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Photoshop Basics: Black and White

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Ain’t nothing like a classic!

In this tutorial, learn how to convert any photo into black & white.

* This tutorial is part of the Photoshop Basics Collection

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What is the Black & White

At one time, you had to decide prior to taking a photo whether you wanted to take a color or black and white photo because what you ended up with depended on what kind of film you used. Then, things went digital, and it became theoretically possible to turn a color photo into a black and white photo. The drawback, however, was that the tools available to accomplish this were somewhat limited, so what you ended up with was more of a washed out gray photo than an engaging composition of true, rich, dark blacks and crisp, vibrant whites. Along with the third version of Adobe Creative Suite, however, came a new feature called Black & White, and it was a game-changer.

The Deceptive Nature of Blacks and Whites

The Black & White tool — like the colors black and white themselves — is somewhat deceptive. It would seem reasonable to assume that the tool would give you control over adjusting the blacks and the whites in a photo, but in all actuality, what it gives you is the ability to adjust the color in the photo. Seems crazy, right? Well, not really when you understand how various shades of black and white are created.

Why There Are Way More Than 50 Shades of Gray

If you’ve ever walked into a paint store to pick up a gallon of white paint, you might be shocked by the overwhelming selection of “white” paint shades that are available. As black is becoming more popular as a paint color, you can also now find hundreds and hundreds of shades of black. What makes the difference between one shade of black or white and another is the color it is mixed with and the amount of color added.

For instance, eggshell or cream are generally created by applying the slightest touch of yellow to flat white paint while other shades of white can be created by adding the slightest touch of lavender, green, blue or red. Blacks are generally deepened or softened by the addition of blue, red and sometimes yellow. When you want to create contrast in your blacks, whites and grays, you do it by boosting or minimizing other colors.

Color Adds Richness, Texture and Depth

The most stunning black and white works of art are created by the selective use of the most extreme whites, the darkest of blacks and every shade of gray in between. The great thing about Photoshop is that you can apply certain effects to one area of your photo or canvas without it affecting anything else through the use of Select & Mask. Select & Mask allows you to isolate a single element and tweak the color balance in that one element without touching anything else. In this way, rather than having one flat canvas containing a mixture of muddy grays, you get crisp, sharp, detailed contrast to give your work richness and depth.

For more tips, tools and tricks for using the Black & White Photoshop feature, check out our helpful and informative instructional video.

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Each Photoshop Basics Tutorial includes a sample image so you can learn at your own pace and follow along with the video.

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