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Beyond the Channel Mixer: Black and White in Photoshop CS3

For quite some time, the standard of black and white conversion in Photoshop has been the Channel Mixer. But times change, and so do versions of Photoshop. With the release of Photoshop CS3, Adobe has given us a better way.

Sea star and anemonies on Washington's Olympic coastRight there along with the Channel Mixer on both the Image >> Adjustments menu and as an adjustment layer type is the new "Black and White" option. With a name like that, it's got to be a good way to convert to black and white, right? Selecting it from either menu pulls up the same dialog of course, with the difference being that an adjustment layer remains editable even after the file has been saved and re-opened while a basic adjustment is merged with the underlying image pixels as soon as you click on "OK."

At first glance, the Black and White dialog may appear similar to the Channel Mixer you are likely already familiar with, except that it has more sliders. Instead of just having sliders for the normal red, green and blue channels of an RGB image, the Black and White dialog adds sliders for the complimentary yellow, cyan and magenta channels as well. This greatly improves the flexibility over than Channel Mixer. Rather than being forced to decrease the amount of green in order to increase magenta for example, you can dial in just the right amount of either or both for your particular image.

Gone is the need to manually balance the total of all channels too. When using the Channel Mixer, you could get some wildly awful results unless you kept an eye on the total to keep it near 100%. If you the sum of the settings for all three channels too much exceeded 100%, your image would be too bright. Fail to include enough from all channels together though and you would get an image that was too dark. Add just a bit more red for instance and you'd better balance it with a bit less of something else so as to not affect the overall exposure. Thankfully, this frustration is a thing of the past with the new Black and White tool since it automatically balances the overall brightness independent of how you have the sliders set. You are finally free to tweak the filter for each channel without worrying about brightness.

If you've never been a fan of fiddling with sliders at all, Adobe has an answer for you too. With the Black and White dialog open, hover your mouse of an image and the pointer will change to an eyedropper. Click anywhere in an image and Photoshop will automatically select the slider for the predominant color at that point. You can then use the up and down arrow keys on your keyboard to adjust the value of that slider. Click and hold with your mouse and Photoshop will outline the color chip for that slider so you know for sure you have the right one. Click and drag the mouse right or left at a point on an image and Photoshop will automatically raise or lower that same slider without you touching either the slider or your keyboard. Now you can pay attention to your image and completely ignore the sliders if you want. A nice touch, to be sure.

The new Black and White image adjustment dialog in Photoshop CS3
The new Black and White image adjustment dialog in Photoshop CS3
  Useful presets in Photoshop CS3's new Black and White dialog
Useful presets in Photoshop CS3's new Black and White dialog

If you make a mistake, you can reset an individual channel by Alt-clicking (Option-clicking on Mac OS) on either the color chip for that slider or on any point in the image that is predominantly that color. If you need to reset all channels, hold down Alt (Option) and the "Cancel" button changes to a "Reset" button.

Tinted or toned conversions can you be created easily as part of the same dialog rather than as an additional step as with the Channel Mixer. Just turn on the "Tint" checkbox at the bottom of the Black and White dialog and adjust the Hue and Saturation sliders as desired. Click on the color sample square to the right of the Hue and Saturation sliders and you'll get the standard Photoshop color picker.

Black and White also comes with a reasonable selection of presets to get you started including a simulated infrared effect. Click on the icon to the right of the Preset drop-down to save additional presets or load a previously saved mix of presets.

The new Black and White dialog seems to be an extremely well thought out tool for creating black and white conversions. Move aside, Channel Mixer. There's a new game in town.

A fairly balanced version
A fairly balanced version
  A lot of green and magenta in this version
A lot of green and magenta in this version
Mostly magenta, cyan and blue
Mostly magenta, cyan and blue
  Heavy on the green with very little magenta or blue
Heavy on the green with very little magenta or blue

Date posted: October 21, 2007

 

Copyright © 2007 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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Previous tip: Finally, Brightness and Contrast that Actually Work! Return to archives menu Next tip: A Familiar Tool Palette for Photoshop CS3

Related articles:
Digital Black and White in Photoshop
More on Black and White in the Digital Darkroom
From Black and White to Duotones
 

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