What are Photoshop Adjustment Layers?
Photoshop Adjustment Layers can transform your workflow if you like to make black and white images from your RGB digital files. Digital cameras all shoot RGB color images, unless you’ve gone into your presets and done something to change this. But if you know that your final toned image will be in black and white, you should use Photoshop Adjustment Layers in your black and white workflow. This will give you an amazing amount of power and creativity in your conversion.
Some Photoshop History
Until Adjustment Layers were added to the Photoshop feature set, making black and white images was usually accomplished using Image>Mode>Grayscale, which would throw all of the color away, leaving you with an untoned black and white. (You can still use this old workflow, even in the newest version of Photoshop.)
Later, another option was developed: you could use the option of Image>Adjustments>Black & White. This opened up a window with color sliders, allowing you to make permanent adjustments to the photo by tweaking the various colors in the underlying RGB photo.
The current, much better alternative is a step up from the Image>Adjustments approach. By using Photoshop Adjustment Layers>Black and White, a dialogue box with color sliders opens up within which you can make non-destructive adjustments to your black and white image. Non-destructive editing means that you can see the intended changes in a layer without actually permanently changing (until you want to) the underlying original file.
Let’s take an image and convert it into a toned black and white using Photoshop Adjustment Layers. We’ll start by opening up this image from Pawleys island, South Carolina. This is completely untoned, straight out of the camera:
The first thing I will always do is run a basic Levels adjustment. You can do this inside the Adjustment Layers protocol, but I like to run it first, before going into the Adjustment Layers, mainly because the sliders are much bigger and easier to finely tweak. Command>L opens up the Levels dialogue box:
I have my Photoshop Adjustment Layers set up as one of my permanent navigation tabs, but if you don’t, you’ll find it under Window>Adjustments. Mouse over the different icons until you find the that says ‘Create a New Black and White Adjustment Layer’ and click it. The following box will open up:
You’ll see your photograph converted to black and white and six color sliders appear, for Reds, Yellows, Greens, Cyans, Blues and Magentas. Try sliding each of these to the left and right and watch the effect on your black and white image.
I find that for most of my photographs, the majority of the color slider tweaking takes place in the Yellow and Green sliders. But be careful about taking any of these sliders to the allowed extreme: I’ve found that if I try and slide the Yellow, say, all the way to the right or left, some ugly artifacting shows up in my result.
Once I have the image the way I like it, I hit Image>Duplicate. I flatten the duplicated image and save this version out as a full-resolution jpeg for printing and archiving. The original file, with the Photoshop Adjustment Layers, gets saved as a Photoshop layered file (.psd) and serves as the equivalent of an old-school ‘master negative.’
So if you’re not using Photoshop Adjustment Layers, you really need to try adding them to your regular toning workflow. It’s truly a superior way to tone since you’re not making changes that can’t be undone. Once you’ve tried it for a week or two, I promise you’ll never go back!
Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Or subscribe to our Facebook page ,Google+ pageor our Twitter feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog