Week 10/52 ~ Black & White Conversion with the Gradient Map

by Heidi Egerman March. 08, 2019 595 views

Last week I had grand plans for the big ‘Week 10’ post. At first, I wanted to shoot ten images a day, resulting in ten images I could post as my show and tell. What was I thinking? This was a much bigger challenge than I anticipated so I’m going another route.

Up until recently, I had no idea there were so many ways one could convert an image to black and white. Some are more involved and complicated and some simply give you better results. I'm finding that it is good to have more than one way of doing a conversion. One method that works on one image may not work well on another. So, it is helpful to have several methods to try.

Today I wanted to share one that you may or may not know about. This is a method within Photoshop. If you use Photoshop you might know of several methods that do a fairly good job. This black and white conversion technique uses a gradient map layer and works much better than I expected. It maps the colors to the gradient grayscale map - giving you the greatest grayscale gradients in the 10 point scale. You get a great black and white effect with a lot of drama.

You can see the results in the images below. As you can see I am definitely ready for Spring. It is my happy place and where I do my best work.

Sweet Pea Blossom

Sweet Pea Blossom

Apple Blossoms

Apple Blossoms

Candytufts - early spring flowers

Candytufts - early spring flowers

August Artichoke

August Artichoke

Blooming Poppy

Blooming Poppy

The image above shows the difference between two different conversion methods. The image on the left was converted using the Gradient Map Layer method. The image on the right was converted using Silver Efex Pro 2. By making selective adjustments, I was able to get more detail in the hairs of the poppy, whiten the flower area and darken the background. I could not seem to get this effect using the gradient map layer in Photoshop. Selective adjustments use control points that allow you to make various changes to specific areas in the image.

This is my process using the Gradient Map conversion method.

  1. Open your image in Adobe Photoshop
  2. Make minor adjustments: exposure, contrast, saturation, etc.
  3. Open a black and white adjustment layer. I open this from within adjustments panel or using the icon on the bottom row. The reason for this layer is so you can make adjustments using the color filters from the properties panel. There are a number of presets as well as sliders you can adjust for black and white images.
  4. Open a gradient map adjustment layer. Make sure the black and white preset box is selected. If the image looks like an x-ray film, you will need to select 'reverse'. You should see an immediate difference in the images.
  5. You can make further adjustments by opening the Gradient Editor.

I have posted several links to videos that will walk you through the process. They were effective enough to convince me to give this a try.

This method is also a quick and easy way to evaluate an image within Photoshop. If you decide you need further adjustments, you could then use any number of other great options. Sometimes an image needs more work using selective adjustments. I like this gradient map method because there are not a lot of bells and whistles. It is quite easy to get deep into editing - and go from good, to bad to worse. I know this from experience.

Let me know if you have used this method. Maybe you have others that work even better. I'd love to hear about them.

How to use Gradient Map for Black and White Photos (13 minutes)

Black and White Conversion - Photoshop (12 minutes)
This video show several different conversion methods and why the gradient map is his favorite. You can download a nifty tool from his blog if you are interested.

Photoshop Tutorial: Black and White Conversion Using the Gradient Map (12 minutes)

Join the conversation
There are 7 comments , add yours!
Jay Boggess 1 year ago

Great info & really cool images!

1 year ago Edited
Laurie Madsen 1 year ago

Another great article and photo set!
I don't use photoshop much, and haven't tried gradient map.
I'll have to give it a whirl some day and refer back to your article!

1 year ago Edited
Camellia Staab 1 year, 1 month ago

And so I follow you again to a world of tremendous learning.Seriously did not notice the two different conversions until I read your comment under #5 and went back and looked at them and went Whoa! Suddenly it stood out, especially on the stem. Next step is to try your step by step on my own and see how it works. Thanks for another fantastic post. Heidi you really need to share these posts with Ram and have him share them on photoblog tutorials. in my opinion they are exceptional. You know what Austin Kleon says about showing ones work :)

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Heidi Egerman Replied to Camellia Staab 1 year, 1 month ago

Ahh! Again, you are so kind. Although these posts are more work (than my photo-a-day), I am enjoying writing about all that I learn. It also has a way of keeping more committed to my goals. 

And, as a matter of fact, Ram asked me to write some article back in January. At that time I didn't feel like I was ready and wanted to get a few of these under my belt before I committed to any Photoblog articles. You've boosted my confidence. I hope to eventually become brave and confident enough to write an article or two for the photoblog tutorials. 

Thank you again for your kind words and encouragement. Let me know how the gradient map technique works for you.

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Russell Smith 1 year, 1 month ago

Another use that I have discovered for Gradient Mapping is do a black and white adjustment layer to get the tones the way that you want then change the blend mode to Luminosity this will change it back to color but keep the changes you made to the tones and sometimes I will do a similar thing with a gradient map. #1 #2 are a tossup as to which one is my favorite one. Either way this is a lovely set of images .

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Heidi Egerman Replied to Russell Smith 1 year, 1 month ago

Hi Russell. 
Thanks for the tip on blend mode to Luminosity. I've been getting ready to study the luminosity options in Photoshop. I'm not terribly proficient in Photoshop. Sometimes I know just enough to be dangerous. grimacing
Thanks for checking in.

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Russell Smith Replied to Heidi Egerman 1 year, 1 month ago

I am the same way with photoshop. Piximperfect on youtube has taught me loads. I love the program but sadly I would say if I know 1% of what it is capable of it would be an overstatement.

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
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