Monochrome Methods
Text Only Version

Should you prefer to download the 'Project-Based' version, click on the 'link' below:
Monochrome Methods Project

Clive R. Haynes FRPS

These notes provide a guide to methods by which we can produce a monochrome picture using Photoshop. There are several ways of doing this and some are more effective than others and what's more, some ways suit certain images better than others.

As a monochrome picture will represent the colour values of the original scene in terms of black, white and shades of grey, it's important to maintain control over the process to ensure that the most appropriate shades and tones of grey are selected. This control will enable tonal emphasis to be placed where it is required.


Shooting Monochrome 'In-Camera'
Many digital cameras include this function, however for best results and maximum flexibility of working, this method is not recommended.


Always Shoot in Colour
The best method is to
shoot in colour and make greyscale tonal adjustments later.


Convert to Greyscale
Do this via Image > Mode > Grayscale. This is frequently used as a 'quick-fix' method. Yes, it works but it offers no control over the tonal range. You will find that this method will suit many pictures - but it's frequently a matter of luck.

If you choose to make the image 'Greyscale', please remember that should you wish to tone the image (other than via the 'Duotones' route), you will need to convert the image back to RGB (via Image > Mode > RGB).


Do this via Image > Adjust > Desaturate (Ctrl + Shift + U) or, better still by using an Adjustment Layer (click on the half black, half white circle at base of the Layers Palette), choose 'Hue & Saturation' and move the saturation 'slider' to -100%. This method tends to provide an 'unexciting conversion' to monochrome but there is always the chance that it will suit some images very well.


Monochrome via Quick Mask
This is a quirky method but one that works surprisingly well, producing an often 'punchy' monochrome similar in tone to 'Greyscale' but without the loss of 'colour' as an option for toning via 'Colorize', etc.

If you wish, apply this 'conversion' to a 'Copy Layer' rather than the 'Background Layer' (it's your choice).

Quick-Keys / Shortcuts shown in brackets.

The Method

Open your image

Select > All (Ctrl + A)

Edit > Copy (Ctrl + C)

Click on 'Quick Mask' button - it's near the base of the Tool Bar (Q) The image will have a red cast - fear not!

Edit > Paste (Ctrl + V)
The image becomes less red.

Edit > Copy (Ctrl + C)
An invasion of 'Marching Ants' appear all over the image

Exit Quick Mask - click on the left-hand Quick Mask button (Q)

Edit > Paste (Ctrl + V)

Voila! Monochrome!

In fact if you wish to do the whole thing using 'quick-keys' only, try this:

Open your imager, thenů..
Ctrl + A
Ctrl + C
Ctrl + V
Ctrl + C
Ctrl + V

And there you have it!

Tip: By making the steps listed into an 'Action' the process can take place at the click of button.


Monochrome via 'Channels'
The basis of understanding 'Channels' lies in an appreciation of how the 'Channels' affect the monochrome (luminance) content of the image.

Using the facility of 'Channels' to produce a monochrome image from a colour original enables us to utilise each of the three channels as if we were shooting a scene with different colour filters - those of Red, Green and Blue. Monochrome workers will appreciate the analogy here as colour filters have long been used in black & white photography to assist in rendering better contrast and tonal separation.

Depending upon the content of the scene we can select a filter which will have the effect we desire. Remember that the colour selected will render tones nearest to the 'channel colour' as lighter/brighter. Tones of the corresponding complimentary colour will become darker - just as in traditional monochrome photography.

E.g. the Red Channel will cause blue skies and cyan coloured seas to darken and red/orange/ yellow tones to lighten. The Blue channel will cause blue skies to lighten and red/orange/yellow areas (brick buildings or lips perhaps) to darken. The Green channel will lighten foliage and darken blue skies to an extent. Magenta (as a complimentary colour) will also darken.

It's just like having colour filters available after shooting the scene. Remember however, that we're starting with a colour image. A monochrome negative, even if converted to RGB colour will not exhibit this response. For monochrome film you'll still need to shoot with the appropriate filter. Shooting with a colour film means that we can choose later how we treat it, either as a colour or monochrome image and then what filter or combination of filters to use. The best of both worlds!


