Convert Color Digital Images into Black & White

Posted: August 23, 2009 in Photoshop
Tags: , , , , , ,

Black & White photography has been long associates with fine arts photography, because of it ability to deliver a ‘feeling’ of historic & nostalgic. In the old day, black & white photography are cheaper to reproduce compare to colour photography because of the chemical used to reproduce the pictures. Even until today, black & white photo still a force to be reckon because of the ability of the photo to speak a language beyond its medium, which colour cannot.

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Image above from Wikipedia – featuring B&W from Henri Cartier-Bresson

Like others, I started experiment  in Black & white when I fell in love with photography, back then we were using a SLR and Black & white film Kodak T-Max. Getting the print reproduce in Penang wasnt a easy task and almost all of the time this was done through machine (photo printing shop) using cheap glossy paper. When I was in NZ , we had a dark room to manually reproduce our pictures using enlarger, colour filter & chemicals. The final image is printed on a Kodak Pro Black & White paper. Traditional B&W photography also involve using colour filter to actively select or allow which colour may pass through /or block out totally.

colour wheel

……one can increase contrast in a given region by choosing a filter color which is complimentary to that region’s color.  In other words, we want to choose a filter whose color is on the opposite side of the color wheel (right) to the image’s color….(cambridgeincolour)

With the invention of digital SLR, all of these had changed. Today, to produce a black & white image, all you need is a DSLR and photoshop (or lightroom) solfware.

Ok, lets us drop the history class and move on to the ‘how’ part. I prefer using Channel Mixer to convert a colour photo to black & white because the option to add & subtract RGB channels is similar to using colour filter at enlarger when one is reproducing a photo in darkroom. Of course, other options available in photoshop are (Hue-p Saturation Adjustment layer & De-saturate colour) or one can do this as part of  in-camera B&W setting.

There is also a common misconception though Channel Mixer – the RGB percentages must equal 100%. The truth is they do not need to equal 100%, they can be any setting you want them to be, since the main goal is to make sure the photo looks the way you want it to look.

I usually start with the following settings:

R: 70% G: 110% B: -110%

From there I adjust the settings until the photo looks the way I want it to.

How to convert using the Channel Mixer


First, open your photo and then add a Channel Mixer adjustment layer.

B&W channelmixer

Select Monochrome and adjust the percentages for RGB.

Adjust the percentages until the photo looks the way you want. You can also adjust the constant percentage to lighten or darken the photo.

B&W channelmixer1

B&W channelmixer2

That will do, click Ok

One thing I find useful is at the end to add a contrast layer, this will darken the darks and lighten the white. This is optional though….

B&W channelmixer3

Final Image.



  1. vinay says:

    Nice tutorial to help convert colourful images into black and white. Very helpful and easy to learn.

  2. Waqaszaka says:

    hey gr8 man i m in constant lookout for photoshop techniques and u provided me one gr8 post … THNX

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