converting to black and white in photoshop elements

black and white edit in photoshop elements by Melissa Gibson

There are several factors that go into creating a lovely black and white image.  Of course, there is one very important factor that we all know about, lighting.  No matter how hard you try, you aren’t going to get a beautiful black and white if you haven’t used the light well.  Personally, I love conversions that are hazy and backlit but I also love side light and contrast.

Today, I’m going to show you how I convert an image that I shot using side light.  This was actually shot in my garage where my daughter was lying on the floor.  This image is straight out of the camera.  I knew I was going to convert this image so I underexposed it on purpose.

Here are the steps I took to convert the image:

1.  Apply gradient map.  You can do this by going to Levels > New Adjustment Level > Gradient Map or by simply clicking the black and white half circle in the layers palette.

2.  The default is purple so just change that to black and white.

3.  Next I want to adjust the contrast and I do that with a levels adjustment.  Again, you can use the menu at the top (Levels > New Adjustment Layer > Levels) or by clicking the black and white half circle in the layers palette and choose levels.

4.  By moving the sliders you can adjust the contrast of your image.  I like a lot of contrast most of the time.

5.  Now I want to add a gradient fill by going to the menu up top and choosing Levels or by clicking the black and white circle again.

6.  Once again, PSE is trying to make me choose a purple gradient.  When the dialog box opens you can change the fill a bit by checking the Reverse box.  I chose to reverse the fill on this image because I wanted it to be a tad darker on the top rather than the bottom of the image.   Then, choose black and white from the drop down menu in that same dialog box.

7.  I adjusted the fill layer to taste.  Which, was a very low opacity, but I like the look it added to the image.

8.  I flattened the image once I had it just as I liked.  Then, I cropped it a bit, cloned out the straps of her dress, and burned the edges at 25%.  I did not burn the sides where the light is coming in as I wanted the light to fall off a bit.

9.  Also, if you would like to have a more matte look, simply add a new levels adjustment layer and slide the left output slider to the right (the very bottom slider in the levels box).

And there you have it!  That’s the way I convert images to black and white in PSE.

Once again, thank you for the incredible PSE tutorial Melissa!  Is that how you convert to black and white?  We’d love to hear what tools you use!  Please share with us in the comments below!

Melissa GibsonMelissa Gibson, Georgia
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Melissa is a proud MWAC who gears up with a Nikon D700, prime lenses, and edits her “fun, childlike, and whimsical” photography solely in Photoshop Elements. Melissa’s goal both now and when she first began her photography journey in 2005 is to, in her own words, “remember my girls’ lives for them. They are so young yet growing so quickly. I know they won’t remember it all so I feel it’s my job to document it for them.”

Read all photography tutorials from Melissa Gibson.


  • bluej23 says:

    Love PSE tutorials. Thanks, Melissa!

  • Melissa says:

    thanks for doing a PSE post! i’m still new…wondering what “burn the edges” means??

    • mgibson9893 says:

      Hi Melissa! In the bottom left corner, just above where you set background color, you can choose to dodge, burn, or saturate. Sometimes I burn parts of an image to add darkness to the shadows…sometimes I dodge parts of an image to lighten it up…and sometimes I saturate the colors with the sponge. :)

  • She is such a cutie! Thanks for sharing!

  • teamhumphries says:

    Beautiful photo and fantastic conversion Melissa! <3

  • Lara Gowder says:

    Thank you, Melissa!! Beautiful photo! Love your PSE tips!! :)

  • cgoemans says:

    Thanks for sharing how to do this!

  • Judy W says:

    This is so helpful! I love my elements and it's so nice to get tutorial for it! I'm off to try it out :)

  • Elizabeth says:

    Dude, you need to give me my own personal class with PSE. So confusing.

  • Anne says:

    Clear and easy. Thank you, Melissa !

  • Jessica V says:

    Thank you, Melissa! I really learned a few things from this. Great tutorial!

  • krista resnick says:

    i am anxiously waiting for you to teach a PSE course here Melissa!!!!! :)

  • Randa says:

    This is so timely for me! I've been wanting to tackle B&W conversions. Love seeing your steps and thought process, and what makes a good B&W. Thanks!!

  • Amanda says:

    Hi Melissa! Thanks for the awesome tutorial. Can you explain how to clone parts of an image?

    • Melissa says:

      Hi Amanda! :) To clone you simply choose the clone stamp tool from the left. It's the rubber stamp. On PC you Alt/Click and on Mac you Option/Click to take a sample of an area that you want to use. So, I wanted to cover up that strap on her dress…I took a sample from nearby and "stamped" it over the strap. The clone stamp does not blend in though…it just covers up the bad area.

  • andrea says:

    Hi Melissa, I'm new to CMU. I don't understand what a gradient fill is, what has it added to this picture?

    • Melissa says:

      Hi Andrea and welcome to CM! You don't really NEED a gradient fill. I just like to add it sometimes. To me, it kind of gives the image a silver-ish tone. It's just personal taste, really. :)

      • andrea says:

        Thanks Melissa. I'm a photoshop novice, and it's taking a long time to understand the terminology let alone know what it does.

  • Andrea says:

    I have tried and tried to use this method to convert to black and white and just don't get it. I'm doing something wrong. When I add the gradient my photo goes away completely. All I see is the gradient.

    • Melissa says:

      Okay, no worries! When you apply the gradient, just adjust the opacity of it up there in the layers palette. It's really just laying on top of your image and when you move the opacity slider you'll see the image come through. Hope that explanation makes sense. :)

  • Jennifer says:

    Thanks for the PSE post. The graident fill later is a step that I have not treid yet on B&W. Can't wait to try it.

  • Jessica says:

    Thank you Melissa! This was very helpful! When you are applying the matte look, how far to the right are you pulling your left slider (or, what is your output level)? Thanks again for another wonderful PSE tutorial!!

  • The next time I read a blog, I hope that it won’t fail me just as much as this particular one. After all, Yes, it was my choice to read through, but I actually believed you would probably have something useful to talk about. All I hear is a bunch of complaining about something that you could possibly fix if you were not too busy seeking attention.

  • I need to to thank you for this very good read!! I certainly loved every bit of it. I’ve got you bookmarked to look at new things you post…

  • stephanie says:

    This was so awesome and easy to follow once I figured out that it looks different on my Mac.. LOL Thanks so much Melissa!

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