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How To Convert Colour Photo to Black and White

by Catherine Ramsey (follow)
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Weíve discussed shooting in colour vs black & white on the blog before, but today weíre going to take a good look at converting your photos into black & white, and how to make them look bold and dramatic.
Iím going to be working with the unedited image below:

The 'raw' image

Options for converting to black & white
Both Lightroom and Photoshop give you multiple options for converting your image. In Lightroom you can choose either colour or black & white treatment, which can be found under the Basic menu in Develop Mode. In Photoshop, simply select the Black & White option under the Adjustments menu. This will create a new layer that you can make changes to, without altering the original image on the bottom layer.

Figure 1 - In lightroom, all colour tones have been desaturated, except for the blue tone in the sky

Another way that you can convert your image is by desaturating the tones. You can either do this to all of the colours, or single a few out, as shown in figure 1 above.

This same effect can be achieved by using the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer in Photoshop, and by desaturating either all tones (Master), or choosing them individually (see figure 2 below).
Figure 2 - Photoshop Hue/Saturation adjustment layer

Contrast is key
The trick to getting a really punchy, dramatic looking black & white image, is contrast. Unlike with colour images, an exaggerated contrast can be very effective. For the sake of this example, Iím going to convert my colour image into black & white using the treatment in Lightroom, as explained above. This is the result Iím given:
Figure 3

This looks alright, but it could have more punch!
The first thing Iím going to do is move the contrast slider under the Basic menu. Iíll increase it to 10.
This gives me a bit of an edge, although it could still be more dramatic.

Next Iím going to adjust my Tone Curve. I like to start by adding only 3 points: one in the highlights, one in the shadows, and one around the centre (see figure 4).
Figure 4 - using the Tone Curve

From here Iíll be adjusting these points up and down to see what effect they have on my image. I may also choose to add more points as necessary. The image looks a lot punchier now:
Figure 5

Thereís certainly a good contrast here, however, if we wanted to take it one step further, we might also choose to adjust our individual tones, as shown in figure 6.
Figure 6 - Black & White tone adjustments

This same process can be achieved in Photoshop by using a Curves adjustment layer and by moving the tone sliders of the Black & White adjustment layer.

Localised adjustments
At this point our picture is looking pretty good, however, Iím noticing that the puppet is a little overexposed, and the Christmas banner above is quite underexposed.

The first thing Iím going to try to fix this is to use a filter in Lightroom. With the Radial Filter selected, I can circle the banner area and adjust only this section. Iíve increased the exposure a little as well the shadow tones, as seen in figure 7.
Figure 7

This already makes a huge difference. Just make sure that your radial filter has a good amount of feathering, so that the adjustment edges canít be seen. You may also want to select Invert Mask, to ensure that youíre altering the space inside the circle, not the outside.

Iíll make a selection of the puppet and decrease this exposure and highlights a little as well. The image now looks like this:
Figure 8

Iím pretty happy with this result, and after adding a bit of sharpening, would consider it finished.

To make similar adjustments in Photoshop, an easy option is to use the Dodge and Burn tools. Duplicate the Background layer image before doing this, so that if you wish to undo your changes you can easily do so by deleting the affected layer.

The Dodge tool is used to lighten and the Burn tool, to darken. Just make sure that you use a very soft brush (0% hardness will work well) and keep the exposure very low (about 3-5%). Brush over the area you wish to lighten or darken and gradually build up the effect. Be careful not to overdo it!
Figure 9 - Darken the bright tones by using the Burn tool

Share your black and white photography on our Facebook page, or you can join your local photography group page here:

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