Converting images using the gradient map tool in Photoshop is the first thing that I do when I want to convert an image to black and white.
The Gradient Map is a really handy tool that not only converts your image from colour to black and white but also one that allows you to create contrast even before you add any layers.
I thought I’d show you how I use it.
Here I have my SOOC shot, all I have done is adjust my white balance in Lightroom before taking the image into Photoshop.
I click on the ‘create new fill or adjustment layer’ which is below my thumbnail. It’s a round circle, half black and half white. I then choose the gradient map option.
Here is the image with just the gradient map conversion, and no tweaks.
When I double click on the actual gradient layer, it will bring up the panel you can see below it. I can play with the smoothness (where it says 100) but I just keep it as high as it goes, since it gives me maximum contrast at 100. Increasing the contrast within the gradient map can also be achieved by playing with the sliders. The pointers on the left control the darks and shadows on my black and white image. If I slide it inwards it will increase the darks. The pointers on the right control the highlights, the more I slide them in, the brighter they become. And the middle pointer controls the mid tones of my image. If I want to increase the brightness of my mid tones, I just slide towards the left, and if I want my mid-tones darker, I slide towards the right.
So while this isn’t a perfect black and white conversion I think it’s a good start and you can see that already I’ve produced some nice contrast but playing with the sliders has enabled me to open up the shadows a little more, particularly over the subjects faces.
Next, just to make the background a little darker and add extra tonal contrast, I add a curves layer and click on the multiply option in the top left hand corner. This makes the whole image darker and from there I bring the brightness back onto their hair and skin by masking off the layer with a soft black brush. This allows me to bring down the brights on the background without compromising the shadows and highlights over the subjects.
I finish off the edit by cloning out distractions (the darker spot on the wall upper left) and then adding a slight matte effect and a little grain.
And here is the sooc shot (with wb adjustments) and the final image using the gradient map to achieve a black and white edit.