Photoshop 101: High-Contrast Black & White


Black and white photography is one of my favorite mediums. It is classical and leaves the viewer to imagine what colors are being left out. There are selective desaturations that can be done throughout Photoshop, but a high-contrasting black and white photo really stands out to me. I am not talking of contrast that only has black and white, but rather lesser gray hues in between. If you look to the left, this is considered a black and white contrasting photo.  This can be a setting seen in a lot of photo editing software that is a simple click and apply. For this tutorial…that won’t be happening.

To start off the tutorial, you may choose the same photo I am using by clicking here.



To begin the tutorial, open Photoshop and select a photo to edit.

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This is just a photo I have taken last year. It does not  have to be professional quality, but a photo you think may be pleasing to the eye.

Now this way that I will show you may not be the ‘best’ way, but it works for me. Next, we will desaturate the photo.

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Go to Image>Adjustments>Desaturate. This will automatically change the photo to the standard black and white, this is NOT considered done. Save (Command+S).

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Since the quality of my photo is crisp and clear, it looks good with focus, highlights and shadows. Highlights are usually defined as the brightest area in a photo. Shadows are defined as the darkest area of a photo that usually show details. Furthermore, we are going to change around the actual shadow and highlight settings. To get there, go to Images>Adjustments>Highlights/Shadows.

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Once you click on this, a pop-up menu will appear. This is where you will make the adjustments to your photo. Make sure that the ‘Preview’ setting is marked.  This part of the tutorial is when your opinion comes in. The photo you may choose Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 7.20.32 PMmay not have the same effect that mine will have like I have said before. So at this point I had the Highlights at the same 0% but I did decrease the Shadows by 5%. If you want to explore the ‘More Options’ go right ahead. More power to you.  What these changes did to my photo was that it made my shadows slightly lighter. I wanted to do this so further into the tutorial, it will help with the more detail that I want to show in the final product.




On to the next step is using the Curves setting. Now you will reckonize that I am using a lot of settings within the Image>Adjustments tab. This is because we are not manipulating the photo, we are simply enhancing it. If you wanted to make certain things focused, saturated, fully color, ect…that would require layers, more adjustments, cutting, masking…just really difficult things that is too hard for me to explain on paper (I am a hands on person). Anyway, we will go to Image>Adjustments>Curves. Curves lets you manually change the brightness and contrast within the picture. There is an adjustments menu like the Shadows/Highlights, but this way I will show you will be more personal and better for you to see what looks pleasing to you.

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When loading this setting, a very interesting menu will show up. Instead of adjustment bars, a graphic like setting with a diagonal line will appear. The only thing for this tutorial you will need to adjust is the diagonal line. Since this photo is Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 7.41.22 PMalready changed significantly, it won’t take long to adjust it with this setting. My tip is to try to adjust the line to each small peak, the channel should automatically be set to RGB (red, green, blue).  Since my photo was originally taken in a grassy area, the ‘G’ part is higher than the ‘R’ or ‘B’ since it was green.







So this was my adjustments using Curves with my photo preview shown.

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So my picture is turning out pretty well. You can see that is it CLOSE to the photo I first showed, yet it still has some gradual black to white gradients rather than harsh. We are almost done. One thing you may need to realize is how much detail you want to be seen. If I wasn’t paying attention, I could have easily lost the web in the top center. Finally, I want to give this photo a final filter. This way it give it a little color but just ever so slightly. You may call this a ‘bonus’. If you wish to stop, just go to File>Save As… and then save it as a high quality JPEG and name it ‘yada yada black and white contrast’. Something that signifies that it is different than the original. But if you are wanting to add this last step…go to Image>Adjustments>Photo Filter.

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For this image, I am wanting a warmer tone. So depending on how ‘warm’ you want this, that is up to you.  Over to the right is what I adjusted my filter to. I found ‘Warming Filter (LBA)’ in the drop arrow. I changed the Density to 18% Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 7.56.48 PMwhich gave my photo the color as seen in the background of the image. So at this point, if you want to explore more Photoshop you can. I am satisfied with the final product. I think it gives the photo more mystery and dark themed than before. Obviously there could have been a spider near by that was ticked off I was invading his habitat for this picture. Either way I got a great shot!




If you decided you were done..CONGRATS! You successfully survived your first tutorial with yours truly. It is basic adjustments that are very easy to learn. Photoshop is not all cutting out and adding goofy things to pictures. I love doing this kinds of adjustments because it is your own personalization. If you wanted to make the curves more drastic, go ahead! It is your photo! Down below is the final photo vs. the photo before we started! Hope you enjoyed this!


before after

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