How To Convert Color To Black & White

by Theano Nikitas

What you’ll need: Adobe Photoshop Elements 6.0 ($99.99). For more information, go to

Black and white photography has been rapidly gaining popularity in the digital world in part because inkjet printers and papers can now produce excellent monochrome prints. At the same time, software manufacturers like Adobe are implementing improved black and white conversion features providing photographers with the tools to more easily create beautiful fine art prints, elegant portraits and stunning landscapes.


Digital camera companies have made it easy to shoot B&W straight from the camera by including a special black and white option (consult your user guide to locate this color or “special effects” menu setting). While it’s easier to shoot black and white in camera, shooting in color and then using software to convert to black and white is usually the better path to take.

First, you can always convert a color image to black and white but not the other way around (other than hand coloring but that’s a whole other topic). So by shooting color, you can have the best of both worlds. Second, a color file contains more image data, which results in a better black and white photograph.

Keep in mind that although there are a number of different ways to convert a color photo to black and white in a software program, some of the options, such as

Enhance>Adjust Color>Remove Color don’t do as good a job as others. In Adobe Photoshop Elements 6.0

you can fine-tune the black and white conversion by each color channel (Red, Green, Blue), which gives you much more control than more automatic options.

For this exercise choose any color image that you’d like to see in black and white; to start, you may want to choose a picture that has at least one or more bright colors like red, green or blue so you can better see what happens when using the RGB adjustments. I chose a landscape that shows the vibrant changing autumn leaves.

  1. Launch Elements 6.0 in Full Edit mode and open your image. Go to File>Save As and save your image as a TIFF or PSD file to avoid JPEG compression. You may want to re-name the file to reflect that it will be a black and white copy.
  2. See if your image needs to be tweaked in any way. I used a Levels Adjustment Layer to make the image pop a little more.
  3. To add an Adjustment Layer, go to: Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Levels. Click OK (you can also rename the layer if you’d like).
  4. Adjust the sliders until you get the look you want (See the October 2007 InStep column for more details about using Levels).
  5. Click OK when you’re done. Then go to Layer>Flatten Image.
  6. Next, go to Enhance>Convert to Black & White.
  7. A dialogue box will open with before and after images of your photo. The image in the main window will be black and white.
  8. In the lower left of the box under Select a Style, click on the style that best fits your image. I clicked on the Landscape style to start but then cycled through the style list just in case another preset style looked better. Not surprisingly, the Landscape setting worked best for my image.
  9. Adjust the Red, Green and Blue sliders individually to increase or decrease the amount of information for each color. Then adjust the Contrast slider to find the contrast that best suits your image. I happen to like high contrast black and white landscapes but your aesthetic may be different.
  10. Click OK when you’re happy with the results and save the file. Try printing your black and white image on different inkjet media. Black and white images often look best on matte or fine art surfaces, so experiment to see which paper best fits your photograph.

2 Responses to “How To Convert Color To Black & White”

  1. Tamsin Greig says:

    Like the post, many thanks for the information! I’m a landscape software author so I have to limited my web time at work. I don’t really reply to blog posts but loved the post. Awesome stuff!, I added you to my favorites! :mrgreen:

  2. Price Byrun says:

    Great info in this post and your blog overall. Great to see a non-bias view on something like this. I’m a huge photography lover and i’m always looking for quality places to visit for info. Do you have any other sites you recommend for that type of info?

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