Creating Black and White Pictures

Features Used:

  • Grayscale conversion
  • Quick Filters (Black-and-white filter)
  • Levels

Black and white remains popular even though photographers have been able to capture the world in color for decades now. This is largely because some pictures practically beg for black and white—and a computer makes that easy, even for pictures shot in color. I do this myself sometimes with my portraits, documentary photos, and even landscapes.


The first step is to choose the right starting photo. Not every picture will look better in black and white—also called grayscale—than in color.

Badly taken photos won’t be rescued by desaturation. And pictures where color plays a role will end up worse—don’t bother desaturating a classic “autumn leaves” photo for example! But black and white conversion “calms down” pictures whose colors or contents are too chaotic (e.g. concert photos), and it can somewhat hide noise.


I’ll be doing my conversion in the Editor using the Effects menu’s Grayscale item (Ctrl+G).

My most important choice was picking a good picture to convert; my second most important choice is the Method. It sets how the different color channels in the picture will be converted. So I start by trying every method on the picture and previewing how their results look.


Ordinary Desaturation makes this picture look flat, boring, and short on contrast. But Grayscaleoffers another method, also named Grayscale, that is great for getting the job done “well enough,” quickly. Meanwhile the same can also be said for the Black and White Quick Filter.


Of course the absolute best grayscale conversions are the fruits of laboring over the individual color channels. When working with them the basic rule is, the more the given color is represented, the brighter the result. For example when converting solely through the green channel, the green parts of the photo will be almost completely white.

Since every photo is unique, there’s no one guide I can give to setting up the channels. Except for portraits... like the one right here. Converting portraits via the red channel hides most wrinkles and skin defects. To increase face detail when working via the red channel, use Custom, raise the green and blue channel levels as well, and turn on Normalize (it prevents blowout).


As my last edit to this photo, I raise contrast to make it more dramatic. (There are many ways to increase contrast, from Contrast in Quick Edits to the Curves filter.) Always increase contrast in a photo after grayscale conversion. For black and white photos, you want to have true white and black present in the picture. Raising contrast will achieve that.

What You’ve Learned

  • Why the first step in black and white is picking the right picture
  • Why and how to preview grayscale conversion methods before picking one
  • How to use the Grayscale method for quick conversions
  • How to mix channels manually

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