Black and whites are not all created equal. There are nice crisp black and whites where the black are blacks and the whites are white. There are also “black and whites” that are anything BUT black and white — they are muddled grey with no life. These photos are usually produced by doing a standard “remove color” or desaturate to a photo.
With this photo, if I were to change it to black and white by choosing desaturate in Photoshop (Image > adjustments> desaturate) it would look like this:
As you can see, there is no black or white in this photo…just lots of grey. To make a better image we are going to convert to black and white using a GRADIENT MAP conversion. Don’t worry about what it means…I will show you the steps.
1. Open your image (File > Open)
2. Make sure your layers palette is in view (Window > Layers) or click F7
3. With your layer highlighted, click on the adjustment layer icon (the black and white circle) and choose LEVELS
4. When the levels dialogue box pops up, just click okay without making any adjustments. We will come back to this.
5. Next, click on the adjustment layer icon (the black and white circle) and choose GRADIENT MAP.
6. A dialogue box will appear that looks like this. Choose the box that goes from black to white (NOT black to transparent). Click OK. Your image will turn to black and white (this conversion is already better than the default one, but we will make it even better).
7. Double click on the levels icon in your layers palette. This will bring up your levels dialogue.
8. When the levels dialogue box pops up, adjust the the black slider to the right until it hits the “black mountain” and the white slider to the left until it hits the “black mountain” (making sure the PREVIEW box is checked). If needed, adjust the midtones slider until you achieve the look you are going for. In this example I moved the midtone slider quite a bit to the left to achieve a light and airy feel.
This was the result: