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  1. #1
    Senior Member

    Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Elements

    I posted this as a blog about a year ago and was asked if I could submit it as a tutorial. Here you go...

    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. Tools like Nik's Silver Efex Pro 2 do a fantastic job of converting to black and white, but not everyone can or wants to invest in another piece of software, particularly after spending money on Photoshop or Elements. So the question is, how do I convert my vibrant color image to a B&W photo that I'm happy with? Here's a way that I was taught that works very effectively.

    (Note: I'm using Photoshop Elements 9 in the photos below since it should provide a basic starting point for most folks here. These techniques should be easily adaptable to newer versions of Elements or to Photoshop.)

    The most basic black & white conversion method is simply 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 (click on an image to enlarge further):

    Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Elements-snapshot_130131_071827.jpg


    Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Elements-snapshot_130131_071853.jpg


    This is because once color has multiple components, Hue Saturation and Luminance, and by removing the Saturation component you can run into collisions and near collisions with the remaining components. Without getting into great detail, here is an example of what appear to be some pretty start differences in colors, and then those same colors desaturated. With the larger blocks you see some colors merge, and with the two greens you can see that the two greens swap in terms of which you considered lighter or darker. This is because of how Hue and Luminance interact.

    Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Elements-desaturation.jpg


    While there is no easy way to play with the luminance of a desaturated image, my brother, who has a couple decades experience shooting digital as a pro and teaches classes in Photoshop, offered me this tip in how I can make my B&W conversions pop without spending money on conversion programs.

    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"...

    Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Elements-snapshot_130131_071933.jpg


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

    Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Elements-snapshot_130131_072028.jpg


    Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Elements-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...

    Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Elements-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...


    Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Elements-snapshot_130131_072145.jpg


    Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Elements-snapshot_130131_072154.jpg


    Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Elements-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...


    Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Elements-snapshot_130131_072219.jpg


    Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Elements-snapshot_130131_072235.jpg


    Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Elements-snapshot_130131_072301.jpg


    Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Elements-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)...

    Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Elements-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...

    Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Elements-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 NJ.com


    › See More: Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Elements
    Last edited by BackdoorHippie; 01-10-2014 at 04:01 PM.
     
    Jake

    The imitator is a poor kind of creature. If the man who paints only the tree, or flower, or other surface he sees before him were an artist, the king of artists would be the photographer. James McNeill Whistler



  2. #2
    Senior Member

    Re: Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Element

    This is great info! Thank you!!!
    " It is not the strongest of the species, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change. " - Charles Darwin




  3. #3
    Senior Member
    Krs_2007's Avatar

    Re: Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Element

    Great info, do you know if something similar can be done in Lightroom
    Kevin

    www.kevinstillwellphotography.com

    "A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed." Ansel Adams

    Nikon D600 gripped
    Nikon FX lenses 24-85, 50mm f/1.8G,105 VR 2.8 Macro,70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II , 85mm f/1.8 G, 18-35 f/3.5-4.5 G ED
    Nikon TC-20E III
    SB-700, SB-910 AF Speedlight
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  4. #4
    Senior Member
    Mfrankfort's Avatar

    Re: Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Element

    Thanks. It's frustrating that there are 300 different ways to do 1 thing in photoshop, lol. Black and white, selecting.. healing.. all have like 20 different ways to do the same thing.

  5. #5
    Senior Member

    Re: Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Element

    Quote Originally Posted by Krs_2007 View Post
    Great info, do you know if something similar can be done in Lightroom
    Kevin,

    Funny you should ask, because after reviewing and reposting this I thought I should also do one for Lightoom only conversions since I've since learned a great way to do it there. It was something I'd never tried when I did the original blog, and I'm not sure at what level this may have existed prior to LR5, but it's equally effective.

    If you change the Treatment type in the Basic section of the Develop module from Color to Black & White then Lightroom will automatically convert the image to Black & White for you. This will almost always be different from the simple desaturation, but may or may not be "better". For example:

    Untouched Color Image

    Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Elements-b-wconversion-before-1-1-.jpg

    Lightroom Desaturation

    Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Elements-b-wconversion-desaturate-1-1-.jpg

    Lightroom B&W Treatment

    Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Elements-b-wconversion-b-wtreatment-1-1-.jpg



    The cool thing is, the conversion is something other than a simple desaturation (in this case you can see specifically that the yellow float is more pronounced in the simple desaturation than in the conversion). What it does is that it analyzes the current image and then attempts to set Hue sliders in a way that it believes best represents the original color image. In the Adjustment section of the Develop module you now get a set of "Black & White Mix" sliders that allow you to adjust each of the basic hues individually, with the initial settings set as the program sees fit.