What follows allows a basic understanding. Once the basics are understood, a preferred method of working would be via 'Channel Mixer'.

Open the colour image.

Make certain that the image is a Background layer, if not, 'flatten' the layers (via Layers > flatten). Or change the layer to become a Background layer.

Go to the Channels palette and click the right facing arrow at the top right hand corner. From the drop-down menu choose 'Split Channels'.

The channels will divide into three 'windows', Red, Green Blue (labelled R, G and B). Note that each channel displayed will have its own characteristic response to the scene depending upon the colour combinations of the original.

Next, go to File > New

Note to avoid a possible error:
The dialogue box that appears should offer the same size and resolution as the image you've just been working on. Should this not be the case, then type in the correct values. You may need to return to the original image to check on the values - look up the dimensions and resolution via Image > Image Size.

Copy and paste each of the monochrome R, G and B windows to the new file. Each will appear on its own layer. Arrange them into a satisfactory order to facilitate the 'mixing' you need.
Adjust the opacity of each layer to produce the image required.

Add an 'Adjustment Layer' or 'Layer Mask' to each to enable fine control and subtle merging between the layers.

For information on 'Adjustment Layers' and 'Layer Masks' see another paper - 'Delving Deeper Into layers'.

Further Explorations & Adventures with 'Channels'

With the original colour image open, experiments can be made with various hue & saturation settings.

For example, make only one channel visible, say the Red (Go to 'Channels' and switch off all the 'eye' icons except for the Red Channel). NB: make certain that all the channels remain 'active' - that is they are all blue shaded. If all channels are not active you will be unable to select 'Hue & Saturation'.

The image will become monochrome, as 'seen' through a red filter. Now, go to Image > Adjust > Hue & Saturation. Use the Hue & Saturation sliders to alter the colour range and see how it affects the rendering of the monochrome information.

To target specific colour ranges: In the Hue & Saturation dialogue box, Go to Edit and from the drop-down' menu, choose a colour.

.This highly targeted and selective method of adjustment will affect all the other channels too. This method can be used prior to 'splitting' the channels, however, it will have also made significant changes to the filtration of the other channels as well. It may best be employed without 'splitting' the channels.

If one requires a differently adjusted Hue & Saturation setting for each channel then one method would be to make separate colour copies of the original image. Make the necessary changes, then 'copy & paste' each adjusted channel to a new document. This will result in layers made from three separately adjusted originals, all in register.

Note: the resulting composite will appear in colour - no doubt a very strange colour combination too! Convert this new image to Monochrome (Image > Mode > Grayscale > 'Don't Flatten'). Each layer may then be blended and adjusted as required. However this is a somewhat circuitous route and a more efficient method would be via 'Channel Mixer'.


Monochrome via Channel Mixer

This section would be difficult to follow a 'text only' - as images are an important key to understanding.
Please use this link to visit my webpage about 'Channel Mixer':
Channel Mixer

'Channel Mixer' is frequently regarded as one of the more mysterious aspects of Photoshop. The purpose of my web page and its companion is to demystify the operation of this facility and to illustrate how user-friendly it can be. It will also serve to show how an image can be substantially altered with judicious application of 'channels' adjustments.

Visiting the web page (above) will give more detail than can be shown in this section.


Monochrome via 'Lab Mode'
This method provides yet another way of quick conversion and once again it may just be the answer for the image you have. After opening the image go to Image > Mode > Lab Color Next, open the 'Channels' palette and you'll see that instead of RGB there will be four channels displayed - those of Lab (the full colour image), Lightness ('L'), 'a' (colour) and 'b' (colour).

Click on the Lightness Channel and a monochrome image will result.

Channels 'a' and 'b' 'can be regarded as 'component colours'. In simple terms 'a' channel accommodates greens and magentas whilst 'b' accommodates yellows and blues. In terms of monochrome, the values are expressed in tones of grey and appear very washed out. We're only interested in the Lightness Channel for conversion purposes.

