a screenshot of a photoshop document showing a portrait of a businessman in black and white

5 Simple Steps to Stunning Black & White Portraits [Photoshop Tutorial]

There’s something strange and powerful about black-and-white imagery.

Stefan Kanfer, American Journalist, Editor, & Author

Black and white portraiture has been around since the dawn of photography. With the first photographic images being attributed to the 1820s, it’s no surprise that photographing people in color is a much more recent phenomenon. Think about it for a moment.

The past was saturated with monochromatic photographs. But that has all changed! Nowadays mirrorless and DSLR cameras, smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices default to color photography. These default digital settings encourage photographers to capture a world with intense saturation and colors of varying hues – which is excellent if color photography is what you’re seeking.

So, what do you do if you want to convert a color digital image to a stunning black and white shot? Use Photoshop, of course! In this post, we’ll explain 5 simple steps you can take to convert color to black and white and create moody portraits in the process.

Step 1: Open your base image in Photoshop. This photograph can be a selfie, a portrait of a friend or family member, or even your pet – for this tutorial, any portrait will do! If you don’t have an image to practice with, you can always download one from StockVault.

Note: You can use ANY portrait. However, keep in mind that images with contrasting or rich colors may result in a more dramatic black and white shot than an image that is fairly flat or has desaturated colors.

Step 2: Add a black and white adjustment layer.

Note: Experiment with the settings to achieve your desired look. For the purposes of this tutorial, we have selected the “lighter” option under the black and white adjustment layer.

screenshot of photoshop tutorial showing black and white adjustment layer being added to the PS document
screenshot of photoshop tutorial showing a black and white image of a business man with the black and white adjustment layer open

Step 3: After experimenting with the black and white adjustment layer, navigate to the layer menu again. This time, add the “levels” adjustment layer. Make sure “levels” is the top layer at this point.

Note: You can adjust the input and output levels in this menu to increase black, white and midtones of the image. Experiment to achieve your desired look.

screenshot of photoshop tutorial showing a black and white photo of a businessman with the levels adjustment level panel to the right of the screen
If you would like to use the exact same settings on your own image input the following numbers
for black tones 19, for midtones 1.46 and for whites 197

For output levels, input 0 in the first box and 231 in the second box

Step 4: After you’re done tweaking the levels to your desired specifications, add another adjustment layer. This time, you should adjust the brightness and contrast of the image.

Note: If you want a bold black and white image, you can play with brightness and contrast to achieve an eye-catching aesthetic.

For this image, we adjusted the brightness level to -21, decreasing the overall brightness of the image. Then we increased the contrast to +25, making the darkest and lightest tones pop.

Step 5: Save your image! We recommend saving a Photoshop file and a TIFF file if you have the space for both. Post it online and let everyone you know that you found this tutorial on StockVault!