Learning to see in black and white has changed. Prior to the 21st century, black and white photographers developed a heightened sensitivity to intensity and direction of light as well as tonal relationships between highlights and shadows. For the most part, they discounted the appearance of hue and saturation, with a few exceptions.

These perceptual skills are still very important for 21st century digital black and white photographers. But, today, previsualizating possibilities becomes much more challenging. Because you can make any hue light or dark, globally or locally, dramatically extending the variability of an image’s tonal structure, the two additional variables, hue and saturation, need to be factored in rather than factored out.

You’ll find that images containing a variety of saturated colors, offer the widest range of possibilities, while those that don’t offer fewer possibilities; neutral areas won’t shift and relative relationships between highlights and shadows will hold. The transformations during color to black and white conversions can be so dramatic and varied that you’ll find it extremely challenging to compare all of the possibilities in your head. Instead, compare several conversions side-by-side. Today’s tools are so efficient that you’ll be able to make and compare many variations in a very short time. Move from pre-visualization to vizualization.

Along with these new possibilities comes flexibility. With analog processes these relationships are fixed at the moment of exposure; with digital processes they are not. Keep your options open. Preserve your original color data. Avoid in camera conversions. Don’t replace your original color data with converted data. Archive layered files. You can modify the conversion of a color original indefinitely. So, from time to time, consider revisiting finished files . You may be able to improve them.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Learn more in my Black & White Mastery workshop.

Read more about black & white photography here.

Michael Hedges revolutionized solo acoustic guitar performance.

Aerial Boundaries is quite possibly his best known performance.

It’s absolutely brilliant!

Listen to more music here.


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 There are at many ways to convert an image from color to black and white. Here’s a roundup and evaluation of the top seven plus a set of considerations to help you choose the best one for your needs.

1          Desaturate

Desaturate or use the Saturation slider to make all the channels the same without control over the mix. Desaturaton is useful for near neutral images, otherwise it produces compressed tonal structure.

2          Convert Mode To Grayscale

Grayscale conversions eliminate all channels but one. The default mix is 59% Green, 29% Red, 11% Blue. This can be customized by targeting a single channel before conversion, to get 100% of any channel in any color space, including Lab. Quick and direct, this method eliminates future flexibility; its limited use is to create Grayscale images for reproduction but it’s not the best way to make a conversion from color to black and white.

3          Channel Mixer

The Channel Mixer set to Monochrome allows you to customize the mix of channels and can be used as an adjustment layer, which allows you to change the mix at any time in the future.

4          Black & White Adjustment Layer

The Black & White adjustment layer’s intuitive interface offers exceptional independent control over the conversion of individual hues.

5          Raw Converter

Using RAW converter (Lightroom or ACR) The settings in Lightroom can be changed indefinitely and this flexibility can be preserved if files are imported into Photoshop as a smart object. In Photoshop, the Camera Raw filter offers all of this and the ability to use dual adjustment layers. When compared to Photoshop’s Black & White adjustment layer, Raw converter sliders add two more points of control – Purple and Orange.

6          Dual Adjustment Layers

Place a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer below another adjustment layer that converts color to black and white (Camera Raw filter , Black & White or Channel Mixer adjustment layers) and you’ve got the ultimate conversion preview. Move the Hue slider and cycle through all possible global conversion permutations in seconds. For more control add masks to multiple Hue/Saturation adjustment layers to make localized conversions.

This is my preferred method for all but the most challenging black and white to color conversions.


7          Turn Channels Into Layers

Channels as layers give you all of the above and the ability to use Blend If sliders and masks to make conversion selective. Consider adding channels from multiple color spaces like the L channel from LAB or the K channel from CMYK. This more complex method produces is less intuitive and produces a larger file size, but it still offers the ultimate in control.

Which option should you choose?

Here are a few criteria to weigh.

1          Power and precision

Get the control you need to get where you want to go.

2          Flexibility

Favor methods that offer the flexibility of being able to change any aspect of a conversion at any time in the future, including returning to the full color version. In Adobe Photoshop use adjustment layers or layers. When using Adobe Camera RAW open images as a Smart Object.

3          A good preview

View before and after states simultaneously to help you make more informed decisions.

4          Easy to use

When faced with multiple options with equal functionality favor the simpler one.

5          Simpler file setup

Apply the KISS principle whenever possible.

6          Leaner file size

Smaller files are faster and easier to store.

This is my preferred ranking of these criteria, you’ll want to modify these according to the needs of a given situation.

I favor using dual adjustment layers (Camera Raw filter and Black& White) 90% of the time and occasionally use channels as layers for files with special needs.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Learn more in my Black & White Mastery workshop.

Read more about black & white photography here.

Mike Manring demonstrates his musical virtuosity with his custom made bass capable of switching to different tunings mid-performance.

In this extended video, after his first astonishing performance he eloquently celebrates the instrument he loves, before playing two more pieces.

He’s a musical pioneer who continues to break new ground. In my humble opinion, he is the world’s finest bass player – ever.














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