Fine Tuned Monochrome
Black and White Conversion

How do you make fine tuned monochrome conversion black and white images? They're not the ones that have the colours simply desaturated, for sure.  Those ones are a black and white representation of the colour image and many people feel they provide the very best conversion!

With black and white the hues are gone; the only thing remaining is the tone distribution. Note the word “distribution”. In the first part of this tutorial we’ll look at the effects of the various basic adjustments you can use in Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Photoshop Elements and Corel PaintShop Pro. 

So no tone distribution = no interest is the first golden rule.





Check on the terminology ......

  • Tone is the brightness or luminosity of an object.
  • Hue or chrominance is the colour or spectral response of an object.
  • Saturation is the amount of hue.
  • White, grey and black have no chrominance but have luminosity or tonal values. 
  • Pink is red with a high tonal value.

In the days of Black and White film photography, we used to make all kinds of fine tuned monochrome adjustments to the exposure, over-the-lens filtration and the developing soup in which we processed the film before choosing a printing paper with a specific contrast ratio, exposing parts of the image for different times, choosing another soup in which to process it, then often accelerating specific areas.

This was all in the interest of gaining a wide tonal range to meet OUR needs. So in the first section of this tutorial we need to look at the controls available to us in digital processing and how they affect the image.

Its sometimes difficult assessing the outcomes in a real image, so I have made a crude simple colour swatch to enable us to compare the controls and results on simple colours as well as in a real image.

You may be tempted to try in Adobe Photoshop Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation and moving the Saturation slider all the way to the left because a Black and White image is a desaturated colour image, right?

No, wrong! All you will get is a flat tone distribution. All hues are reduced to equal tonal density.

And the interest value is zero. Its just a black and white representation.

The little swatches show how different colours/hues respond to the different black and white conversion methods.


There are two other places you might be tempted to visit in Adobe Photoshop to make a Black and White fine tuned monochrome image.

Surely Adobe Photoshop must have some reasonable interpretation of black and white. Well, right and wrong!

The other two other places ...

  1. Image > Mode > Greyscale, or
  2. Image > Adjustments > Black and White.

Should you go down the Greyscale route you'll get the Adobe interpretation of what they consider to be a good Black and White rendition.

  • Greens and yellows become lighter in tone, and
  • Blue becomes darker in tone

as though you're using a yellow filter over the lens in a camera using a panchromatic (a black and white emulsion sensitive to all colours in the spectrum) film developed for normal exposure.

Was this what I had in mind for the image ...... probably not!

In fact its probably worse than the straight desaturated image.

So how about the Adjustments > Black and White route?

Here you'll get a menu of presets, a chance to tweak a preset to your taste and an opportunity to save and recall it for later use.

The menu box appears with a default set of adjustment values for the principal six hues. These are the tonal values which specific hues will contribute to the image. Moving the blue slider will make blues appear lighter or darker grey in tone. So the emphasis of colours can be changed.

The dialogue box also has some Adobe Photoshop presets. These simulate the film, filter and development combinations we discussed earlier. You don't have to keep to these. They are a starting point and you can devise a preset to your taste and save and recall it for later use.

Depending on your choice of final outcome, you can obtain quite a reasonable conversion to Black and White.

But is there a method which gives even finer tuning? The answer is yes, and it uses the basic principles we have been using together with Layers and Blending modes.

In the second part of this tutorial we will develop (pun intended) these conversion techniques further and demonstrate how to produce a fine tuned monochrome image from a colour image..

Fine Tuned Monochrome


Digital editors who are conversant with black and white conversions feel that a fine tuned monochrome conversion using two Hue and Saturation layers is the most versatile method to convert a colour image to black and white.

So how do we create a find tuned monochrome?

  1. We make two layers containing the image;
  2. We add adjustment layers to each;
  3. We turn these into groups;
  4. We make the adjustments;
  5. We change the blending mode of the group.

The advantage of this method is that we can edit again later if we save it as a PSD file.

Check on the status of your knowledge of layers and blend modes ......

  • Upper layers influence the content of those below them. The influence of the upper layer on the one below it depends on the blend mode.
  • When a layer is set to Luminosity Blend Mode it is the luminance or tones of the upper layer which are applied to the one immediately below it.

Fine Tuned Monochrome Steps




Open your image, right click the Background Layer and Layer > Duplicate layer - now do it again so you've got the Background Layer and two copies.

Select the lower copy layer (the one immediately above the background layer) add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer.

Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation - move the Saturation slider all the way to the left (to zero) which will give you a black and white image..


Shift click on the Background Copy and while keeping the Shift button pressed click on the new Hue and Saturation layer and then Group them together (in a previous version of Photoshop you may need to go to Layers > Group - in newer versions Right Click and choose Group).

Now we have a black and white image for which we can adjust the luminance or tones using the top layer (Background Copy 2) to produce a fine tuned monochrome.

We can change the luminance of a specific hue including ones outside the ones in the standard set of the dialogue box; we can change the luminance of a specific area by selection; we can add gradients; we can add other adjustment layers.

Select the upper copy layer (the one at the top of the stack) and add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer.

Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation.

SHIFT-Click the layer with its adjustment layer. Right CLICK this selected pair and select Group From Layers.

Change the Blend Mode of the top group to Luminosity.

Should you decide to add an additional adjustment layer for the top layer, you will need to add this into the group.

Now the fun can begin because you have total control over eight hues in the fine tuned monochrome conversion and more if you wish.

Open the adjustment layer of the top group by clicking on the group to expand it, then double-clicking on the adjustment layer.



When you create the Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer the dialogue box will open.

Although the saturation slider achieves nothing, the choice of specific hue and its luminance value is open for adjustments. This is where the fine tuned monochrome business starts.

As you adjust the sliders for each of the hues (colours) the tones are lightened or darkened. So the monochrome (black and white) layer you created as the lower layer which had all of its colour information removed, can be adjusted. The luminance brightness and darkness of the tones.

If you need to return later to fine tune these tones you need to double-click on the left hand icon in the Hue/Saturation layer to get the Hue/Saturation dialogue box back. If you double-click on the right hand icon you’ll get the layer properties dialogue box.






The dialogue box will open and although the saturation slider achieves nothing, the choice of specific hue and its luminance value is open for adjustments.

Here my values for the blue hue are shown.  The drop-down was used to select the Blue hues and the saturation for the Blues was moved up to 84.  

The same procedure to Black and White - now that you've seen the versatility of this method do you agree that it may be the most versatile conversion method?

So what does my final fine tuned monochrome edit look like? 







I think my fine tuned monochrome looks really good - here's the swatch for the final image and the final image.



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