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Black & White Photographs

Black and White photography has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity of late. People like the evocative and timeless quality of the images. Color conveys a lot of meaning, but losing the color can redirect the viewer’s focus to the actual detail of the image. Adobe Photoshop has tools to turn you into a Black & White Art Photographer
Color photographs are usually in the RGB (red-green-blue) color space, B&W photographs are in the Grayscale color space. In an RGB photograph, each red, green and blue channel has the same amount of information as a Grayscale photo. In Photoshop, you will see the color space indicated in the title bar of the window (Fig 1). It is easy enough to scan a black & white photograph in Grayscale (often in the scanner software this is referred to as "Black and White Photo"), but you can also convert a color image to Grayscale. One way to do this is to scan your color photo in Grayscale, by telling the scanning software that your original is a B&W photo. Another way that will give you more options is to scan the image in color, and then convert it to Grayscale (from the Image menus select Mode: Grayscale). This can give you more control over the final image.

Fig. 1

When Photoshop changes an image from RGB to Grayscale, it looks at the Red and Green channels, discarding the Blue channel. You can look at the various channels by bringing up the Channels palette (from the Window menu select Show Channels). The little eyeball icon next to each channel indicated that they are all visible (Fig 2), by selecting one of the channels, you can see the channel by itself. Figure 3 shows all three channels of one image (Fig 3). With some images, the individual channel may give you a better looking Grayscale photograph than the normal combination of the red and green channels. If you are viewing one of the channels and select Image: Mode: Grayscale, Photoshop will discard the other channel information, using just the selected channel.

Fig. 2

Fig. 3

Another popular look is that of an old Sepia-toned photograph. This is the nice, warm-brown-toned image that were common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The conventional process for turning a B&W photo into a Sepia-tone one is laborious and smells of rotting eggs. Fortunately, with Photoshop, this is now an easy and odor-free process. Once the image is in Grayscale, convert it back to RGB (from the Image menu, select Mode: RGB), because you are going to add color back to the image. You can at this point use any one of several methods to colorize the image, my favorite being the Hue/Saturation (from the Image menu, select Adjust: Hue/Saturation). Click the Colorize box and adjust the Hue slider until you have a pleasant yellow-brown (Fig 4). Then, decrease the Saturation slider to make sure the image is not too brightly colored.

Fig. 4

Black and White photography is fun, and turning a color photograph into B&W can dynamically alter the message conveyed.
Paul Vaughn is the Director of Digital Services at River City Silver, the premiere photographic and digital imaging laboratory in San Antonio and South Texas. Mr. Vaughn shows up in either rgb or grayscale, he is on the web at, he can be contacted at

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