  11. Kristy permalink
    March 3, 2010 7:29 am

    I can’t wait to try this! I’ve always been so disappointed with converting to black and whites. This looks like it works beautifully 🙂

  12. kasandra permalink
    March 7, 2010 8:44 pm

    thanks so much for sharing your art! your thought process behind why you’re making the adjustments you are is so helpful … there are just so many different ways to do things in both lr and ps, it’s just so nice to hear someone’s ‘why’ behind the ‘how’

  13. March 12, 2010 9:17 am

    Thanks from spain


  14. April 7, 2010 6:03 am

    Thanks for this amazing tutorial! Never used this way to convert to greyscale in ACR, will try it defo.

    You wrote you converted to RGB in Photoshop. RAW files are already in RGB, what did you convert?

    • elycerose permalink*
      April 7, 2010 8:37 am

      Hey there ~ when you convert to grayscale in ACR it opens as a grayscale image in Photoshop.

  15. Lori F permalink
    April 13, 2010 7:12 am

    Hi I just wanted to say how inspiring I think your images are & of course how wonderful you are for sharing your postprocessing techniques… I especially love this one b/c I have a hard time with Black n White’s and I have to say that after following this tutorial & doing some tweaks on the settings according to my image I finally have a b&w I love… thank you!

  16. May 26, 2010 6:08 pm

    Thank you for the thorough tutorial! I’m not that familiar with post-processing steps beyond crop, sharpen, and levels so this is very nice to read. May I ask why you use Lightroom and Photoshop? When searching Flickr I didn’t see many people who used both programs. It seems to be one or the other.

    • elycerose permalink*
      May 28, 2010 10:24 am

      I bought both because I was curious about Lightroom. I feel that you definitely do not need Lightroom if you already have Photoshop (you can do all the same things in ACR & Bridge), but if you don’t then it’s a good choice.

      • May 28, 2010 10:48 am

        Oh that makes sense. 🙂 Thank you! I was worried Photoshop’s conversion wouldn’t be as effective.

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