The Technique Behind the Picture This! Assignment

The Technique Behind the Picture This! Assignment

Threshhold Command is the Key to Graphic “B&W Only” Look

by George Schaub

Every month Shutterbug brings a Picture This! Assignment to readers, which creates a theme and requests readers send in images to match it. The January, 2009 issue of Shutterbug saw the publication of reader images for the assignment of “Black and White Only (No Grayscale)”, in which we asked for graphic interpretations that relied on a pen and ink approach to subjects and scenes. The response was overwhelming and we received as much if not more submissions than any Picture This! assignment in the past year. We also received a large volume of mail from readers who wanted to know how those who did submit achieved the highly graphic results.

There are many ways to accomplish this, but we thought we’d share one of the easiest—using the Threshhold command in Photoshop.  Other programs have similar controls, but this one is in almost every version of Photoshop we could find, from the original CS on up. The great thing about this command is that it can be used as an image adjustment (found under Image>Adjustment) or as a New Adjustment Layer, with all the advantages that affords, including being able to fade it through opacity or use a Layer Mask for selective reduction of the effect. True, you can always do the Image Adjustment on a dupe Layer and work the brush effect and opacity, but going right to an Adjustment Layer just seems like less work.

Here’s the Threshhold command found in both the Image>Adjustment and Layer> New Adjustment Layer locales.

Once you open an image and pick that command you get this dialog box. You can move the slider to the left and right and get degrees of effect. Just match up the effect you want with the position of the slider. 

Here are some side-by-side images showing the effect. These effects were accomplished in seconds using the technique described above.

© 2008, George Schaub, All Rights Reserved

Finally, you can also use opacity or a Layer Mask to get intermediate effects where just a touch of color comes through. Use the Opacity slider in the Layer palette to change the effect on the entire image or, as show here, a Layer Mask with the paintbrush to paint back, to a degree, to the original color image.

BTW, if you’d like to see this assignment and others in our Picture This feature, go to the Picture This! Section of our web site, reached via the home page at, or by clicking here: