Great Monochrome Quality

The Simple Way to Great Monochrome Quality

Like most operations in Photoshop there are many ways to turn a colour image into monochrome.  In the Image/Mode menu you will find Grayscale.  This will just remove all your colour information and leave you with a rather flat, unexciting result.  Another way is to use Image/Adjustments/ Gradient Map.  This is marginally better but does not make the most of the various colour shades of your image.  It does, however, help to boost the mid tones slightly and we can put this to use in the method described below.

Here we go!

Open your chosen image in Photoshop and whether it is raw or jpeg work on it in your normal way to produce a good colour image.  If your image is a jpeg it is good practice to resave it as a tiff first and work on that as jpegs will deteriorate if worked on.   Now go to your Layer Palette and duplicate the Background Image either by right clicking it and choosing Duplicate Layer or by clicking and dragging to the small “folded paper” icon in the bottom of the Layer Palette.  As we now have two identical layers we can work on the top one and retain the lower for any alterations we may wish to do later.

Now click on the “half moon” icon at the bottom of the palette.  This will bring up a list of adjustment layers – choose Black & White.  You will see a new layer has been made, your image has lost its colour and you are presented with a palette of colour sliders.  Go ahead and play with various sliders and see how this affects the tones of your image.  This is where the advantage over the other two methods mentioned above comes into play.   Notice how brickwork and people’s faces are affected by the red slider, the grass and foliage is controlled by both the green and yellow sliders.  The blue slider will alter blue skies dramatically (but be careful not to “overcook” them!).  The blue can also make a difference to any surface reflecting a blue sky such as paving and glossy metals and plastics etc.

Should you find that by altering one tone to great effect you have also altered another part of your image that is of the same colour and produced an unwanted result – don’t panic – the cure is easy!  To the right of your Black and White adjustment layer you will see a white rectangle.  This is the Layer Mask.  Click on the mask and a frame will appear around it signifying that it is “live” and now simply paint on the part of your image you wish to alter using a black brush.  This will reveal the colour layer underneath.  Now create another Black & White adjustment layer as before making sure it is above the first one by first of all clicking the first one to highlight it and, if necessary, use the sliders to adjust that part of your picture.  The rest of your image will remain unaltered.

Now, here’s the killer tip!

At the top of your layer stack introduce another adjustment layer but this time choose Gradient Map.  Gradient Map comes in a variety of colours so use the drop down menu to choose the B&W.  This will add some extra “snap” to your mid tones which, in most cases will improve the overall appearance of your image.  If you find the effect too much it can be varied by adjusting Opacity slider at the top of the layers palette. Of course, monochrome does not necessarily mean Black & White but any image of only one colour is described as monochrome.  Therefore, you can tone your picture any colour you wish.  To do this click the “Tint” button above the sliders in the B&W adjustment layer.  Immediately your picture will be converted to sepia but click on the colour patch that has now appeared and choose any colour you would like.  To vary the colour saturation and tone just move the little circle about.  If you change your mind and want to go back to B&W, cancel the colour picker and untick the Tint box.

If you decide on toning your image you can’t use the Gradient Map layer – no need to delete it, just click on the eye at the left and it will be switched off.

If you wish to add sharpening make sure that your uppermost colour image is highlighted in the layers, double click the zoom tool (magnifying glass icon) to see your image at 100% then go to Filter/Sharpen and choose the method to be used.  Generally, Unsharp mask will do well, Smart Sharpen is good for images with large smooth areas that you wish to leave unsharpened such as skies or close up portraits.  Sharpen Edges can be good for subjects such as machinery, car bodies etc.  Set the Pixel Radius to 1.0 and then move the Amount slider to your choice.  Do not oversharpen this will result in ugly lines appearing around your subjects and remember, if your image is not sharp to begin with then these filters will not help !

To add a finishing touch to your image it is good to put a keyline around it especially where there are light areas at the edges that will “bleed” off into your paper when printed or dark areas that will do the same when projected.

Go to the layers palette click the top layer to highlight it and add a new blank layer above it by clicking on the “folded paper” icon.  An empty layer will appear.  Go to the Select menu at the top of the desktop and click on All.  The marching ants will appear around your picture.  Go to Edit/ Stroke and in the box that appears make sure that the colour patch is showing black, or white for a DPI, the Location should be “inside”.  The width will depend on the size of your image.  If your image is more or less straight from your camera try a starting point of, say, ten pixels.  The result can be seen immediately.  If your image has been severely cropped or downsized then the width will be much smaller.

We hope that you will find these note clear and will help you to achieve excellent results but keep in mind if there is any further help you need do ASK !


Author  Len Harris



© The Kidderminster Camera Club 2014