Black & White Conversions; A Powerful New Tool In CS3

Black & White
In previous versions of Photoshop, the most common method for converting a color image to black & white was to use the Channel Mixer. It was a clunky, counter-intuitive process that forced you to think like Photoshop instead of allowing your brain and eyes to naturally digest what was being done to your image. The new Black & White converter is a truly wonderful tool that makes the conversion process much more intuitive and user friendly. Because it's so easy to use, it's got an instant gratification aspect to it that makes it especially fun to play with.

Original color image.

Creating A Good Mix
When you choose Image>Adjustments> Black & White, all the color will be taken out of your image and you'll be presented with a dialog box that has six primary sliders. You can control the brightness of different areas in your image by dragging the appropriate slider (for instance, the Reds slider brightens or darkens areas that used to be red in the image). The only problem with this approach is that you can't see what color different areas used to be without toggling the Preview checkbox.

You can also click and drag within the main image window to have Photoshop try to figure out the proper slider to affect that area. When working this way, click on the image and (while you're still holding down) simply drag to the left to darken the area, or drag to the right to brighten it. You'll see the corresponding slider magically move in the Black & White dialog box. I absolutely love working this way, but find that Photoshop doesn't always choose the best slider to isolate the area on which I'm clicking. If you find that it's having trouble isolating an area, toggle the Preview checkbox off and then back on again and try the sliders in an area similar in color to the area you want to affect. You might find that one chosen manually in this fashion works better than the one that Photoshop automatically selects.

In this example, dragging on either the body of the car or the fender area caused Photoshop to move the Reds slider, which caused both areas to change in almost equal amounts. By experimenting, I found that the Yellows slider did a much better
job of isolating the body of the vehicle, so I used the Yellows slider to brighten the body and the Reds slider to darken the fender of the car.

A Black & White adjustment using default settings.

Photoshop chose to move the Reds slider when I dragged across both the fender and the body and was not able to isolate the two colors.

Resetting A Slider
If you'd like to get one of the color sliders in the Black & White dialog box back to its default position, hold Option (Mac), or Alt (Win) and click on the color swatch associated with the slider.

I experimented and found that the Yellows slider would affect the body a lot more than the fender. By adjusting both, I was able to get the results I desired.

Watch Out For Clipping
Each of the adjustment sliders in the Black & White dialog box has a very wide range available, which means that it's very easy to end up with solid black or white areas in your image (also known as clipping). If you're concerned about losing detail in the highlight or shadow areas of your image, consider opening the Info palette (by choosing Window>Info) and passing over the brightest and darkest areas of the image. If the right side of the RGB readout in the Info palette ever hits zero, you'll know that the area under your mouse is solid black and if it hits 255, then the area is white. I find that turning on the Tint checkbox (which we'll discuss next) can make it easy to tell if you're losing highlight detail. That's because the white areas will contrast with the areas that are being tinted, thus making them easier to see.