    Here you can see how it arranges the sliders for this photo (note: the Basic module is reflecting the fact that this image still has LR4 processing information)...

    Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Elements-screen-shot-2014-01-10-11.29.58-am.jpg

    ...and just to prove the point here are the sliders from a different photo...

    Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Elements-screen-shot-2014-01-10-11.31.07-am.jpg

    As you can see, curves are similar, but specific values are different.

    The movement of each of the sliders is effectively what I showed when you changed the hue of each of the various color curves in the first adjustment layer above. What Lightroom doesn't offer is the Master level hue slider, which isn't necessarily a drawback. The cool thing about doing it this way in Lightroom, which isn't something I knew when I first wrote this a year ago, is that LR will maintain the B&W Treatment setting information independently from the color version (but only in the Adjustment section). This means that you can effectively store both color and B&W versions of the same photo within Lightroom without one set of edits impacting the other. If you decide that you need to also tweak some of the basic settings, or any of the others, for your B&W version then simply do the B&W conversion on a Virtual Copy. This way you have 2 versions of the same photo built on the same basic RAW file.

    Truth be told, I much prefer the Lightroom method to the one above, now that I've learned of it and played with it, because it's just as flexible, and does not require you to create a new image file - everything is stored in the catalog as an adjustment to the original RAW file. That said, I still do all my B&W's in Silver Efex Pro 2 as the rest of the controls lend so much more impact.

    As I've said before, if you had to take away all my darkroom tools but one, just leave me with Lightroom.
     
    Jake

    The imitator is a poor kind of creature. If the man who paints only the tree, or flower, or other surface he sees before him were an artist, the king of artists would be the photographer. James McNeill Whistler

  6. #6
    Senior Member

    Re: Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Element

    I should note with the conversion above how much alike the LR and PSE conversions were, as opposed to the simple desaturation, which isn't actually half bad in this case. The thing about simple desaturation in LR is that the sliders that you are left with in the HSL tab of the section no longer have any effect.
    Jake

    The imitator is a poor kind of creature. If the man who paints only the tree, or flower, or other surface he sees before him were an artist, the king of artists would be the photographer. James McNeill Whistler

  7. #7
    Senior Member
    Krs_2007's Avatar

    Re: Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Element

    Thanks Jake, my plan is to work on more BW this year. I do have a bunch of presets but I always like to know what they are doing, this will help.
    Kevin

    www.kevinstillwellphotography.com

    "A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed." Ansel Adams

    Nikon D600 gripped
    Nikon FX lenses 24-85, 50mm f/1.8G,105 VR 2.8 Macro,70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II , 85mm f/1.8 G, 18-35 f/3.5-4.5 G ED
    Nikon TC-20E III
    SB-700, SB-910 AF Speedlight
    Manfrotto monopod 294 carbon fiber w/ProMaster BS-08 ball head
    Eye-Fi Pro X2, WU-1B, PocketWizard Plus III's
    Raynox 250

  8. #8
    Staff
    Super Mod
    hark's Avatar

    Re: Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Element

    Thank you for rewriting your tutorial, Jake! It is very detailed as to how the process is accomplished. Your efforts are greatly appreciated as I'm sure reposting the photos was a royal pain in the arse!
    Cindy
    Flickr
    and My 2019 Thread

    Where the Spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art
    -- Leonardo da Vinci



  9. #9
    Senior Member

    Re: Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Element

    Quote Originally Posted by hark View Post
    Thank you for rewriting your tutorial, Jake! It is very detailed as to how the process is accomplished. Your efforts are greatly appreciated as I'm sure reposting the photos was a royal pain in the arse!
    You're welcome. Once Marcel get clued me in to how to reuse attachments it wasn't awful.
    Thanks/Like hark Thanks/liked this post
     
    Jake

    The imitator is a poor kind of creature. If the man who paints only the tree, or flower, or other surface he sees before him were an artist, the king of artists would be the photographer. James McNeill Whistler

  10. #10
    Senior Member
    Sharin's Avatar

    Re: Better B&W Conversion Using Multiple Hue/Saturation Layers in Photoshop & Element

    This is an excellent tutorial; I read it on your blog a couple of days ago. I need to keep the info close at hand since I'm not too familiar with the Channels tab. Thanks for sharing it.
    ...just Sharin





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