Basic B&W - The Next Step

Everywhere you look, you see suggestions of using saturation rather than the remove color option available in Photoshop. It’s supposed to be better. What they don’t tell you, is specifically WHY it’s better. Well, if you use layers, then it’s being done in a none destructive way. But that’s it! That’s all the benefits wrapped into one. And once you convert you have the exact same picture. Desaturation is after all: removing color.

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What people usually don’t teach you is that color is very important. It’s also part of what makes b&w on film look so cool. A nice shade of grey doesn’t make much of a picture. Let me show you….

Above I have displayed 3 different gradients with the last one being our ‘original color photograph.’

The first one shows how it would look being desaturated. Not very attractive is it? With exception of a couple bands of brighter tones, the photograph would serve no better than perhaps as an interesting grey card. It is also why desaturated digital photographs tend to look bland.

The next gradient shows a much more logical approach. In fact it is more intuitive to what we visualize as black & white. You can clearly see that yellows and greens are brightened as expected. Blues and Reds are darkened, whites are white, blacks are black. It is based on color.

The next three photographs further exploit this, most particularly in the tree itself.


Click on image to see full picture

So how do we do this? It’s actually not much harder than desaturation. Instead we add a grey (128,128,128) fill color then change the blending mode to color and we are done.

  1. “Layer” > “New Fill Layer” > “Solid Color”
  2. In “New Layer” popup, set “Mode” to “Color”
  3. In the color-picker popup box, set color to 128,128,128 (r,g,b)

A side note for those using the EOSViewerUtility (or the in camera-function itself), internally, it performs this exact same method with the b/w option.

So there you have it. No excuses for desaturating your photos to go B&W any more.