Photography, Tutorials

Black and White in GIMP – My Way

A request was made about converting some images into black and white.  I have spoken about converting images before, but I have never done a tutorial on it.  I have decided to use GIMP again, though if people want, I am happy to do one in Photoshop another time.

As always we have to choose an image to convert.  I decided that I would make use of the images that I took last Friday.  These have a lot of clouds, and I think the images that work best in black and white are ones that have more drama.  The more mood the image has the better it can look in monotone.

So, my image is open, remember, right click, press file, then open.

Next the image needs to be converted to black and white, or grayscale.  Right click on the image, then go to Image,  click on Mode, then click grayscale.  It will go like the image above.  Many people stop right here and don’t go any further.  This is only the first step.

The image is a little dark, so I used Levels to lighten it up some.  The area circled in red is where I moved them too.

When printing images in the darkroom, I was told to have two pieces of paper with me, one white and one black.  The pieces were used to make sure that my image would have white in it and black in it.  You can do a similar thing in GIMP, I just opened two new images and filled one with black and one with white.  It is important that your image has the full range, otherwise they look washed out and not very good.  I have seen so many images like this on the internet.  If you are one of them now, you won’t be after this.

Next I always adjust the contrast and brightness.  Right click on the image, go to Colours, then click on Brightness-Contrast.  I have already moved the sliders.  When you move the contrast one, especially to the right, you will also need to add some brightness, though, this isn’t a rule and should be done on an image by image situation.  Keep in mind your blacks, and your whites.

Hopefully you can tell that it looks a lot better.

Here is the final image as a black and white image.

Not every image is going to be as easy as this one.  Sometimes they are not so co-operative.

Here is the image from Friday’s post.  I have lightened this up a lot.  I wanted it to be fairly light.

The image has been changed to grayscale, and you can see by putting the white image and the black image on top, that we have plenty of white, but really no black.  So we need to get black.  You probably could also get it using the levels and just darkening the image again, but what if you image is just like this and you can’t do that.

I have used the contrast to bring up the blacks and to give it more contrast.  Contrast is the difference between black and white.

We have lost some of the sky detail, but the image doesn’t look so gray.  The final image from the above way.  Of course if I didn’t lighten it up at the beginning it would have been much different.

This version is better, the sky isn’t so blown out.  It is still crooked.  There is a lot more detail in the sky now.  The rocks are quite dark and the best version is probably somewhere in between.

Making images into black and white is easy, you just saw that, but remember that all images should have blacks and whites and a range in between.

An almost award.

Lovely (Blog) Or Not

An interesting take on the whole blog awards, I hope you go and take a look.

I would like to say thanks for the recognition.


  1. Thanks for the tutorial! I must really get down to trying it out. Not used photoshop/lightroom yet. GIMP sounds relatively ok to use. I’m really not good at using the software

  2. The black and white pieces of paper thing is useful. Many thanks. Your recent images of the ocean-side have been really nice. Thanks for doing this in GIMP – much appreciated. D

    • It is a good trick. I have really enjoyed the recent images as well, I might have to see if I can get more. I think it is good to do them in GIMP, it is more accessible to most. Thanks Dave.

  3. Todd Materazzi Photography says

    Great workflow and results are perfect for B&W.

  4. Leanne – There .is .really .no. excuse. for. us. ALL. … not to be improving our shots with your tutorials ;-) TY

  5. alvason says

    I find that using the Channel Mixer, and the Green channel, values of 20%, 80% and 20% respectively for Red, Green and Blue and of course checking Monochrome give slightly better tones than the Grayscale Mode. You still need to play with Levels, Curves, Brightness &Contrast or whatever to get a balanced image of course.

    Just my taste – a slightly more gentle range of greys.

    • I find that channels are too complicated for most people, me included, I am just starting to try and work out what they are. I do something similar in photoshop though. I try and write the tutorials for people who are just learning and if other pick up stuff that is good. It is interesting though and thanks for that. Thanks alvason.

  6. alvason says

    … oh, and your black and white “cards” is a great tip :-)

    • I have been seriously thinking about doing some, I just have to figure out how first. GIMP is pretty similar, I use it for some stuff, but I mainly use Photoshop.

