Challenge, Landscapes, Lessons, Mallee, Photography, Technical

Day 11 – Black and White Conversions

Black and White is a very popular way to show your images.  When you look at other photography blogs, I don’t know how many times I see images that have been converted into black and white.  Sometimes they work as an image, sometimes they don’t.  There seems to be this general impression, convert it to black and white and you will have a great image.  Not true.

The other thing I see is many black and white images, well, they are meant to be black and white, but the truth is they are more gray than black and white.  Many photographers out there converting their images don’t comprehend the basics of what makes a good image this way, or know how to do it.  Just for fun I often copy the black and white image from someone’s blog and then edit it to make it better, always helps me.

The main rule for black and white images:

There should always be a black and there should always be a white.

When your computer converts an image it makes everything grey, or as much as possible.  It doesn’t put in the contrast for you.  You can’t just go convert to greyscale and leave it at that.

Here is a image I did that too:

I used GIMP for this image, more on that later.  I opened the image and just converted it to greyscale.  I have done nothing else to it.  Does it look alright?  Yeah, it looks ok, but to me it is washout, too grey, I would like to see more contrast.

I put in more contrast, now there are more tones, more blacks and more whites.  I think this works so much better and all I did was change the contrast.  Simple.  Took me about another minute after converting it.

Using Photoshop is a little more complicated, but you get to do a whole lot more to your images.  I now prefer it over GIMP, but GIMP is great for someone starting out who doesn’t know a lot and doesn’t have the time to learn Photoshop.  The other thing that is fantastic about GIMP is that it is free and you can download it from the website, go here and take a look.

This next image you have seen before:

A colour version is my header for this blog.  It is one of my favourite photos taken this year and will be in my exhibition next year.  The above image is a straight conversion, I opened the image in Photoshop and then pressed the layer for black and white.  This is what I got.

Again, it is an OK image, but it has lost of the appeal that was there in the colour image, the late afternoon glow.  It is a very flat image now.  It needs more work,

The clouds have more detail, you can see the glow on the station.  All I really did here was change the tonal values for each colour.  I was able to change what I wanted to get the image I was after.  I think you would have to admit that this is a far better image.  I still think it is much better in colour, but I don’t mind this too much.

So if you are converting your images into black and white ask yourself if it can be make better.  I used to have a lecturer at art school that used to say “to learn and make better artwork you have to be prepared to f*** it up”.  I think that is true, try stuff, you can always delete stuff if you have to.  Make a copy of the image you are going to play with so you never lose the original.

If you have an image that you would like to see if it can be improved, then send me an email at and I will see if I can help.

Off to the Mornington Peninsula this afternoon.  Looking forward to getting away.  Hopefully will be able to post some images while I am there.  I hope you all have a good weekend clicking away.  Let me know what you get .


  1. Hi Leanne I had not heard of Gimp but as a full member of the Photoshop club I will continue with that to do B&W.

    Your lecturer was right – there must be a desire to experiment and play, to get it wrong and learn. God knows I’ve tried.


    • I’m with you, if you have photoshop already, then I would stick with it. It is good being able to push it with photography, the original is always still there.

  2. Hi Leanne,
    Great post. Has given me lots to think about and will certainly make me try harder with my B&W photography. I really liked how your post was illustrated and the station shot… wow! Have a good weekend and I look forward to your next post. Mike

  3. That was awesome & such a big help as you hit on some of things that I have been doing. Thanks so much for all of your help so far. Big difference when you add the contrast.

    • Contrast can be great, just be careful not to add too much. Glad to help, like helping. Will be watching how you go.

    • I do, though not for everything. Ha, we both use both, what do you prefer? I think Photoshop is so much better, but GIMP is fantastic for learning.

      • I agree with you, Photoshop is so much better. I used GIMP for learning but sometimes I keep using it. =) =)

      • I have GIMP on my desktop because I don’t use windows, but on my laptop I have windows and have Photoshop on that. I use GIMP for quick easy fixes, but when I really want to do some serious work on my images I always do it on Photoshop now. Still think GIMP is great for people learning though, mainly because it is free.

    • I am glad to pass on knowledge, hoping over the time I have this that I can share the knowledge I have, and share the experiences I have when learning new stuff.

  4. What tools to you use in Photoshop after you turn the photo b&w? Do you only use the color sliders that pop up after conversion, or do you use curves or something else? I love my b&w photos and would love to make them look better!

    • No I don’t Anne, I don’t really like the sliders, to be honest, I love the contrast tool, and use that a lot. I like to put in my own and I use curves and levels as well. I was told a long time ago when I was printing in the darkroom that all B&W images should have blacks and they should have whites. Perhaps I should look at doing a tutorial in it, would you like that?

      • Have you used the sliders to make black and white in curves? Do you know what I am talking about. There doesn’t seem enough black either. There are whites there, but I don’t quite know which bit you want to be white. Making black and white images can be a trial and error thing. I probably haven’t helped at all. Sorry

  5. Pingback: Black and White in GIMP – My Way « Leanne Cole's Photography Field Trips

  6. Continuing reading took me here. I’ve used Picasa, but is not quite happy. I think photoshop will be to expensive for my use, so I might try out Gimp.

    Are you still looking for other peoples photos to fix?

    You could try mine, it’s not entirely black/white/gray, because I thought it looked good with some color. But I’m not pleased with the sharpness, I think some parts of it should have more contrast. Would you take a minute to comment?

  7. vgibbons says

    Hi, great post! Love it. I’ve just very recently got into photography and editing and have a very basic question about what kind of pictures that will look best when they’re in B&W. I know there isn’t probably general rule in art etc but I’m just wondering what ‘effects’ can we expect from converting a picture to B&W. I hope my question makes sense lol. Look forward to seeing more of your work!

  8. I’m so happy you have some tutorials involving Gimp… I haven’t had time to learn it yet, and most classes locally are geared toward Photoshop. I like what I’ve seen of your work so far and I’ll be back!

  9. Pingback: It isn’t Always Black and White | Leanne Cole PHOTOGRAPHY

  10. It’s great to see the before and after. I’m sometimes concerned about losing some of the nuances if I up the contrast but these demonstrate how that is more than compensated for by the extra vim.

    • I think you have to be careful with contrast, but it can be your friend and can really make an image pop, the contrast helps to make sure you have a black and a white. Thanks.

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