Converting to Mono

August 4th, 2010 by Richard Peters

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The perfect mono conversion…its so subjective and down to personal taste does it even exist? Here is my quick 3 step process to having a go.

Before and after mono conversion

Before and after mono conversion

Desaturate? Channel Mixer? Greyscale?

Of course there are many different ways to do a mono conversion and none of them are right or wrong. Some of you may have better or faster ways but this is the way that seems to give me the most pleasing results in a reasonable amount of time, especially for portraits.

First things first, we start off with our base image. I always shoot in RAW as it gives you the best recovery options later if anything goes wrong at the time of shooting. I’ve chosen a grab shot of my friends daughter, which is nice enough although a little bright on the highlights and for me there was a little too much going on around her with all the different colours distracting your eye.

Original photo, resized for web

Original photo, resized for web

Step 1

My first step when converting to mono is to create both levels and brightness/contrast adjustment layers on the image by clicking the small black and white circle at the bottom of your layers palette in Photoshop, then selecting the two options one after the other.

Levels and contrast layer masks

Levels and contrast layer masks

Step 2

You now want to do the same as step one but this time open a Gradient Map adjustment layer. When you select this you will get the following box appear, click the gradient bar – handily highlighted here with a red X.

Gradient Map box 1

Gradient Map box 1

Clicking on this area will open the Gradient Editor box, you want to select the third box along, again very handily conveniently with a red X.

Gradient Editor box

Gradient Editor box

Step 3

Your Layers Palette box will now look as per the image below. From here you simple click on the little black and white circle for each of the Levels and Brightness/Contrast layers and adjust the sliders to get the desired effect in the photo.

The 3 basic layers needed for this mono conversion

The 3 basic layers needed for this mono conversion

If you want more control

The above process is just the quick easy way to get some control over your mono conversions. You can get even more control by adding more layers and/or painting back parts of your adjustment layers…as seen below where I have adjusted the levels for the little girl and then painted back the background so that the levels only effect her.

Painting back the Layer Mask

Painting with the Layer Mask

And that’s it!

Once you get used to doing this method you can convert images very quickly. As you get used to this method you’ll start adding more layers and using layer masks more to really fine tune your conversions. I hope you find that of some use…I know when I first started doing mono conversions I couldn’t get to grips with how best to do it and this method slowly evolved from trying various different methods…I now find it very quick and easy to get pleasing mono images. With this image I wanted to have the little girl pop more from her background and knew the mono conversion would help muffle those distracting colours around her.

The end result

The end result

 

Learn more about Richard, read his articles and view his videos on his blog:  Richard Peters Photography Blog

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