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Some Useful Black and White Conversion Techniques

by Editor Lourens Durand 
Edited and published by Yvette Depaepe, the 7th of October 2022

“Our lives at times seem a study in contrast … everything seen in absolutes of black & white. Too often we are not aware that it is the shades of grey that add depth & meaning to the starkness of those extremes.”  ~Ansel Adams~


'The Boss' by Angelika Martha Himburg


When photographing in black and white, it is best to previsualize the scene and relate it to Ansell Adams’ zone system, with zone 0 as pure black, 5 as middle grey, and 10 as pure white, and then attempt to capture all of these tones in a single shot. It is best, therefore, to think and shoot in black and white but, if you are shooting in RAW, your image data is stored in full colour. In any case, we often have to start with a colour photograph and then convert it to black and white in post-processing.

However, this conversion from colour to black and white is only the first phase. We often (most of the time) need to process the converted image further to perfect and refine the necessary wide range of tones from shadows and highlights to create the maximum emotional effect.

There are several tools available in Photoshop to assist with both of these phases.


There are many methods for doing the initial conversion to black and white, but here are some of the more popular ones:

  • Use Image Adjustment from the toolbar
  • Click on image/adjustment/black and white on the toolbar and then play with the colour sliders to    get the best visual effect
  • Adjustment Layer
  • Add a Black and White adjustment layer and play with the colour sliders to optimise

Photoshop Raw Presets
Photoshop RAW has a number of Black and white presets which, although not ideal, will get you close.

Third-Party Presets

There are a number of third-party presets, such as Silver Effex Pro and Infinite Black and White, that can be pretty useful (at a cost)

Gradient Map

  • Add a Gradient Map Adjustment layer, click on the arrow at the right of the preview bar, and select the Basics Black and White box.
  • Now click inside the preview bar, and the gradient editor will appear.
  • There are two sliders associated with the gradient editor but concentrate on the lower one.
  • At each end below the editor there are stops – click on either one and a midpoint marker will appear.
  • Adjust this midpoint marker to the left or right to darken or lighten the mid tones to your taste.
  • By moving the left and right stops you can fine-tune the map even further.

One method that really works well:

  • Open your colour image and click on image/calculations, which will bring up a dialogue box displaying two sources of the same photo. For each source, there are 4 channels – red, blue, green, and grey.
  • First, select the Multiply blending mode, then compare different combinations of red, blue and green in the 2 channels to give the best-looking contrast.
  • Click on “result to new document” and then “OK”. The new document will appear as a separate image.
  • Go back to the original image, click on image/calculation and change the blend mode to lighten, select “result to new document” and “OK”. A second new image will appear.
  • Now copy and paste the new images into layers on the original document, with the second image in the top layer.
  • Right-click on the top layer, select blending option = gray
  • Alt-click on “Blend If” of this layer, split the marker and move completely to the right
  • Do the same for the underlying layer
  • Duplicate the background layer and move it to the top of the layer stack, do a High Pass Filter, change the Blending Mode to Linear Light, desaturate the layer, and voila.


Now that the basic conversion into black and white has been done, it is time for the fine-tuning and refinement of your photo, turning what may be a flat, uninteresting image into a winner. The secret to this phase is to use layers and masks to fine-tune localised areas of the photo – multiple layers and masks are the secrets to success here.

Curves Adjustment Layers and masking are particularly effective, using a combination of layers to highlight or darken specific areas of the photo to optimise the blacks, whites, and multiple shades of grey  – as many layers as you like, each one targeting a specific area, each one adding to the overall effect. Curves may also be used in conjunction with levels adjustment layers and masks, localised brightness, texture, clarity, and graduated filters, dodging and burning… each of these can enhance the photo.

The more layers the more control over localised tone optimisation.

Of course, the original photograph (whether in black and white or colour) has to be well composed and well lit – post-processing cannot rescue a bad photo – but, with a little patience and well-aimed refinements, a good photo can become great.

There is a huge representation of superb black and white photographs on, and it has been difficult to make a selection here, as the standard is so high. Whichever processing techniques have been used by the authors, the results have been fantastic, so enjoy!

Lourens Durand



'Portrait' by JAE



'Elderly smoker' by Sergio Pandolfini



'In the bowels of the mountain-BW' by Vito Guarino



'Gypsy girl' by Sergio Pandolfini



'Blondie' by Lourens Durand



'Lanthanum' by Holger Glaab



'Ronnie' by Zachar Rise


'the man from Agra' by Piet Flour



'Brussels lace' by Sophie Voituron



'going to play' by Ivan Valentino



'Ann-Robin XI' by Nick van Dijk



'E' by Widi Hardhanu



'Cristina' by Roberto Bressan


'A little miracle' by Sebastien DEL GROSSO



'Wish' by Mohammadreza Momeni



'Lucid Dream II – The Shard & London Bridge' by Oscar Lopez



'calmness' by Damijan Sedevcic



'My beautiful flat land ...' by Yvette Depaepe



'india girl' by Ivan Lee



'Fog of Castle' by Shin Woo Ryu



'Always' by Tiger Seo


'Little window' by Marco Tagliarino


'Jolina M. No.2 – Bremen/Germany 2010' by Robert Komarek



'To Enter or Not' by Jacqueline Hammer



'alone' by RedBenjamim Leandro de Medeiros



'The big eye' by Jorge Pimenta



'The three horsemen' by Rodrigo Núñez Buj





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Excellent and most useful information, lovely photographs
Beautiful colección, congratulaciones!
Great Articles..Thanks for sharing!
Wonderful images, great work, congrats !!!
Excellent article and great collection. Many compliments to autors and team
Susi PRO
Muchas gracias por este excelente artículo didáctico. Increíble selección de imágenes. Me encantan!!!
Amazing Tones - Amazing images - Wonderful collection Well done all
impressive: compliments to team and selected artists
Excellent collection of the beautiful and artistic works! Learning!
Great article and collection of images. I loved it! Thanks a lot...
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