As an aside, here's some 'Quick-Key' info for Lab Mode:

Ctrl + 1 = Lightness
Ctrl + 2 = 'a' Channel
Ctrl + 3 = 'b' Channel
Ctrl + Shift + ~ (tilde) = Full Composite (Lab) Colour


Monochrome via Gradient Maps
This method allows flexibility in setting tonal values, however, it's less than intuitive to use. This is what you do.

Set the Foreground / Background colours to be Foreground, Black and Background, White.

Go to the Adjustment Layer drop-down menu at the base of the Layers palettes and choose Gradient Map. Upon opening, the Gradient Map dialogue box will convert the image to monochrome. Click within the greyscale 'letterbox' section and the Gradient editor dialogue box opens. You can now adjust the sliders to produce the tonal mix you require.

Click 'OK' when done.
Remember this is an Adjustment Layer so you can return to edit it when needed.


Monochrome via Dual Layers of Hue & Saturation
At first glance this may appear to be a slightly quirky method, however it's simple to perform and affords a high degree of tonal control. The results are rather like the 'Channel Mixer' method. This is what you do:

Open the image.

Go to the Adjustment Layer drop-down menu at the base of the Layers palettes and choose 'Hue & Saturation'.

Repeat the operation so now you have two Hue & Saturation Adjustment Layers above the image.

Click on the upper Hue & Sat Adjustment Layer.

Set the 'Blend Mode' to 'Color' (via list accessed by the drop-down arrow to the right of 'Normal' - top left of Layers Palette)

With the Layer 'active', double-click on the small Adjustment Layer icon and the dialogue box opens.

Move the Saturation slider to - 100. The image becomes monochrome.

Click on (activate) the lower Hue & Sat Adjustment Layer and open the dialogue box for this layer. Use the Hue and Saturation sliders to alter the monochrome tonal range. When you are satisfied, click 'OK'.


Monochrome via RAW Files

This is a simple and effective method

Open the image in Camera RAW.

In the 'Adjust' section, reduce the Saturation to -100.

The image is now monochrome

In the Calibrate' section, move the individual Red, Green and Blue saturation sliders to change the tonality of the image.

Adjusting the Hue slider for each colour will also affect tonality.


Monochrome via 'Calculations
This method allows us to choose two Channels from the image and blend them to produce a new, (Monochrome) Channel. Frequently, we would like to choose the best tones from two Channels and amalgamate them into one composite version. For instance, some tones may too dark in one Channel and too light in another, 'Calculations' makes it possible to combine the two Channels to make a better tonally balanced picture. All you have to do is discover which two Channels work best and which 'Blend' further assists.

This method at first glance appears a strange. To get the feel of using 'Calculations' try this:

Open the image, then go to Image > Calculations

The image becomes monochrome

In the Calculations dialogue box:

Set 'Source 1' to Red

Set 'Source 2' to Green

Adjust the Opacity for 'Blending' to suit the picture

Experiment with another 'Blend Mode ('Blending') and discover what happens - is an improvement or not?

You can also experiment with other 'Source 1' and 'Source 2' combinations. For each 'Source' there is, Gray, Red, Green and Blue - this offers many permutations.

Experiment to discover the best combination.

When you are satisfied with the result, click on the downward arrow in the 'Result' box (base of dialogue box) and choose 'New Document'. ( 'New Channel' is an option, however, working with the newly created 'Alpha Channel' within the image file can be a little complicated - stick to the 'New Document' route for now).

Click 'OK'

The monochrome image now appears as a 'New Document'.
This 'New Document' is in 'Multichannel Mode'. If you wish to tone the image you need to convert it to another 'Mode'. Do this via Image > Mode and choose 'Grayscale' if you wish to apply 'Duotones'; or 'Grayscale' followed by another conversion, this time to RGB, via Image > Mode > RGB, to make a version that will accept colour changes such as hand-tinting, mixing with a colour image (perhaps the original) or toning via, say, 'Colorize' or 'Gradient Map'.


And Finally

Please remember that all the above methods are a starting point from where more tonal management can take place through adjustments such as 'Curves', 'Dodge & Burn-in', etc.

Also please remember that where the option exists, say, in Channel Mixer or 'Dual Hue & Saturation Layers' methods, different tonal versions of the same image can be placed on separate Layers and blended together using Layer Mask.

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