Editors Note: Better Black and White | From Luminous Landscape was originally written by Michael Reichmann for Luminous Landscape and has been reproduced with permission.
Better Black and White
Using PhotoShop’s Channel Mixer
I’ve been shooting Black and White as well as colour since I started making my living in photography in the mid-60’s. I actually developed my first roll of B&W film when I was 10 years old in the mid-50’s.
For years as a photojournalist I would carry two camera bodies, one loaded with B&W film and one with colour. More recently, as a landscape photographer, when working in B&W I was always using red and yellow filters to darken skies and accentuate clouds, while green filters were handy for lightening foliage.
Now with the digital darkroom, I simply shoot colour and create B&W prints from these colour originals when desired, with all the control I used to have, if not more.
The trick to obtaining optimum quality is the use of Photoshop’s Channel Mixer.
Throw Away Your B&W Filters
This photograph was taken with a Canon EOS D30 digital SLR, though any film-based scan could of course be used as well. The frame on the left is the original colour image and the frame on the right has been converted to monochrome through the use of Photoshop’s traditional Image / Mode / Greyscale.
There’s a better way!
Using Layer / New / Adjustment Layer select Channel Mixer.
You’ll see this display. Now select Monochrome and you’ll see the image turn to B&W.
Notice that of the three colour slides RED is at 100% and Green and Blue are each at 0%. Experiment with setting each one individually to 100% while reducing the other two to 0%. What you’ll see is represented below.
Notice the dramatic differences. Look particularly at the reflections of the trees in the water.
What we’ve done is to create monochrome images that are the equivalent of ones shot on B&W film through a deep red, blue or green filter. Thus all of the traditional tonal effects, such as darkening of skies and lightening of foliage though the use of coloured filters can be achieved.
These are extremes, with the ratios at 100% of a single colour. Mix them as you desire to obtain the black and white tonalities that you prefer. Just try and ensure that the combined total of the mix is roughly 100%
About Michael Reichmann
Michael Reichmann has been both a professional photographer as well as avid amateur for more than 35 years. Born in England, he was raised and educated in Quebec. He now devotes his full-time energies to landscape photography, photographic journalism, print collecting and teaching — among other pursuits.