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I've always found that the basic level of B&W conversion available in Lightroom and Photoshop to be adequate at best, simply desaturating the image and leaving you with an image that is a little flat and one-dimensional requiring you to then tweak it to the best of your abilities. (Note: I'm using Photoshop Elements 9 since it should provide a basic starting point for most folks here, and it should be easily adaptable to newer versions of Elements or Photoshop.)

The basic conversion methodology is just to take the color image and completely remove any saturation. As you can see, details that are very clear in the color image, like the net and line, are all but lost in the conversion, and playing with brightness and contrast will do little to bring them out.

Starting Image + 100% Desaturated Image:
Nikon d3000 or d5000?-snapshot_130131_071827.jpg

Nikon d3000 or d5000?-snapshot_130131_071853.jpg

There are some tricks that I've read here and there, but shy of spending money on software like Silver Efex Pro 2 I've never found anything that was really effective. That is until my brother, who has a couple decades experience shooting digital as a pro and who teaches occasional classes in Photoshop Elements at the Newark Museum here in NJ, offered me this tip.

As previously, take your original image and add a Hue/Saturation layer, but this time set the Blending Mode to "Color" instead of the default of "Normal"...

Nikon d3000 or d5000?-snapshot_130131_071933.jpg

Now add a second Hue/Saturation layer, this time leaving the Mode set to Normal and desaturate as before...

Nikon d3000 or d5000?-snapshot_130131_072028.jpg

Nikon d3000 or d5000?-snapshot_130131_072042.jpg

Now, switch back to the first Hue/Saturation layer. Making adjustments here has the effect of applying all sorts of colored filters, but to an exponential level, simply by moving the Hue adjustment bar. By simply moving the Hue to the far right you can see how the bright yellow float in the middle of the net, which disappeared in the original conversion, now pops out again as it did in the color image...

Nikon d3000 or d5000?-snapshot_130131_072115.jpg

As I move around the Hue slider you can see how different objects will pop and fade depending on the position of the slider. Notice the differences in the Yellow Float, Blue Water and Orange Bucket at the different Hue values...

Nikon d3000 or d5000?-snapshot_130131_072145.jpg

Nikon d3000 or d5000?-snapshot_130131_072154.jpg

Nikon d3000 or d5000?-snapshot_130131_072205.jpg

I now have what I consider a far superior conversion to the original I got with plain desaturation. But this wouldn't be a worthy blog post if I didn't give you my best Ron Popiel and tell you, "Wait, there's more!!" We've just been playing with the hue at the Master Color level. What if I drill down to the individual colors and play with them one at a time? In the layer window I go to the drop down and start moving through the colors, hanging the Blues and Cyans to bring out the detail in the water, tweaking the reds to bring out the bucket on the dock. And remember, you can play with both the Hue and Saturation levels now and maintain your B&W image...

Nikon d3000 or d5000?-snapshot_130131_072219.jpg

Nikon d3000 or d5000?-snapshot_130131_072235.jpg

Nikon d3000 or d5000?-snapshot_130131_072301.jpg

Nikon d3000 or d5000?-snapshot_130131_072334.jpg

Now I have an image that more accurately reflects what my brain sees when it looked at the original color image and imagined it in Black and White (compare to the simple desaturation)...

Nikon d3000 or d5000?-beforeduringafter.jpg

Oh, and because I know you're curious, what would this Black & White image look like in color? Just go back to the top layer and add back your Saturation...

Nikon d3000 or d5000?-snapshot_130131_072354.jpg

Not exactly what I'd call a pure conversion.

Giving credit where credit is due, my eternal thanks to my brother, Tony Kurdzuk, for the lesson. Tony is a full time news photographer at the Star Ledger, as well as a digital photography instructor with experience that goes back to the first batch of Kodak backed cameras in the late 80's/early 90's. He's a pretty darn good photographer (NJ Press Photographer of the Year three times, East Coast Press Photographer of the year once). Feel free to look up his stuff at
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Updated 02-02-2013 at 04:22 PM by BackdoorArts

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How-to , Photos , Black & White


  1. hark's Avatar
    This info is VERY MUCH appreciated, Jake! I looked through the threads in the B&W forum in hopes of finding a thread explaining steps for B&W conversion. I finally came across a thread you started that linked me to this blog. I wish there was a sticky in the B&W forum where members could post there own processes of B&W conversion.

    Here's a thought...would you consider reposting this in the tutorial forum?
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  2. BackdoorArts's Avatar
    I'll do my best. I'm learning that it's a Royal PITA to take previously attached images and get them to display properly in another thread. All I get is a link to the attachment, same as if you quoted it.

    Love this forum - hate this forum.
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  3. Mike D90's Avatar
    Thank you, thank you, thank you!! I just started playing with this method in Light Room but I have not delved this deeply into it so far. This gives me some confidence to try!
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  4. BackdoorArts's Avatar
    I've replicated this in the B&W thread and did a thing on the LR method as well.
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  5. betty's Avatar
    Thanks.very useful
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