Home > Uncategorized > Converting to Black & White and adding Selective color

Converting to Black & White and adding Selective color

©2011 Tony D. Locke, MM

For artistic variation in your photographs, you can remove some or all of the color from an image, which in effect, removes some of the reality too.

In this tutorial, which I also just taught in my latest workshop, I’m going to show you not only how to artistically remove color from a photograph to create a stunning B&W, but as a bonus, you’re going to be shown how to selectively add back in some that color too.

Many of you may already know these tricks, or at least parts of them. Don’t worry, there’s always something new, so if you’re looking to learn more–Read on…

Now, not all photographs will look as nice when converted to B&W, which is why you should always shoot in color and convert to B&W in Photoshop… Just in case.  When you set your camera to B&W, you not only have lost control over how the shades of grey from dark black to pure white will be treated, you won’t have a color version to enjoy in case the image doesn’t look so good in B&W.

So, as many of you that have experimented around Photoshop know, the quickest and easiest way to make a B&W image is to just convert it to a plain ‘ole Grayscale. Select Image > Mode > Grayscale. Done. It’s not the most creative way, as again, you have no control over the conversion. What’s makes things worse, this function also tends to make images look flat & boring. The only reason I even mention it is, it’s a quick easy way to see if what your image might look like in B&W. Otherwise, just forget it and immediately hit your keyboard shortcut for Undo: Cmd/Ctrl Z!

Just like so many other things I’ve taught you, if there’s one way to do something in Photoshop, there’s probably at least 3 – 5 other ways to do the same thing. This is no different. For today, as most of you are probably using Photoshop Elements, we’ll stick with some of the simpler methods first, then move onto some fun & unusual way of doing things. For those of you on CS3-CS5, follow along too, as these tricks will still work for you too, but there’s one extra tool I’ll show you that will only work on CS3 and above.

So, let’s begin having some fun with your photo. Starting with the #2 basic way that a lot of people use to convert to B&W in Photoshop Elements, which makes it easy and provides some nice tools – Go to Enhance>Convert to Black & White. Up pops this next window. Photoshop’s going to do an auto-convert, showing a before and after image. If you’d like, you can click on each of the presets along the bottom left to try some other B&W effects. From there you can also play with the sliders to the right to lighten and darken each color range to provide a nice B&W. Wasn’t that fun!

OK, lets now move onto what you’re really here for. The way pro’s (OK, not only pro’s but now you too) do it.  You know I always teach you to work in layers–It’s a safe and creative way to work on everything in Photoshop. It not only provides more flexibility (and safety of course, in case you really botch things up), but there are a lot more creative options open to you as well.

The Hue/Sat Adjustment Layer. That’s right, I’ve called this an Adjustment Layer, which gives us a lot more flexibility than simply going to Enhance>Adjust Color>Adjust Hue/Sat. That’s going to give you the same window we’re going to use, but once you hit OK, it’s done, it’s over–You can’t go back and re-tweak it or use the Layer Mask that I’m going to show you later. Again, it’s OK for quickie B&W conversions, but that’s not what we’re here for.

Instead, lets make a Hue/Sat Adjustment layer by clicking on the Adjustment Layer (or what I fondly call the “Ying/Yang”) button located at either the top or bottom of your Layers Pane – depending on your flavor of Photoshop.

You’ll notice that either the Hue/Sat window now pops up, or in the newer versions of Photoshop, it’ll appear in the top or bottom of your right Panel. Either way, it’s the same window/features. For this first step, we’re going to quickly create a B&W by simply taking the Saturation slider and moving it to the left. A -100% equals a 100% reduction/removal of all Saturation, which means – Color. Now, I’ve read in some articles that a -98% is actually a bit better because of some type of odd clipping reaction that happens to colors at -100%. If so, I’ve had a hard time seeing it, but I’ve read it enough times that it “must be true”, so I’ve always gone to -98% just to be safe. So, there you are–Instant B&W. See, very quick & easy.

Now for a bit of fun, vary the Sat level up and down to provide an “Almost B&W” variation. Notice how there is now a new Adjustment layer above your image, as shown here?

Ready for more fun?

Hit OK to accept this Adjustment. Now, click on the Background layer to make it active. We’re going to create another Hue/Sat layer, but we want it to show up below the one we’ve already made. Important Photoshop Rule–Whenever you create a new layer of any type, it always shows up above whichever layer is currently active.

