We’ve all done it. Taken a photo of a great subject only to have it come out… blah. Perhaps the sky looks bland… or the fluffy clouds lack dimension… or the overall color is flat… or maybe the entire image looks washed out from the midday sun.
You’re disappointed. Annoyed. Maybe even majorly bummed.
I’ve been there — and I’ll prove it. Just check out this shot I took of the Thacher Island North Tower Lighthouse at midday. Nice subject, but the color is… blah.
Well, if you’re in a similar situation, before you hit the Delete Key and send that image to your Trash or Recycle Bin — STOP! There is a way you can take that photo from Blah to Ahhh! From Bland to Grand! From Ordinary to Extraordinary!
To give that photo a new chance at life, all you have to do is convert it from color to Black & White. When you do, it can get you something like this…
Quite an improvement wouldn’t you say? A totally different look and feel. Now that you can see what a difference Black & White conversion can make, you’re probably wondering what’s the best technique to use to convert a photo from color to Black & White. Nowadays it involves the use of post production software. The two most popular being Photoshop and Lightroom. There is other software available, but these two programs are what I recommend if you plan on taking your photography to the next level.
Photoshop Black & White Conversion Techniques
There is more than one way to convert a photo from color to Black & White. Every photographer has their own preferred method. The article 7 Black and White Photoshop Conversion Techniques by Andrew Gibson is a great reference source for both Photoshop and Photoshop Elements users. I encourage you to experiment with each of the different techniques and decide which one works best for you.
Light Stalking’s 18 Essential Free Photoshop Tutorials for Black and White Photography Lovers (which also happens to include the link to Andrew Gibson’s article) is another great FREE reference source.
But we all know that Photoshop is not the only great post production software made by Adobe…
Converting Images to Black & White with Lightroom
There are a lot of Lightroom users out there. Me included! Adobe TV offers two FREE video tutorials that show you how to convert images to Black & White, as well as how to add tonal overlays, edge effects, selective coloring (LR4) and film grain textures.
Not a Lightroom owner? No problem. You can download a Trial version from the Adobe site by clicking on the Try versus Buy in the upper right corner of their page.
What Kind of Photos Make The Best Black & White Conversions?
I’d like to say that any photo makes a great Black & White conversion. That, however, is not true. While it is possible to convert any color photo to Black & White, certain photos are far better candidates.
While color enhances the overall content of a photo, the removal of color actually gives greater focus to the subject itself. I think that is clearly shown by my two Thacher Island lighthouse photos above. Although they are the same subject, they are indeed quite different both visually and emotionally.
Color Still Matters
Color, however, is quite relevant to Black & White conversions. The type of color and its distribution within the original color image is what is actually being converted.
When considering a color photo for Black & White conversion, I evaluate it for the following:
- Subject interest
- Primary focal point
- Overall color range and distribution
- Highlights and shadows
- Tonal contrast
If those elements are present to my liking, I move forward with the conversion. It if works — great! If not — no harm, no foul. And if I’m lucky, it scores me an Editor’s Pick!
Not thrilled with a photo you took? Don’t despair. It ain’t over ’til you give Black & White conversion a try.
~ Liz Mackney