How and what to convert to black and white

Unless you are shooting in black and white already, when you are composing a shot do you ever look at it and think this will look great in monochrome or does that only come to you once it’s ready for editing?  My method is to shoot all of my images in color raw and then decide what to do with it once I view it on my monitor.  There are many times when I make two copies of the image (color and b&w) because I like the look of both and then there are times when the image doesn’t pop to me until it’s converted to b&w.

You might be surprised at how something so vividly colorful as a flower or an insect can stand so very well on it’s own in monochrome.  What happens is when an image is in color your eye first notices all of the hues of the subject.  The rose and butterfly photos below are a good example of this.  The rose was a vivid red and the butterfly a bright green but if you had viewed them in color would you have noticed the details in the petals or the scales in the wings of the butterfly? Possibly not.  Converting an image to black and white causes the details and contrasts in an image to stand out which is why it is amazing when applied to architecture and automobiles; shiny metal and chrome look great in black and white.  But what about portraiture?  There are some who feel that if you do portraits in black and white it’s because you are hiding some mistakes while others think it lends a classic or moody effect to the portrait.  I can see the validity in both of those opinions but in the end as with any other photo it’s all about what you as the photographer are trying to convey.

So how can you convert an image to black and white?  There are so many ways to do this and these are the ones I use: presets in Lightroom and PS, Topaz and Nik plug-ins, other free and purchased presets and actions from businesses like Pretty Presets and Coffee Shop, a gradient map in PS, or just moving the saturation slider to the left until the image is black and white.  I don’t use the last two methods much anymore as I can get so much more creative with the other programs but it is good to know that they are available for you to use.  In the end whatever the subject matter of your image, it’s your personal tastes that determine what is converted to black and white and how.

MonoRed4128-Editbw Library7667-EditSE GreenBfly2287-crpSE BWKoi0148-EditbwTa Sean2616-EditSe2 Alley4613-Edit2 Lucian8243-hsbw Walkwy626TmonoW MMmatte6521-EditW


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  1. #1 by Victor Rakmil on October 13, 2015 - 6:36 pm

    Great post. For Apple Tonality Pro is an amazing BW converter by MacPhun.

    • #2 by imagesbytdashfield on October 13, 2015 - 7:36 pm

      Thank you. And I appreciate you adding that converter info for those who use Apple.

  2. #3 by milfordstreet on October 13, 2015 - 9:01 pm

    Great post Teri. These are wonderful examples of shots that are best served in monochrome. Very nice.

  3. #5 by gtonthenet on October 14, 2015 - 8:20 am

    I’ve come to the conclusion that, in order to have a good B&W image, you need your composition to be spot on.

    • #6 by imagesbytdashfield on October 14, 2015 - 8:25 am

      That is a good point. Thank you for commenting.

      • #7 by gtonthenet on October 14, 2015 - 8:31 am

        You’re welcome. It’s a test of your photography skills isn’t it? – if you can make a good, strong, b&w image, then you’ve pretty much nailed it.

    • #8 by imagesbytdashfield on October 14, 2015 - 8:38 am

      It most definitely helps the final image be it color or b&w but then too we have all seen some images where imperfections have made the shot interesting.

  4. #9 by Indah Susanti on October 14, 2015 - 11:43 am

    Great sample of images, Teri! Sometimes it is surprising that even colorful flower could turned beautifully in black and white 🙂

    • #10 by imagesbytdashfield on October 15, 2015 - 9:19 am

      That’s just one of the reasons black and white is wonderful for photos. Thanks

  5. #11 by infraredrobert on October 14, 2015 - 12:13 pm

    Certainly not everything works in B&W…often it takes a more “graphic” image to work. I use the B&W adjustment in PS (mostly) which allows for how each color is converted and at what intensity…Topaz B&W works well too, but I use this mostly for effects after converting in PS.

    • #12 by imagesbytdashfield on October 15, 2015 - 9:20 am

      I enjoy working with Topaz B&W for what it lets me create with an image.

  6. #13 by mickey2travel on October 14, 2015 - 12:32 pm

    Love this! Thank you for your insight!

  7. #15 by Valerie Price on October 14, 2015 - 6:53 pm

    These images are gorgeous! There is something so natural about black and white photos!

  8. #17 by Nancy on October 18, 2015 - 10:22 pm

    You my dear have been the one I look up to for all photography but your black and white images are fabulous. Especially that rose. Thank You for this post!

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