• Tom Lee

Class Report - Ultimate B&W

I had the honour of undertaking a #webinar workshop for the #MIPP recently and asked some of the participants to send images for use in the #workshop (so I couldn’t cheat!), not really knowing what sort of images I might be presented with.

Time, as with all these things was of the essence, so I decided to concentrate on the crux of the matter which was the conversion of RAW images into great looking black & whites using my own range of tools and #workflow in #Photoshop. No images were spotted or enhanced other than for the purposes of the conversion process.

Without knowing the what type of images were going to be presented, it was surprising that many of the images had dark (or black) backgrounds, leaving me with limited tonal ranges with which to demonstrate the processes. However, one image stood out as a good example to explain my main principals….

Viorica Naudi original street shot


Viorica Naudi shot after conversion



#Viorica #Naudi submitted a street image with a predominant red colour element (which was probably what attracted the author to it). The image was cropped and straightened prior to conversion. Any #retouching and resizing of the image would be done at this stage because doing it during the process may lead to unwanted outcomes. If you miss your opportunity these actions will have to wait until conversion has been achieved. I did some basic stuff, without turning it into a full-blown Photoshop workshop. I hope to do a more in depth follow up soon.

The methods used by photographers to convert to B&W are numerous but not all understand the pitfalls in using the #techniques they choose. Surprisingly, many still use the simple de-saturate method, which in my opinion is the worst! There are four main methods, all of which are relatively simple, so why not use the most versatile and flexible technique.

The methods:

• Desaturate – DO NOT USE under any circumstances

This method assumes that all the colours in the image are ‘average’. You don’t get the separation needed for a truly dramatic image. Everything just goes to a mid-range grey.

• Camera Raw – Best when you have a monochromatic colour range.

Let’s say you are photographing a scene made up of all blues (icebergs) or greens (forest)

• In the Basic menu use black & white (colour is selected as default)

• Go to hue saturation icon which now changes to B&W mix

• Adjust individual sliders

The sliders adjust colours in that range only and because you have no colour reference, its difficult to know which section of the image will be affected. Very much trial and error.

• Channel Mixer Adjustment Layer – A more aggressive approach

Using this method can be quite good but is brutal due to the adjustment only having three sliders. It’s trial and error to get the effect you need and needs all three sliders to balanced.

• In the channel mixer select the monochrome tickbox

• Adjust the R, G, B sliders - values should (approximately) equal 100%

• Dual Adjustment Layers – Preferred method for most images.

This simple method only requires one slider to affect good separation and tonal value to all the colours in ‘real time’, without having to reference the actual colours. Contrast can also be increased or decreased by using the second slider. This results in fast and flexible adjustments.

• Channel Mixer Adjustment Layer – Use the Blue filter preset

• Hue and Saturation Adjustment Layer, move under Chanel Mixer Layer

• Hue Slider adjusts B&W tonal ranges

• Saturation Slider adjusts Contrast

Susanna Diacono original
Susanna Diacono image after conversion

#Susanna #Diacono sent in a PSD of a fruit. Whilst not a RAW file, the. technique will still work with any colour image. The problem with working from images that have already been converted in RAW, is that some of the original file information can be lost. Susanna indicated she was having some problem with the tonal range in the image. Part of this may have been due to the conversion in RAW, but also there are only two colours to work with (black and yellow). Still, with some quick editing and the inclusion of texture overlays we got a good working result.

Renata Apanaviciene original

Renata Apanaviciene image after conversion


Renata Apanaviciene forwarded a figure study, but again on a plain background and single tone (skin) leaving an image with few tonal variations to play with. However, with the addition of Dodge and Burn, more relief was able to be added to the flat light rendering.

Johan Siggeson original portrait
Johan Siggeson portrait after conversion

#Johan #Siggeson is a well-known wildlife and travel photographer (johansiggeson.com) and sent me an intriguing image of a young boy from the Masai Mara. I was not able to do a full workaround during the webinar as we ran out of time. I nevertheless thank him for his contribution and hope to showcase this image in a follow-up webinar.

There are many photographers and #educators struggling to keep their businesses afloat at the moment, and they all want a piece of the action and to take your money. Be wise and see what is available for free first! Many may know what they are doing but have little in the way of teaching ability, so the information you buy is of little worth……I have had a successful and meaningful career and want to give back to the industry that has supported me over the last 40 years. All of my online teaching is #FREE, you will only ever pay for commissioned seminars and 1-2-1 learning. Make the most of my Workshop Resources page and don’t get conned into parting with $xx down from $xxxx (it’s always too good to be true). Money is tight for everyone these days – Stay Safe and I hope to see you in the follow-up webinar - be sure to check out these blog pages or the MIPP website for more details..

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