May 28, 2015

How to Create a Stunning Black and White Portrait in Photoshop

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If you think black and white images are simple, think again! Learn how to create a stunning black and white portrait in Photoshop in today’s episode!

Converting to Black & White

There are many different ways to convert an image to black and white in Photoshop. For the purposes of this episode, we use the most complete method which is a black and white adjustment layer. This allows an incredible amount of flexibility in terms of editing the tones of the portrait.

To start off (you guessed it) create a black and white adjustment layer. You will notice there are sliders for each color in the image. When working with the skin tones, you will be focusing on the red and yellow sliders. It is really about finding a balance between the two; each photo is different and it will take time and practice to know which colors need to be increased/decreased. For this particular photo, it looks best to increase the yellows and decrease the reds.

If there are other specific colors in the photograph that you would like to change, you can use the sliders for those as well. A helpful trick is to use the hand tool to actually click and drag left and right on the image. Keep in mind, these are global adjustments! If you click and drag on a green stripe in the image, it will also affect all of the other greens throughout.

Tints & Presets

Next up: play with tints! Check the tint box, and then click on the color block to change the color. It tends to look nicer and more natural if the saturation is relatively low. We chose a yellow-orange color and a saturation of around 6% for this image. It creates a really nice warm, sepia look!

Something that many people may not know about black and white adjustment layers in Photoshop is that you can save your adjustments as a preset! This can be very very helpful for instances like batch editing, or if you just like the look you created on your image and would like to use it in the future. Simply click on the icon in the upper right corner of the adjustment window. Then, select “Save Black & White Preset.” Name the preset and select the location you would like to save it in. Now, you can go back and select that specific preset for other photos! There are basic presets that Photoshop provides as well.

Flair & Final Touches

Create another new black and white adjustment layer. Next, change the blending mode from Normal to Luminosity. This changes the way the sliders affect the tones in the image, and we have found that it’s an efficient and successful way to edit the skin in portraits.

Another nice touch is to use gradients to create vignettes to add on the subject. Choose a radial gradient that goes from black to white, and create the gradient on a new layer (set the blending mode to Soft Light). It’s very easy to remake the gradient if you don’t like it – all you have to do is click and drag again.


There are infinite possibilities for black and white editing in Photoshop! Hopefully this tutorial inspired you to create some stunning black and white portraits.


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  • user image
    kim buchheit

    You guys are making some of the very best tutorials out there! So grateful for all your talent and generosity 🙂

  • user image
    Julie Boyle

    Great tutorial Aaron. I like your version of B & W – always something to learn from your tutorials – thanks

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    thomas beard

    excellant tutorial, brilliant,never seen eyes change to so many colours

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    Mark Diesel

    Thank you Phlearn an with Aaron Nace for you great tutorials. You are the most detailed an explanatory instructor….keep up!!

  • user image

    i would love to see how after cutting a person out (pic above the waist) from the background, I can make a faded gradient transparent edge on the bottom of the pic across the bottom so that it blends well when saved and pasted into a desktop pub layout software.

  • user image

    Great, loved the option of playing with your image provided while watching the tutorial. Help understand B&W images.
    Thank you Phlearn

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    Tom Geiger

    I’m a new subscriber. Fantastic site! I tried to change the sky color in this photo to more like a sunset orange based on your other tutorials, but the color comes out flat and non-believable. Is replacing the sky the only way?
    I know you’ve been to southern Utah/Northern Arizona, but come again and have a free local guide.
    Tom from Page AZ at Lake Powell.

  • user image

    A very simple way to get excellent professional results. Having already used the a mixture of black and white adjustments with blending modes, I almost didn’t watch this thinking it would be repetitive for me. But I let my better judgement prevail, watched the tutorial and discovered an awesome, easy to way to correct skin tones!

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    Ivo Gonzalez

    A very helpful tutorial, as usual.
    Thanks for sharing, Aaron.

  • user image

    I almost didn’t watch this too but WOW, so glad I did! Can’t recall where I found y’all but SOOOO glad I did- thanks again!!!

  • user image

    thanks for the great tutorial. I have been using photoshop for about a year now. Your videos are SO helpful. The succinct yet detailed way you instruct is
    perfect! And I giggle every time you laugh:) love it.

  • goldeneyex9

    Please Review and let me know of my Image here , if its good or not good ,suggestions , Ide love to know

    • user image

      Reflection on face from watchband needs to be removed. BG swirl near left eye same. Watch face blown out and cuffs too. Not sure what to do with the left eye? Needs some POP. Focus of pic is confused, it might be the watch or it might be the guy.

  • user image

    While this pic I did is not a real person this tutorial really made it pop. Keep up the good work.

  • user image

    How about technics such as High Key and Low Key in digital photography or how to make a HK or a LK B&W photo in Photoshop?

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    Hans Licht

    hello, i will a foto in color made looks like that it was painting. but i have photoshop cc en i found that i not couls use that filte that was the last step i was almost ready with my picture.
    Can you help or give me a link?
    Thanks Hans

  • user image

    Muito obrigado pelo tutorial e, por deixar a imagem para nós seguir teus passos!