      • Well, I just learned this yesterday myself. But quicktime has an option to record the screen. That would be nice to actually watch you use the programs.. :) I think it records audio too so you can even talk over it.

        Have a great day I really enjoy your posts.

  7. Great tutorial, Leanne! Love the black and white conversion. I don’t do B&W too often, but I’m always on the look out for great conversion tips. Thank you!

    • I think you could say the same about me Gracie, I don’t do it much, but it is good to know how. I hope you got some good tips. Thanks

    • If you go to the software page at the top of the post Keli, there should be a link to it, it is free, so you don’t have to worry about buying it. Good luck with it. I am so happy they are helpful, and thank you as well.:)

    • Yes, I know what you mean, it is a great tip, it is amazing how many grey black and white images there are out there. I hope the tip helps a lot. Good luck, and thanks

  8. The B&W conversion brings an added dimension to your lighthouse image. Very nice.

  9. arnoldthearmadillo says

    Nice blog, the black and white image tip is very useful, thanks :)

  10. Hi Leanne

    Another great tutorial, but can I make just one small point? Converting an image to greyscale (even if it’s done as a new layer) discards all colour information from your image so, unless you are absolutely sure that you no longer want the colour version it may be best to try Layers>Duplicate layer followed by Colours>Desaturate, with default setting (lightness) first.

    The black & white “cards” idea is a touch of genius :-)

    • You have pointed out something that I always forget to mention, about making sure you don’t use the original, rename the new one. That is what I do, I have a system, maybe that should be the topic for the next tutorial. I just make sure I rename it, do a save as.
      Glad you like the black and white cards tip, Thank you :)

  11. Gtreat tutorial. I love the final images – clean and elegant. I will remember the tip re the black & white :)

  12. great tutorial! i don’t use gimp, but the techniques can definitely be applied to other software as well. thanks for posting!

    • Yes, it definitely can, I think the thing I was trying to point out was the black and white cards, so I hope you can use the ideas. Good luck, thank you.

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  14. ok, I couldn’t wait to try this out. gave you full credit for the tutorial and the awesome tips. hope that’s ok. thanks, Leanne!

  15. almas says

    Stumbled upon your blog. I love your images; they’re beautiful. I’m not a photographer myself, but your website has inspired me about how to turn a seemingly ordinary image into a work of art. Keep it up!

  16. I liked the colour version of the 1st shot and thought B&W wouldn’t do it justice but your treatment is wonderful!

    • Thank you so much, I am so glad you think that. I don’t always get it right, but I thought there was enough in the clouds to make the image good in b&w.

  17. Wow, how much more to learn!
    I thought that the first orignial photo was so great with all the colors, but it’s quite as greate in greytones.
    I got the tips to your blog as a comment on my last photo. I’ll go right back home and try changing more of my photos into monocrome, practising is learning, isn’t it :)

    • There is always more to learn, I love that. I thought it might look good in B&W as well. That sounds like a good plan, and yes practicing is learning. Good luck. :)

  18. I really like the top image, Leanne. You’ve made it very dramatic compared to the colour original.

    One thing though, being a landscape, would it be any advantage to take two or more images in situ, both in colour and B&W, with the camera settings rather than converting in photoshop – I suppose you could use lens filters too – or is this all by the by with digital methods, there’s no advantage?

    Sorry if you’ve covered this before. I’ve just begun looking through your inspiring work.

    • I don’t tend to do that, because I like to have the choice. I have found that if you process it well, it works out fine. Sometimes you don’t have enough time to do that, I don’t do a lot of black and white, so it is not something I do. I can’t help thinking that the camera would do the same as editing software, who knows. There you have it, I like the choice, so I shoot everything in colour and later if I want, I convert, but I don’t do it a lot.
      I haven’t covered this before, interesting question, I suppose one of the many, and one that many would answer differently.

  19. Thanks for blogging on this subject. I have a keen interest in black and white photography and I found your approach helpful and interesting.

    • That is wonderful to here lawrenceez, always great to know that people like the way approach these tutorials, thank you.

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