Creating Dramatic Black and White Images

Have you ever wondered how to create stunning, dramatic black and white images that captivate your audience? Look no further! In this blog, we will explore the techniques and tools needed to turn your color photographs into striking black and white masterpieces. From adjusting contrast and exposure to using specialized software, we’ll cover everything you need to know to achieve the perfect black and white image. Whether you’re a beginner or experienced photographer, you’ll find valuable tips and tricks to enhance your photography skills and create compelling black and white images that leave a lasting impression. Let’s get started!

Creating Dramatic Black and White Images

This episode is sponsored by squarespace whether you need a domain website or online store make your next move with squarespace i’ve been doing this portrait retouching series since the beginning of the year and i was going to end it with the last episode but i had a few comments and Messages from some of you asking me to do a tutorial and how i produce a black and white conversion of the portrait that i’ve made you might think that’s too obvious a tutorial to do because surely you can just hit desaturate and take the color out of the image and then You have your black and white and whilst that’s true there’s a massive difference between just desaturating an image pulling the color out to create what is technically a black and white image and using the color information underneath in the original image to create a black and white image with pop and shape and Contrast to it so in this video which will be the last in this series i’m going to show you my techniques for producing a properly toned compelling black and white conversion for your portraits and yes whilst this series is pointed at portrait photographers these techniques will work in any genre of Photography no matter what your subject matter so hopefully these techniques will help you strengthen your black and white work so let’s jump in okay so i’ve pulled in this headshot and we’re going to turn this into a nice dramatic contrasty black and white image but just to show you the difference between the Techniques the first thing i want to do is come down here and just right click and go duplicate layer and show you that this is how a lot of people will convert their images to black and white when they start they’ll just come up to image adjustments and come down to desaturate And that is obviously technically a black and white image but you can see it’s a little soft a little flat and by the end we’re going to come back to this and compare what we actually do with this very simple technique just by using a few extra tools you can really bring a Lot more mood and drama to your black and whites so let’s come down to the bottom right click again go duplicate and we’re going to pull this above that black and white layer we’ve created so the first thing i’m going to do is come down here to adjustment layers and Go black and white and this is another technique that people use to make something black and white is just to apply that black and white adjustment layer and yes it’s technically a black and white image but we can go so much further so you’ll notice we’ve got a lot Of color sliders here which might be a little confusing seeing as we’ve just gone to black and white why do we need these but when you shot on black and white film in the old days different films treated different colors in the scene by making some lighter and some Darker and if you watch the recent video with jack lowe where he shoots using wet plate collodion and makes images on glass plates he told us that that process means that anything that’s a warmer tone in the image like a red or an orange will go really really dark and Anything that’s cooler like a blue or a cyan will go much lighter that’s how that process even though it’s black and white treats the different colors in the scene so we can use these to create more contrast now if i turn this off you’ll notice that my background is cooler it’s Blue and if i know that an image is eventually going to be presented in black and white i might make sure that my background is something cooler because it’s the opposite of the warmer skin tones and will give me more control with this process so let’s turn this Black and white layer on so let’s start with those blues if i dial this down the blue in his shirt and the blue in the background is going to start to go dark it’s not affecting his skin it’s not affecting anything else just the cooler tones let’s do the same with the cyans Because there’ll be cyans in there as well and you can see just with those little tweaks we’ve already started to separate out these blues in the shirt and the background and darken those down so we’re selectively changing our contrast but not affecting the skin tones on the face and just something subtle like Like that looks pretty good i think we’ve just darkened those background and the shirt down so the next thing i want to do and this is a little formula that i would suggest for all portraits but you need to use it lightly in portraits because our skin is usually some Gradation of orange no matter what race you are our skin is basically somewhere on the spectrum of orange and that means that in our shadows we’ll have red tones hiding and in our highlights we’ll have more yellow tones hiding because those are the two sides of that orange so if We take our red slide and we dial it down it’s going to deepen the shadows on the skin can you see that and then if we take our yellow slider and push it up it’s going to brighten the highlight side so just by gently tweaking those we can create a lot of Contrast in the skin with the reds on the shadow side and the yellows on the highlight side and again less is more with this technique because you might start to pick up some red blotchiness in the skin and you can overcook this but just a little bit like that works very Well next thing i want to do is come down here to adjustment layers and i’m going to add a gradient map now gradient maps i’ve covered in my tutorial on how to recolor things but in this case we can use it really effectively with black And whites as well so i already have a black to white gradient but you might have something crazy when you open it like this all you need to do is click on this gradient line and bring up this dialog box and we’re going to come here to our black and white which will Usually be the first one and we can see at the bottom here we’ve got black to white represented all the way along the bottom now this is a very strong effect we’re going to dial this back don’t worry about it but basically what i want To do is if i click on my white here and drag it to the left i can brighten that up to brighten up the highlight side i don’t want to blow any highlights so just bring it back a little bit i’m not going to pull the blacks over you could if it Was still looking quite flat start to pull the blacks over but there’s already a lot of very dark space in here and then i want to grab this little node in the middle here and dial it okay that’ll often happen if you slightly miss that note it’s quite sensitive it’s going to Create a whole new note here and mess everything up so just go ctrl z and take that out make sure that you’re grabbing that little node pulling it to the left in this case it’s going to brighten it up and bring in more of those mid-tones and something like that looks pretty Good to me i want a lot of contrast but not losing any detail and then i’m going to hit ok and then i’m going to come over here to opacity and i’m going to dial it all the way down to zero…

Adding Depth with Black and White Conversion

When converting a color image to black and white, it’s important to utilize the color information to create depth and contrast in the final image. Simply desaturating the image can result in a flat and dull black and white photo, whereas applying adjustments using the color sliders and gradient maps can add drama and mood to the image. By selectively darkening cooler tones such as blues and cyans in the background, while enhancing warmer tones like reds and yellows in the skin, a more compelling black and white conversion can be achieved. These techniques are not exclusive to portrait photography and can be applied to various genres of photography to strengthen the black and white aesthetic in any genre.


By applying the techniques outlined in this tutorial, photographers can elevate their black and white images, adding depth, drama, and contrast to their portfolio. Instead of settling for a simple desaturation, utilizing the color sliders and gradient maps allows for greater control and targeted adjustments, resulting in striking black and white photographs that capture the essence of the subject. Whether a portrait photographer or working in other genres, these techniques can be adapted to enhance the black and white aesthetic in any type of photography.

FAQ about Creating Dramatic Black and White Images

How can I create dramatic black and white images?

To create dramatic black and white images, you can start by using a photo editing software such as Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. Adjust the contrast and exposure to create a strong impact, and consider using selective color adjustments to emphasize certain elements in the image.

What subjects work best for black and white photography?

Subjects with strong contrast and interesting textures often work well for black and white photography. This can include architecture, landscapes, and portraits with dramatic lighting.

Do I need special equipment for black and white photography?

No, you don’t necessarily need special equipment for black and white photography. However, using a camera with manual settings and the ability to shoot in RAW format can give you more control over the final result.

Can I convert color images to black and white?

Yes, you can easily convert color images to black and white using photo editing software. Most editing programs offer a black and white adjustment tool or preset that allows you to convert the image while still retaining control over the tonal values.

I hope you find useful my article Creating Dramatic Black and White Images, I also recommend you to read my other posts in my blog at this link.

If you need help with anything join the community or do not hesitate to contact me.

Best of luck! and follow your passion.

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