Create Stunning Black and White Images

As some of you may know, I LOVE black and white photography. I am going to show you a few steps that combine some old school techniques with some of the best ways you can use photoshop to make amazing looking photographs. First of all, for optimal control of your image, Always shoot in color. I know cameras now have settings that are really cool like sepia mode and panorama, but to get top quality black and whites when shooting digital we can use all that color information to our advantage:

Original Image: 



Bland, greyscale mode switch or desaturation:

When I first started exploring black and white photography with my digital camera, I would often just switch the color mode to greyscale or simply desaturate the color.


The images were left looking flat and I would try to compensate by adjusting the contrast or the brightness levels.

Black and White Conversion:

For better results, make a duplicate of the original image and do a black and white conversion. In photoshop, select image, then adjustment, then black and white.


Once you select this, you will see a color adjustment slider window.



This is where your eyes are your real tools. Different scenery will benefit from different settings. In this example, I achieved more detail and some interesting tonal variation in the background rocks by sliding the reds to the left (making them darker) and the yellows to the right(making them lighter) Some other adjustments were made across the spectrum to give the image more sparkle.


As you can see, we are already seeing more detail and greater tonal variation across the whole image. Now to apply an old school technique.

Dodge and Burn: 

(well in this case, only dodging). Ansel Adams used this technique for darkening and lightening areas of his work in the dark room, If he did it, so can we! In the tool bar, select the dodge tool and adjust the brush size to lighten some small areas. Make sure the setting is for highlights.


In the rock in the foreground, I selected some areas to lighten, including the bit of water underneath the rock.

dodge application



This next step can make or break a good photograph. Sharpening an image can take it to a higher level. Too much sharpening can create unwanted halos and strange artifacts. To avoid a large halo effect where the sky and cliffs meet, I duplicated the layer and created a graduated mask starting from top to bottom. When I apply sharpening, It will only be seen on the bottom two-thirds of the photograph and will not create an unwanted halo effect along the skyline.



Finally, I apply an adjustment layer with curves. Curve adjustments are a better choice than simple brightness, contrast adjustments offering you much more control. It also doesnt degrade your image quality near as much as simply adjusting the brightness and contrast.

curvenotice the slight “S” shape created by inserting points along the lights and darks, this is a good starting point for making effective adjustments.


Here is a sample of a simple greyscale mode change versus a Black and White Conversion, followed by a large image of the final result:




I hope you found this helpful. Happy Shooting!

Shawn Pagels


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