Alright, now go back up to the Ying/Yang button and chose Hue/Sat again, and up comes those Hue/Sat adjustments. This time we’re going to tweak the actual colors in the image more to your liking, providing a more interesting B&W image by lighting & darkening specific areas.     Notice how it’s made a new layer below the original Hue/Sat layer.

So, lets say that you’d like to darken the green areas of your image. Select Green from the Edit drop-down as shown here. In actuality, you can chose any of the colors from the drop-down, since Photoshop will figure out which color you want. Now, click on the left eyedropper/color sampler at the bottom. As you hover your mouse over the image, it’s now going to be an eyedropper. Click on any of the areas in your image that are green, and you’ll see the color bar across the bottom shift to that shade/Hue of whichever color you’ve chosen (that color bar across the bottom is another very versatile tool too, but that’s another lesson).

OK, now as you move either the Hue slider or Lightness slider back and forth, you’re going to notice that only that range of colors will now become darker or lighter. Which slider to chose is a matter of experimenting. Each slider will do what appears to be similar functions, but in a different manner. Again, that’s another class.  Play with the sliders until you like what you see.

To work on another color independently of this one, chose another color from the Edit drop-down (pick Red), grab the eyedropper and sample the color you’d like to work on, say maybe the blue sky. Watch as Photoshop will now change the color in the Edit drop-down to Blue, and move the color bar on the bottom to correspond with that shade of blue. It’s all Magic I tell you! For skies, they generally look better darker, providing a nice contrast to the white clouds, so make sure you sampled a nice blue section of the sky to work with. Assuming too of course, you’ve got some nice puffy white clouds in your sky, as opposed to the bland grey skies of the Pacific NW that we’re experiencing today.

OK, those of you on CS3 or above, I told you I’d show you something extra – Which is an extra feature for all the money you spent. This not only works on the same principles we just covered–it’s also much better.

When you click on your Ying/Yang button you’ll see an option for “Black & White” adjustment layer, select that and you see its window show up. You can skip the first Hue/Sat layer we added above, as this window does both features at once. It does an  Auto-B&W adjustment to what Photoshop “thinks” is right, then provides you with all the color sliders so that you can tweak each shade of color within in the image to your hearts delight. To see a before/after or to verify where certain colors in your image may be, click on the Preview button. As an added bonus, click on the Preset pop-down menu for a selection of, not only presets, but all the standard filters that used to be screwed over the front of the lens “in the old days” when B&W film was used. Now you can audition each filter will look, without the waste of film.

An even nicer tool included here: Hover our mouse over the image and click on an area you’d like to work on – If you drag left it will darken which ever color is below your mouse, drag right and you guessed it, lighter. Watch the sliders move as you drag. Again, it’s all Magic I tell you!

OK, now onto the “Selective Color” part of all this fun.

You’ll notice to the right of each Adjustment layer, a white rectangle. That’s called the Layer Mask. We’re going to use that to Mask Off or “Turn off/hide” the effect of that layer. I know, to those of you that have never used a Mask before, this may be a bit confusing, but hang in there, hopefully between today and future classes they will make a lot  more sense. It is are a very valuable tool to learn, as it allows many very creative options to unfold.

First, click on the Layer Mask icon to make it active. Notice the little brackets around the corners. Then you need to make sure that your color swatches at the bottom of your tool bar are the Default Black & White, if they’re not, push the “D” key to make is so. If the Black isn’t on top, push the “X” key to toggle the colors and make that so too.

Then go to your Tool Bar and select your Brush Tool or push “B”. For now, set your Brush Opacity to 100% and resize your brush to fit over the area you’d like to “Paint back in” by using the Bracket “[ and ]” keys. Then, simply “paint” over the areas with the brush to reveal the original colors in the image on the layer below. Painting with Black hides/conceals/masks the effect of that layer, showing what’s below it, which in this example is the original color.

Notice in the sample here, that you can see the Black Paint in the Layer Mask thumbnail, indicating where I’ve painted.

If you happened to Paint outside the lines it’s easy to fix – Hit the “X” key to toggle the Black & White color swatches. Now with White on top, paint again over the parts you would like to have reverted back to B&W. Painting with White “Reveals the effect of that layer” just as painting with Black “Conceals the effect of that layer”.

Again, I know it may be a bit much to absorb if you’re new to this, but give it a go, experiment & have fun. Paint different parts of your image, toggle between the Black & White with the “X” key,  vary the brush size with the Bracket keys.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. November 8, 2013 at 1:49 am

    Thanks 😀

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