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How to Convert Photos to Black and White: Guest Author, Karli

Hi! I’m Karli from The Bonnie 5. When Darcy asked me to do a guest post on her blog I was thrilled! I discovered my love of photography fairly recently; a little over a year ago. I have found that in addition to loving photography, I equally love editing. I shoot with the Canon 5D Mark II and use Photoshop CS4 for editing. Darcy asked me to share with you how I do my black and white conversions and make them “pop.”

So let’s begin. Here is the image I’m going to use as my example. I have already edited this image in Photoshop. (If there is any interest, I would be happy to post the SOOC on my blog tomorrow and walk you through the steps I used to edit it. I have no editing secrets; I’m more than happy to share)! 🙂 I never run a black and white action (or any other artistic action) on an SOOC. I clean it up and correct the exposure if necessary before I begin editing further.


There are a few easy ways to make a black and white image pop. I will show you how by using an action, and also how to do it yourself if you’d prefer.

Take a look at the two images below. The image on the left simply has the saturation removed – blah! See how it’s really flat and lifeless? For the image on the right, I used an action from Amy McMaster Photography called AMP’s Simply Black & White Action. (It’s free, and one of my favorites)! It really adds depth to your photo and helps it pop.


Included with AMP’s Black and White Action are a variety of tints, hazes and color overlays that you can add to your image to change the tone a bit. One of my favorites is the “vanilla overlay.” The change is very subtle, and I use a fairly light hand when it comes to editing. It just warms it up a bit as you can see below:


If you prefer not to use actions but would rather do the editing steps yourself, the next part is for you. To achieve the effect you see above, you can adjust one or more of the following: contrast, levels, curves and the soft light blending mode. I’m only familiar with Photoshop, but if your program doesn’t have all four of these things – no problem! If you adjust only the contrast (drag it up to +10 to +15), I promise you’ll see a big difference. After removing the saturation, I did small adjustments to each of the four things I mentioned above and came up with the following edit:


Easy enough, right? Just by making minor adjustments, you’ll see a big difference in your photos! 🙂 I want to say a big thank you to Darcy for having me as a guest on her blog, and I hope you will find this information helpful. As I mentioned, if you’d like to see my SOOC shot and the steps I used to edit it, be sure and let me know in a comment. I’d be more than happy to post it on my blog tomorrow. Have a wonderful Thursday!

Karli is a photographer, mom of 3 and brilliant photo editor. Please visit Karli’s blog and bookmark her site or subscribe. I promise you’ll be rewarded with inspiration from her mad talent. Thanks for your time and talent, Karli! I can’t wait to see everyone’s work.

If you learned something here today and would like to share your black and white conversion – either using Karli’s tips or including a recipe of your own – I welcome you to link up your black and white photo here. Don’t forget to let us know how you accomplished it, or let Karli know you used her method.

Let’s see what you made!


  1. Hi Darcy, I would love to try the free BW action. But the download does not work right. I think there are missing files.

    Any suggestions?

    I thought of my other question – great tutorial on how to use a light meter??? What do you think?

    Hugs and blessings!

    • You’ll have to ask Amy about it – it’s over at her site. And I’m not sure how she’s hosting it. Try again!

      I recently tweeted about an free online workshop sponsored by Sekonic and J.Mark Wallace. It was all about light meters. I think they recorded it, check out Mark’s site or the Sekonic website. It was really well done! Definitely worth checking out.

  2. This is an AWESOME action Thanks so much for letting me know about it I will definitely subscribe to her blog!

  3. Ms. Elaine says:

    Yes, I would love to see what you do to edit your pictures! Thanks for sharing the BW conversion however I know the edit done before will make our BW conversions better! Thanks again

    • Hi Ms. Elaine~ You made a very good point about the edit done before the b&w conversion will give you a much better result. I posted the SOOC on my blog, as well as the steps I used to do the clean edit. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask! 🙂

  4. I am so impressed with this. What a difference in the photos!! Thank you.

  5. Isn’t Karli awesome. I can’t wait to upgrade to Photoshop so I can use some of these photoshop actions, but she made this so simple. Love that girl!

  6. I love Karli’s work!! Great tutorial lady!

  7. Karli is one of my favorite bloggy people! Her photos are always so stunning, and I’m excited to add one of her tricks to m toolbag!

  8. Question: some online print companies will print your black and white photos on specific black and white paper. Have you tried it? How does it compare to a black and white photo printed on color paper? It seems that things like the “vanilla wash” above wouldn’t work. Is that the case?

    • Hi Rachel,

      I always print on color paper because mine almost always have a hint of warmth to them – just my own conversion style. But I don’t really know the answer to that question.

      If anyone else reading does – hopefully they’ll chime in!

  9. I LOVE B&W photos. My family, thought, does not. It is rare that I actually get to print them. Thank you for the guest post! Karli’s ideas are wonderful!

  10. Karli explains things so even an beginner can get it. Thanks for the tutorial!

  11. Great tutorial! Thanks for sharing! I love reading Karlis blog everyday!

  12. Great tutorial! Even though I do not use Photoshop yet I found this information very useful. And beautiful photo!

  13. Nice post! I’ll be back tomorrow to link up. I am challenging my readers to convert tomorrow’s Show Your Skills to a B&W. I will share this post with them, encouraging them to try converting one of their pics and link up with you.


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