Black And White Digital Photography Tips

Black and white photography - The first decision any digital photographer has to make is to either shoot in color or black and white.

Most digital cameras will have the facility to allow a picture to be taken in either mode.

One of the advantages of choosing the black and white mode is that if you use your cameras viewing screen to frame the picture this will also show a black and white image and will give you a better idea of composition etc.

However some of the top end cameras do not have the viewing screen option available when taking a picture and so choosing the black and white mode simply means that the resulting image will be taken without color.

For me unless you are a person who as I describe as "seeing in black and white", meaning that they have a good eye for choosing and framing subjects which will make a strong black and white image, then I think always shooting in color is the best option.

Converting a Color Image Into Black and White.

Digital color photographs can be easily turned into great black and white photography using image manipulation software on your computer. There are many software packages on the market ranging from basic to professional and of course the better the software the more options you will have available to you. However all packages will enable you carry out B & W conversion.

There is of course a learning curve with all this software and if you are not particularly happy to spend hours manipulating images and learning the software packages then opt for a cheap basic package, as these will require the minimum of time to master.

For my digital photography tips I will use Photoshop as the software demonstrator. Your own software commands may differ slightly but often there is enough of a similarity to enable everyone to follow the commands.

Turning Color into Mono

There are many ways to achieve good black and white photography images from your color digital file. All will have a different result in how the final image will appear and the choice of which one you use will depend on:

  • The subject.
  • Your preference and tastes.
  • The amount of work you want to do on the image.

The following image has been converted from color to mono using 4 different techniques available in photoshop, GreyScale, Desaturation, Channel Mixer and Lab Color. Each image shows the results of a particular method.

geysaclke image by kate tilmouth desaturation by kate tilmouth
channle mixer by kate tilmouth lab color by kate tilmouth
Channel Mixer
Lab Color


This is the simplest and quickest method of getting a basic black and white photography image. With the image open in the software choose from the menu Image > Mode > Greyscale. Confirm that you want to discard all color information.

You will be left with a simple black and white image. However this effect can produce a weak contrast effect that may not be satisfactory.


digital photography tips hue saturation pallet

The next simplest option is to choose either the Desaturation option from your menu if you have one or choose the Image > Adjustments > Hue/saturation from the menu and slide the saturation button all the way down to the left until all the color has been removed from the image.

This will give a slightly different effect from a greyscale conversion as the color has not been removed from the pixels but has been balanced differently so they appear gray and have been lightened slightly.

It is possible to use the greyscale mode after this Desaturation process to receive a different result from just a straight greyscale conversions. This may give you the effect you were after.

Channel Mixer

Black and white photography channal mixer

For those using a more sophisticated image manipulation program, you will have the option to use what is known as the channel mixer. This will enable you to have more control over the final B &W Conversion, producing a more dramatic effect.

Using the channel mixer allows the digital photographer to mimic the use of colored filters used on more traditional film cameras, to control the tone and contrast of image elements.

Select the channel mixer by choosing Image > Adjustments > channel mixer. Tick the monochrome box and then adjust the red, blue and green sliders until you achieve your desired effect. A good rule of thumb is to make sure that the total of all three sliders should be 100%.

Settings that mimic color filters are:-

  • Red filter = Red +100, Green 0, Blue 0
  • Orange filter = Red +66, Green +34, Blue 0
  • Blue filter = Red +50, Green +50, Blue 0

Lab Color

Photoshop also has another option to turn color files into black and white photography images. It gives a less grainy effect than a straight greyscale conversion and has a slight improvement in contrast and tone.

Choose Image > Mode > lab Color.
Then open the channels palette and click on the lightness channel.
Then Click Image > Mode > Greyscale and confirm that you want to discard other channels.