You know the expression, you can have it quick, right or cheap but not all three? Let’s chat about making black and white conversions using Photoshop.

All of these methods are going to utilize Photoshop’s Adjustment Layers. Each one is faster than the next with more time to create better quality. Fortunately, if you have Photoshop it makes them all inexpensive. All you need to do is decide how much time to invest verses the quality you need.

Original capture with minimal adjustment

Quickest black and white conversion

I would say the fastest would be use the keyboard shortcut Shift, Command, U (or Shift, Ctrl, U on Windows). It launches the Desaturate Adjustment. If you are not a shortcut person find this setting under Image > Adjustments > Desaturate.

The benefit of this is it can’t be any faster. If your image has a nice range of tones this can be perfectly fine. The disadvantage to this method is it is a destructive setting. Meaning that once the file is closed, color information is no longer available.

Black and white image conversion using Desaturate in Photoshop.

The Desaturate Adjustment setting is usually used by those who don’t care, don’t know better or are on deadline at a newspaper. If you want to use the same adjustment but want to be able to get back the color you can use a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer.

Access the Adjustment Layer menu at the bottom of your Layers Palette using the half black/half white circle. Then click on Hue/Saturation. This will be placed on your Layer stack. Make sure it is on top.

Adjustment Layers palette is your friend.

In the Properties panel change the Saturation slider to zero. The advantage is as long as you don’t flatten the file and save as a PSD, you can get the color information back.

Not quite as quick, but better

Conversion using a Gradient Map Adjustment Layer.

Another Adjustment Layer that can be used is a Gradient Map. You’ll find this in the Adjustment Layers menu near the bottom of the list. Before accessing this Adjustment press the D key on your keyboard. This ensures your Foreground and Background colors are at the default black and white with black on top. If you get freaky inverted results, it is usually because white was set to the foreground color.

The best conversion (for today)

Quality takes time. Below is the final image using multiple Adjustment Layers, Masks and Blend Modes. In addition, there’s some selective sharpening, dodging and burning.

black and white image conversion horses
Final conversion using many techniques to control tones and dimension. See the Layers palette below.
photoshop layers palette black and white image
A screenshot of the Layers palette

You be the judge. Do you want quick, right or cheap? Most times I’ll pick right.

Yours in Creative Photography, Bob