Digital Photography Tips; Converting the World to Black and White

It’s a colourful world, filled with a wonderful array of hues, which change throughout the day, treating us to a kaleidoscope from dawn to dusk. It’s not any secret how fond I am of this vibrancy, portraying the world in its myriad of shades through digital photography.

Digital photography; Vintage car in Alice Springs, the Northern Territory, Australia on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-101BW_vintage_car

An oldie, but goodie

A black and white image is often equally vibrant however, the contrasts of shade can sometimes be even more striking. They seem especially effective in portraying urban scenes, industrial or agricultural machinery, or wastelands.

The greater the contrast, the more effective the image can appear, dramatic skies convert especially well to the black and white format. Most of us have probably also admired many powerful portraits rendered in the honesty of monochrome.

Breakwater at Cleveleys, near Blackpool in North West Lancashire, England, United Kingdom on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-5BW_cleveleys

Naturally less saturated at sunset

Digital photography; Street sculptures in St John, New Brunswick, Canada on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-186BW_street_sculptures

Quirky street figurines

Often these images are so captivating that even a self-confessed colour junkie like me cannot keep ignoring the many shades of grey. They often stand out when editing images, even though they are in glorious technicolour the potential as for black and white is obvious.

Publishing in both colour and monochrome formats adds interest, variety and will make a  site more appealing to a wider audience.

Dead tree trunk in Manitoba, Canada on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-104_manitoba_landscape

Natural art

The world is often a desaturated one, and it doesn’t even need any manipulating at times. Early morning winter shots in snow-covered mountains, or seascapes can often appear drained of colour. Light exposes the hues properly, just as it is capable of producing a warm glow or a golden shroud over the landscape, it can just as effectively desaturate a scene.

Digital photography; Smokehouse machinery at Seal Cove on Grand Manan in New Brunswick, Canada on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-30_smokehouse_machinery

Smokehouse machinery

Digital photography; A smokehouse pot at Seal Cove on Grand Manan in New Brunswick, Canada on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-33BW_smokehouse_pot

Smokehouse pot

It may seem sensible to capture images using the black and white mode on the camera, but in the digital age this is merely restricting any options. Capturing in full colour and making adjustments afterwards retaining the option to use both formats. Many scenes seem equally striking in both formats, so limiting the choices doesn’t seem sensible.

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Reflections in Blacks Harbour

Another benefit of digital photography is the levels of post-capture manipulation which are possible during the editing phase. There are also several options available for converting to black and white, depending on the editing software used. Most have a simple convert option, which is acceptable for website publishing, but using the desaturation or grayscale tools are not recommended at all. Some preferred methods are below:

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Swampy Cree Albert in Manitoba

Policeman and vehicle at the police museum in St John, New Brunswick, Canada on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-187BW_vw_beetle

Herbie joins the police

Gradient Map – A relatively simple conversion method, selecting a black to white gradient won’t remove any colour value, it will merely replace it with a shade within the chosen gradient. There several gradient options available, offering other cool effects like vintage or film.

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Horseless carriage in New Brunswick

Channel Mixer – Selecting the channel mixer in the adjustment layer allows the user to make non-destructive changes to the image. Checking the monochrome option and then moving the red, green and blue sliders allows fine tonal adjustments to be made, take care not to blow out the whites however.

Digital photography; Abandoned car in Alice Springs, the Northern Territory of Australia on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-100BW_abandoned_car

The Promised Land

There are several other cool effects, which layers enable us, one of the best is colour popping. After adding an adjustment layer and then converting it to black and white, just use the eraser tool to bring out the colour from a particular area. Zooming in while reducing the size of the brush when working around the edges, and employing careful strokes should make sure that only the required area comes through in glorious colour.

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Colour popping Cuban classic

Next time you’re looking through the portfolio you’ll probably see plenty of photographs that are suitable for conversion to black and white. I suggest choosing a few and experimenting to see what dramatic, and interesting images can be produced. I’m sure you enjoy a colourful scene as much as I do, but hopefully can also appreciate the beauty of the black and white palette too.

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Contrasting Power

Digital photography; Old wooden barn on Ministers Island, New Brunswick, Canada on Mallory on Travel adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain Mallory-300-190BW1_ministers_island

Ministers island old wooden barn

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Comments 4

    1. Post
      Author
      Iain

      You assume correctly Kenin, I always shoot in RAW. I use LR for around 95% of my post capture editing, and CS only when I have an image which needs some particular work doing. Black and white images usually fall into this category. Hope this helps.

  1. Helen

    Wow, some really striking images. I previously thought you lost something from a image when you removed the colour but I think thats the wrong way of looking at it. It makes the images more intriguing and engaging, I’m going to try it out. Thank you for sharing.

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