Black and White

What is it that makes a good black and white image, also known as monochrome or grayscale, so darned appealing?

I'm not sure why that is the but it may have something to do with the fact that one has to become much more mentally involved with a monochrome image - the tones, the lines, the shapes and the subtle changes from shadows to highlights.

Not having color in the image forces the viewer to focus their attention on different elements.

With color images you see the scene as it was shot (ooo - look at all the pretty colors) - with monochrome you have to engage the brain a bit more with tones and contrast being all important.

This is likely why monochrome photography has maintained its popularity over the years. Some people may have thought that color signaled the end of monochrome but this is not so.

Some of the most stunning and captivating photographs you will ever see are monochrome and a really good one can leave you breathless!

If you have any trouble whatsoever believing that statement then visit both the Ansel Adams and the Yousef Karsh sites.  Their work is stunning!

For me black and white is where I got started.  It began with a darkroom in a box where I could make these tiny little prints (about 3 1/2 by 2 1/2).  It was pure magic.

Now we have our digital darkroom (Photoshop, Photoshop Elements and Paint Shop Pro) to do our conversions for us - and they can do some amazing conversions.

Shoot In Black and White or Color?

With the majority of good digital cameras (both point and shoot and DSLR) you can choose to shoot your pictures either in color or monochrome;  however the monochrome shots from your digital camera are not nearly as striking as the ones you can create by converting a color image using Photoshop Elements 

A digital image shot in monochrome does not have the color channels available like a color image does.  The importance of the color chanels will become apparent as we move through the various conversion techniques.

There are just so many more options available when the original file is in color because of the channels available in a color image (the red channel, the green channel and the blue channel).

So the answer is this - shoot in color (RAW if you can) do whatever edits you want and then do the conversion. 

We are actually quite lucky to have the power of Elemets to create our monochrome images - and it sure is a lot easier than creating them in a real darkroom (and its almost as much fun)!

It's about time to look at the various conversion techniques, don't you think ...?

Photoshop Elements Conversions

For a program that is purported to be a light version of full Photoshop there are a surprising number of different methods for converting to black and white with Photoshop Elements.

I've gotta admit that I convert pretty much every picture I take into monochrome just to see how they look - some are quite interesting and others are just so-so.

The following is a quick summary of the methods ...
  • Desaturate using Hue and Saturation on the Background Layer (very basic and generally boring).

  • Desaturate with a Hue and Saturation Adjustment Layer (still very basic) but things like layer opacity and Blend Modes can be changed on a layer.

  • Simulate film and filters with dual Hue and Saturation Adjustment Layers (more work with a  lot of potential)

  • Convert to Black and White in the Enhance Menu (lots of potential but the conversion is done on the Background layer).

  • The Smart Brush in the tool bar contains 11 different presets to convert an image to black and white (many options and the conversion done on the background layer).
And last, but by no means least, the Gradient Map technique may be the most versatile and useful conversion method ...!
  • Gradient Map (lots of potential and very nice conversions).

If you love monochrome images then check out the different conversion methods, especially the Gradient Map - it's truly wonderful!

Page Links

Shoot  in Black and White or Color?

Elements Conversions


early black and white
Breadfruit Image
from around 1879

black and white woodstockCity Hall

black and white two girls
Happy Girls

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