How To Make BLACK and WHITE Photos In Photoshop – Two Easy Conversion Techniques

In this tutorial, you’re going to learn how to make black and white photos in Photoshop.

Converting a color image into a good Black and white photo can be trickier than you think. You cannot expect fantastic results by simply removing the color from a photograph. Desaturating the colors without adjusting them can make your image feel flat and dull.

You need control over how each color is represented in grayscale to create better tonality and contrast.

This tutorial will teach you two methods that give you excellent control over how the final black and white image looks. You’ll be able to quickly convert a color image into a beautiful black and white photo.

Best of all, these methods are non-destructive, so you can always come back and make changes later if you need to.

We’re going to work with this image of Venice. But you can use any photo that you like!

Venice Photo

I’ll be using Photoshop CC here, but this tutorial is also compatible with Photoshop CS6.

Topics Discussed in This Tutorial:

Make a Black and White Photo Using The Black/White Adjustment Layer

The first method of creating black and white photos is to use the Black and White Adjustment Layer.

First introduced in Photoshop CS3, the Black/White Adjustment Layer desaturates a photo and allows you to control how the grays of each color is represented.

Photoshop CS3

This adjustment layer is one of the best tools to convert color photos into black and white.

Step 01 – Make a Black and White Adjustment Layer

Start by creating a Black and White Adjustment Layer.

From the Layers Panel, click on the New Adjustment Layer icon and select Black White.

Black & White Adjustment

Step 02 – Adjust the Color Slider in The Properties Panel

The Black and White adjustment layer will desaturate your image.

In the Properties Panel, you’ll notice six sliders: Reds, Yellows, Greens, Cyans, Blues, and Magentas.

These sliders control the brightness of the grayscale version of the corresponding colors.

Default Camera Raw Adjustments

For example, moving the Red slider to the left, darkens the pixels that initially had a shade of red.

Red Slider Adjustment

You can use the slider to create better contrast and tonality in your image.

For example, if you want a darker more dramatic sky, you can drag the Blue slider to the right.

Blue Sky Darker

Step 03 – Use On-image Adjustment Tool

Instead of using the sliders to adjust the tonality of your photo, you can click-and-drag over the image to adjust a particular area.

To adjust a specific color in your photo, you can select the On-image Adjustment Tool found on the top left of the properties panel.

On-Image Adjustment Tool

Then click-and-drag directly over your image to modify the color slider for the predominant color at that location. Dragging to the left makes the selected section darker while dragging to the right makes it brighter.

Convert a Color Image to Black and White Using The Camera Raw Filter

Although the Black/White Adjustment Layer gives you excellent results, there is a better way to convert a color image to black and white.

The Camera Raw Filter also allows you to convert a photo into black and white with one click, and it gives you more control.

You can apply the Camera Raw Filter to any pixel layer, but it is best to work non-destructively.

Step 01 – Convert Image Into a Smart Object

First, right-click on the Layer and select “Convert To Smart Object.”

A Smart Object is a container that contains one or more layers. It allows you to apply distortions, filters, and adjustments without destroying pixels. In other words, you can always come back and fine-tune your adjustments or even remove them entirely if you like.

Step 02 – Apply The Camera Raw Filter

With the Smart Object selected in the Layers Panel, go into Filter > Camera Raw Filter.

Apply the Camera Raw Filter

The Camera Raw Filter allows you to easily enhance saturation, clarity, contrast, and more in your images. It also allows you to control to convert your photos to grayscale and it gives you excellent control of how the colors are displayed in black and white.

Step 03 – Convert Your Color Photo Into Black and White

In Photoshop CC, to convert a photo to black and white in Camera Raw, first, click on the Black & White button under Treatment.

Black & White Mixer Tab
Black & White Mixer

Then, click on the Black & White Mix tab to access eight sliders that resemble the Black and White Adjustment Layer.

In Photoshop CS6, the steps are a bit different. To convert a photo to black and white in Camera Raw, go to the HSL/Grayscale tab. Then check the Convert to “Grayscale” checkbox.

Convert To Grayscale

Step 04 – Use the HSL Slider To Control The Grays of Your Image

After you desaturate your image, you will see eight sliders that resemble the Black and White Adjustment Layer. These sliders control the brightness of the grayscale version of the corresponding colors.

The image below shows the default settings for all the sliders and the default black and white photo.

Camera Raw Defaul

You can adjust the brightness of the sky by sliding the Blues slider left or right. For example, to make the sky darker you can drag the Blues slider to the left.

Camera Raw Adjustment

The most significant difference between Camera Raw and the Black and White Adjustment Layer is the control sliders. Camera Raw gives you three additional sliders; The Oranges, Purples, and Aquas sliders. However, Camera Raw does not have the Cyans slider.

These extra sliders give you more control over the final look of the black and white photo.

Step 05 – Adjust Clipping in Your Photo

Another great feature that Camera Raw gives you is the ability to see when clipping occurs (loss of all detail).

If you ever move a slider far enough to the left or right, you will see that some areas become either blue or red.

Clipping Black Colors

These warnings are Photoshop’s way of telling you that those pixels have lost all detail and they are now either pure black or pure white.

The red areas indicate that the corresponding areas are entirely white and have lost all detail. The blue regions indicate the pixels below are entirely black and have lost all detail.

You can then use the color sliders or the tonality sliders to fine-tune your image to bring back detail in those areas.

In some cases, you may want to keep the clipped areas. To disable the clipping warning, you can click on the corresponding triangle icons in the histogram.

Clipping Triangles on Histogram

The triangle to the left corresponds to the dark pixels (blue). The triangle to the right corresponds to the light pixels (red).

You can also press the U key on the keyboard to disable the black clip warning (blue) and the O key to disable the white clipping warning (red).

Step 05 – Use The Other Tools In Camera Raw

Camera Raw has other fantastic tools that will help you improve your photos. For example, you can adjust exposure, sharpen your photos, reduce noise, or even add a vignette.

Your Turn!

And there you have it! That’s how to easily convert a color image to black and white in Photoshop!

Give it a try! And if you create something using this tutorial you can share your results on Instagram with the hashtag #ptcvids!

Check out our Photoshop Techniques section for more tutorials like this!

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Thank you for this tutorial, it has made things so much clearer.

Glen Danielsen

Thanks so much! Super helpful! 🙂