There are so many ways to convert your color photo to black and white.  But today, I’m going to show you a few of my favorite and easiest (in my opinion) ways to do a quick black and white conversion in Adobe Photoshop.

1.  Desaturate

A quick way to desaturate the color in your photo is with the Desaturate command.  You’ll find this by going up to the Image menu at the top of the screen, choosing Adjustments, and then choosing Desaturate:

(Go to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate)

The reason why this is the absolute fastest process for me in my editing is because of the keyboard shortcuts that are assigned to this function. Shift+Ctrl+U (Windows) / Shift+Command+U (Mac).

Copyright Melissa Niu

Copyright Melissa Niu

2. Grayscale Mode

Now this isn’t my favorite black and white look since the blacks and white take on too much of a gray tone.  But it’s one of the fastest conversions.  You may have to toggle the contrast later to your taste. To convert the image to Grayscale, simply change to Grayscale in color modes:

 Image > Mode > Grayscale
There will be an extra step that asks if you want to discard the color files.  Those files will indeed be lost from the photo so don’t get too attached.
Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 10.07.27 PM
Click Discard and you’ll find yourself a Grayscale converted image.

Copyright Melissa Niu

Copyright Melissa Niu

3. Black & White Adjustment Layer

This black and white option is a way to have a little more control over your black and white preference.  Click on on the New Adjustment Layer.  You can find this icon at the bottom of the Layers palette.  Click on Black & White:
Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 10.16.56 PM
Once you click on this layer adjustment, you’ll find the color properties that will allow you to toggle and adjust some of the color properties to your liking.
Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 10.18.15 PM

Copyright Melissa Niu

Copyright Melissa Niu

4.  Gradient Map

This one has to be my favorite because of the richness of the blacks combined with the simplicity of the conversion.  Click on New Adjustment Layer and choose Gradient Map from the list of options.
Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 10.36.18 PM

Copyright Melissa Niu

Copyright Melissa Niu

5.  Hue/Saturation Layer

Click on New Adjustment Layer and choose Hue/Saturation from the list of options.

Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 10.55.29 PM
From here, you will then see the image adjustment box.  Move the Saturation all the way to the left to take away all color from the image.
Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 10.58.02 PM
60436_156778691005026_6364618_n copybw
With each of these options, I made no other adjustments to the contrast or other techniques that would be essential to my taste.  I wanted to show you what each of the conversions looked like, along with the ease of use, for you to choose for your next conversion. I encourage you to try all of them to see what is best for you.
If you have other black and white conversion tools that you like using, let us know in the comments below.  We’d love to hear your ideas of what is a conversion tool for your workflow.


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Join the conversation! 4 Comments

  1. I am not a big supporter of plug-ins and third party software as I prefer to use Lightroom and Photoshop as much as possible. My two main exceptions are Photomatix Pro for HDR and Nik’s Silver Efex 2 Pro for black and white. My reason for both of these is basically the same, tone mapping. In Photoshop the process for tone mapping using Curves and Levels is tedious at best. For those wanting to get into black and white, the process of conversion is just the beginning.

    • I like both of those. I would encourage you to give the Black and White adjustment layer a try. My preference is to use that for B&W conversion. I also do most of my planned black and white using Photomatix and HDR.

      • Thanks for your reply Richard. I have used all of the methods listed in the article and I agree that the Black and White adjustment layer is the best of the bunch. That is the one that I will use for a quick and dirty conversion as it gives the best initial results and also allows for quick color adjustments. What tool I use of course depends on the initial photo and what is the final purpose of the photo. As an example, If it is going to print I break out the big guns!


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About MelissaNiu

Melissa Niu is a storyteller at heart. Niu's work ranges from her Broadcast Journalism experience at NBC in Seattle to her recent work as a co-founder and host of the photography platform, [FRAMED] Network. Her passion for photography, music and journalistic skills harvests into a massive need to tell a good story. As a mother of three daughters and running multiple businesses, Niu is constantly seeking balance, health, laughter and progression.


Adobe, Portrait, Software, Technique & Tutorials, Your Focus


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