Photoshop Elements: change colour images to B&W
- Master the art of enhancing digital photos on your computer
- Explained: why you should always take photos in colour, then convert later
- How to get the best black and white image using Adobe Photoshop elements
This article, Photoshop Elements: change colour images to B&W, was last updated on 13 June 2008 and is now out of date and held in our online archive for reference. Explore our latest Technology articles.
There are several ways to convert colour images to black and white (B&W) in Adobe Photoshop Elements. We will show you a couple of quick options, and one slightly more complex route for those are more familiar with Elements.
There’s no wrong or right way, but the more lengthy options provide greater control over tone and texture and ultimately provide the better looking result overall.
Which program should I use?
We've used version 6 of Photoshop Elements for this demonstration, partly because Adobe has added a new Convert to Black and White option and partly because previously available options have remained largely unchanged.
We should add that while there are new features, the greater use of colour and subdued, charcoal-grey workspace makes version 6 look a good deal different than earlier versions. However, most of the original features and tools are located in similar locations to that of earlier offerings, so it should be pretty straightforward to replicate.
Why can't I just use the black and white mode?
Most current digital compact cameras can take black and white photos easily, and achieve truly excellent results. But, ultimately, you'll find you're limiting your options, as you can't then convert to colour if you change your mind at a later date.
We have chosen an image taken in France because of its near mono-like look and strong composition. We wanted to convert it to black and white to give it more texture and feeling, but you may want to choose a highly coloured image while you're experimenting with the steps we've chosen. It makes any slight changes you make on screen more visible and easier to interpret.
For each of the various routes to achieve our black and white snap or before we make adjustments to any image file, it’s considered good practice to make a copy of the original.
To make a copy of a file, simply select File > Duplicate. This appends any image file with the word 'copy', and you can Save (Ctrl+S) the file in the same folder without fear of overwriting the original.
1Convert to greyscale
Our first step to convert our copy of a colour image in Elements is to convert our image to greyscale, which in turn is based on the colours in our original file.
Select Image > Mode > Greyscale.
Don't worry - this route nearly always leads to a rather lifeless looking image with little contrast and fewer tones.
Select Enhance > Auto levels (Shift+Ctrl+L).
While automatically boosting the all-important mid-tones, Levels also compresses the overall tonal range required for either web use or printing.
3Enhance the contrast
So far the result may look good enough by itself, but you could also experiment with contrast by choosing Enhance > Auto Contrast (Alt+Shift+Ctrl+L).
It’s usually only a subtle improvement, but subtle is good.
4Save your file
When finished choosing your adjustments, click OK and Save (Ctrl+S).
Our second option to impressive looking black and white snaps is to de-saturate a colour photo. This gives an image that looks similar to a straight greyscale conversion, but keeps it in the original colour mode and without changing the lightness. Select Enhance > Adjust Colour > Adjust Hue/Saturation (Ctrl+U).
In the Hue/Saturation dialog box, pull the slider all of the way to the left (-100). The colour image is now de-saturated. Depending on the original image, it can look a little more punchy than our first option, but not always and not usually by a lot.
With our Saturation slider all the way to the left, we want to experiment with the Lightness slider. We can also choose to adjust the individual colours in our image, or simply adjust all the colours at once leaving the Edit box set to 'Master'.
Until you're more familiar with the options you may want to leave the Edit box as 'Master' at this stage and leave the Hue slider in the centre, set to 0.
You'll see a dramatic global shift by dragging the Lightness slider to the left (adding black) or to the right (adding white).
7See before and after
New to version 6 of Adobe Photoshop Elements is a handy Convert to Black and White (Alt+Ctrl+B).
As well as providing crucial Before and After views, there are six presets or Styles (Infrared, Newspaper, Portraits, Scenic Landscape, Urban/Snapshots and Vivid Landscapes).
By automatically adjusting the intensity of the Red, Green and Blue (RGB) channels, the presets can be chosen for a certain look. Or, just as importantly, they can be used as a starting place for experimentation.
We choose Urban/Snapshots and, while taking care not to block all the detail in the shadows, we boosted the contrast slightly by dragging the slider to the right (+30).
9Save and complete
When finished with your selection, click OK and Save (Ctrl+S).
Enjoy your new black and white images!