For this tutorial I'll be using Photoshop CS3 but it will work in older and newer versions. You will also need a basic understanding of using Layers, the Eraser Brush, the History Brush and using the Black Brush for making amendments in Adjustment Layers.

CS3 and other versions of this popular software include built in short cut methods of converting a colour image into black and white but they all lack some of the finer points of doing the conversion yourself. I would also point out that this is but one method - there are plenty of others, as is the way with Photoshop - this is just one of my favourites. I will also be making this tutorial available as a PDF download at a later date.

The first thing is to take a suitable image for conversion. One with a good tonal range and contrast will work best. For this tutorial I've chosen this one.

Duplicate your image and then close the original (best practice for everything) and then open up the CHANNELS palette. You'll see the RGB image and below it three other layers Red, Green and Blue.

Step one is to copy your blue layer in to a new document. Click on the blue channel and copy it onto a new document page.

I will then do the same with the Green and then Red Channel copying the Channels onto the top of the Blue Channel layer.

This will give you a new image with four layers - the blank base and Layers 1,2 and 3 - your three RGB separated layers - Blue on the bottom and Green and Red on top. What you're seeing on top is the Red filtered Black and White image - not a bad thing on it's own but lacking in any bite or real contrast, so now we're going to make our own improvements.

Step two is to click on the eye symbol by each layer and have a look at what part of the image looks best viewed in each layer - for instance, the man's orange coveralls look better in Green and Blue than in Red, as does his face to a certain extent, revealing much more texture and detail and a more pleasing tone. Using a soft eraser brush I erased the Red layer to reveal the Green layer beneath it - I found that a brush with an opacity of 38% gave me the results I wanted on the face whilst a 100% brush gave me the results on the coveralls.

Any mistakes/overbrushes can be rectified using the History brush. Once you're happy, hide the Blue Channel and Merge the Green and Red layers, leaving your combined layer with your Blue layer and your blank base beneath it.

Step three is to repeat step Two by revealing what you want from the Blue layer. In this case I used an eraser brush set to 38% opacity and used it on the face to bring some more texture and darker tones through much in a similar way to Burning but less destructive. In this particular image this is all I need the Blue layer for - in others I will hardly use the Green layer and use the Red and Blue layers almost exclusively - it's a case of each to their own ends.

I can now Flatten the layers leaving me with a single layer Black and White half finished image. Before carrying on I'll Convert my Grayscale Image back into an RGB one.

Step Four is to click on the Adjustment Layer Palette - the black and white globe on the Layers Palette - and choose Selective Color.

From the drop down menu I can pick either Black or White and, in this case first dropping the Blacks from the Whites bringing a fresh lift to the area of steam and water on the left.

I can take back any areas that I don't want to feature in the final image using the a soft Black Brush, as with all adjustment layers. I then flattened the layers and repeated the process adding +4 to the blacks and flattening again.

Nearly done now. Step Five goes back to the Adjustment Layers again and this time choosing the Gradient Map and from the Gradient Editor, the Black and White Preset.


I can now use the sliders in a similar way to the Levels tool to darken, lighten and add contrast to my image; adjust the Gradient Map's opacity to suit my needs taking it out with a Black Brush in areas that I don't need it until I'm happy before flattening the image.

A little slower than using the Photoshop Presets or the popular Channel Mixer method but for me - more control and better end results especially when printed on a decent Rag Paper.

Bookmark and Share


Submit your question here
No info required here, please press the button below.