Lesson 16 Art Travels with Rain

Lesson 16: Converting a Digital Image to Black and White in Photoshop

Art Travels with Rain

Hello all, and Happy Holidays!

With the Winter Solstice fast approaching, my thoughts turn to the longest, darkest night of year and all of the richness present in the shadows.  I tend to become entranced this time of year by texture and value scales, appreciating the detail available with a limited color palette in a Colorado winter.  I am spending a lot of time with my brand new camera, enjoying the heck out of the vast ISO settings available and the sharpness of focus, but I digress!

Today I am going to explore various methods of converting a digital image from color to black and white in PhotoshopCS6.  I apologize in advance for those of you that use Photoshop Elements, as I don’t know the first thing about the smaller version of PS known as Elements!

I recently completed a 106 page photobook (insert very tired sigh here!)  of our daughter  Jessica’s pregnancy and birth of our grandson.  The 7 copies of the book will be distributed as holiday gifts to the extended family of little Danny.  In addition, I framed a series of black and white and sepia tone photos for immediate family, and did a lot of studying up on conversion of photos in Photoshop.


Here is a digital image of the original, straight out of camera (SOOC) image:

Now, as lovely as this is there are a few issues to my eye:  first, the bottoms of Jess and Danny’s feet are assorted colors from living in Hawaii, the baby has a distracting diaper that becomes a focal point since it is one of the lightest values, and the baby’s umbilical cord scab looks like a gash in his belly!

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I converted the image initially using a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, with the saturation turned all the way down. It’s pretty bland, and the tonal contrast does not make me feel happy, so I try a few alterations:

Art Travels with Rain for Tangie BaxterI selected the baby with the Quick Selection Tool, and with the “marching ants” active, added a Curves adjustment layer, and a layer mask.  I then then raised the exposure level just on the baby, lightening his skin.  Then to increase the contrast, I first  tried a version of using the PS burn tool around the outside of the feet…a dangerous tool, best used at very low opacity.  It does not leave very much information in the shadows and looks way too stark for my desired outcome:

Art Travels with Rain for Tangie BaxterYes, very dramatic, but I wanted to preserve more information in the shadows and have the whole image look softer.  I tried turning down the opacity of the burn layer, another curves adjustment on the background area, etc., and really didn’t like how any of these looked.  So I started over with the original color image and converted to black and white using a Gradient Map adjustment layer:

Art Travels with Rain for Tangie BaxterNow I added a curves adjustment layer, set to Soft Light in the blending modes, with the opacity turned down to about 30%.  First I selected the baby and added a layer mask to protect the feet and baby’s skin from darkening along with the background.  To accomplish this, I clicked on the Curves adjustment layer, then I selected the skin areas with the Quick Selection Tool, clicked on the layer mask icon at the bottom of the layers panel, and hit Control + I to invert the mask to the background. Now I set the blend mode to Soft Light, and increased the shadows by pulling down on the curve.  I liked the effect, so I added another Curves adjustment layer, added the same layer mask, and set the blending mode to multiply, with the opacity dropped to about 30% again.

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As a last step, I added a new layer mask and decreased the brightness of the diaper and patched a bit of brushing over the umbilical area.

Yum!  The shadows are very rich and the photo printed like a dream.
Art Travels with Rain for Tangie Baxter's blog


For the photobook, I decided to add a sepia toned layer in the background and on top, with the opacity turned down on the skin areas, mainly to match the overall tone of the book.  I like it quite a bit, and printed off a copy to frame.

Art Travels with Rain for Tangie Baxter's blog

Here’s another example of black and white conversion of my hands holding the baby’s,  when the color was too distracting from the emotion:

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A summary:

My favorite workflow for converting to black and white using non-destructive editing:

1.  Open the color photo in Photoshop

2. Add a Gradient Map adjustment layer and move the sliders to your taste.

3. Select a Curves adjustment layer, and then using the Quick Selection tool, select any areas of skin that need to be masked off from darkening.

4.  Click on the Layer mask icon, and then invert the mask so all areas affected by the Curves adjustment are NOT skin.

5.  Set the adjustment layer blending mode to Soft Light, and decrease the Opacity to a lower level.  Drop the curves line to increase the darks,  if desired.

6. AND/OR  add a Curves adjustment layer and set the blending mode to Multiply for stronger contrast, remembering to drop the opacity down.

Here is one more example of this exact workflow of my husband, Gary.  I love the rich contrasting values, with full highlights to dark shadows preserved:

Art Travels with Rain for Tangie Baxter's blog

Again, a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season to all!



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