Stephen Johnson Tutorial: Black and White to Color

(excerpt from the book Stephen Johnson on Digital Photography unreleased revised electronic version)

Black and White or Color? A question that has changed in some fundamental ways in this digital age. Now we almost always make our photographs in color through Bayer pattern filters spread across our sensors filtering the light into red, green and blue.

If we want black and white, for the most part, we are starting in color. This is frustrating on one level, because it means if we want black and white, we have to derive the color first, then transform the photograph into grayscale.. This lowers the resolution of the file as compared to what it would be without the color filters.

But there are also some wonderful advantages. It means the black and white world we derive from color (albeit, now on the computer) can be almost anything we imagine, or stumble into through experimentation. The Black and White Adjustment Layer in Photoshop further enables a level of customization that it is almost unbelievable. We can experiment with conversions, customize different areas with masks, and re-imagine the nature of what a black and white photograph can be.

Although Grayscale (BW) conversion can be done in Camera Raw, Lightroom, Capture One and other raw processors, I prefer Photoshop because of the masking and control, allowing different areas to be converted in different ways, as shown below.


From July 2011 Newsletter: Black and White Selective Conversion. Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park. Maine. 2011.




Chard, Veggie Series (color). 2012


Chard, Veggie Series (custom black and white with adjustments shown on graphic to the left). 2012

In the example here, the color file provided the raw material for separating the BW conversion into dark stems on glowing leaves. It's a major tonal shift, but demonstrates the flexibility of the process.


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Last updated on August 21, 2012 . Mail comments to:
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