photoshop creative

Create stunning black and white portraits

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Tips & Tutorials, by Mark White
June 10, 2015

Mastering in monochrome is more than just hitting Desaturate…

1. Desaturate

Open up the image and duplicate the original image layer. We won’t be working on the original, only the duplicate. With our duplicate layer selected, hit Shift+Cmd/Ctrl+U to Desaturate.

2. Adjust tones with Levels

Press Cmd/Ctrl+L to bring up Levels. The sliders underneath the histogram represent Shadows, Midtones and Highlights. Tweak them to get a good tonal balance. For this image, we set Shadow at 2, Midtone at 0.96 and Highlight at 224.

3. Touch up with the Clone Stamp

Create a new layer and we’ll use the Clone Stamp on low Opacity with a Soft Brush to smooth the skin. Sample often and only in areas with the same tone as where it’s being applied.

4. Soften with blur

Duplicate the Black and White image layer. Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur on a low Radius: 1.0 pixel or less. Create a mask or erase to reveal sharpened areas. Leave the skin and edges of the hair blurred.

5. Control highlights

Create a new layer and set layer mode to Overlay. Use a Soft Round brush with Opacity settings lowered, brush in highlights using white. This allows closer control over highlights.

6. Add drama with shadows

Create a new layer, but instead of setting to Overlay, set the mode to Multiply. Grab the same brush in black and dramatise the shadows. Darken the area around the eyes for added effect.

7. Detail on the focus

Create another new layer and leave the layer mode Normal. Decrease the Brush Size and work on accentuating the most focused features, such as the eyes. Add extra length and volume to the lashes.

8. Smooth transitions

We’ll use the Brush and the Eyedropper (Opt/Alt) together to pick colours and blend them, smoothing transitions in trouble spots between shadows and highlights.

9. Smudge the flyaways

Grab a dotted brush tip on the Smudge tool, set strength to 75-85%, and check Sample All Layers. Brush through the hair in the same direction as the hair flow to remove flyaway hair pieces, starting at the scalp and working downwards.

10. A hairy situation

Continuing downward with hair smudging, we find that the looks are getting curlier. Pick out the biggest looks and brush over them to smooth majority at once, enough to make a nice impression.

11. Strengthen the focus

Press Shift+Cmd/Ctrl+Opt/Alt+E to create a merged layer, then use Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur with a Radius high enough to blur parts without being unnatural. Reveal the underneath via erasing.

12. Sharpen it up

Merge visible layers again with Shift+Cmd/Ctrl+Opt/Alt+E. Use the Sharpen tool very gently on the most focussed areas of the image to increase the overall impact. Especially concentrate on the eyes, lips and the locks of hair that frame the face.

13. Make final revisions

Make any necessary final adjustments to the image, including tonal adjustments with Levels or Brightness/Contrast, or you could do some manual touch-up work with a new layer and the Brush tool.

14. Vibrant eyes and painted backdrops

Use a Layer Mask on your Black and White image to reveal the original eyes, making sure that it’s just the pupil that needs masking, not the entire eye. Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and increase the saturation. Add a Colour Balance adjustment layer and alter the sliders to give the pupils a much stronger blue. Use textured brushes on multiple layers to paint in a textured backdrop. Adjust opacity to suit the image and move the brush marks around to give an even distribution. Add a new layer and draw a diagonal line. Duplicate this layer and group it. Add a Layer Mask to reveal the portrait and adjust opacity to suit.

  • Mark Ensign

    I liked the desaturated version better… JUst kidding. Thats breautiful. Got to try all of this.

  • Wow thanks! The hair smudging actually does wonders!

  • Awesome!! I find new interesting inspiration material.Thank you.Keep doing nice work.

  • Hi,
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  • very helpful for beginners.

  • I enjoyed your tutorial and learn easily how to Create stunning black and white portraits.Thanks a lot for sharing a effective tutorial.

  • Really Outstanding post. I love these. It will useful for any new comer and expert guys also. Thanks for your excellent stuff.

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  • Can you made a video for this content? i hope it will be help for all.

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  • Joy Shawn

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  • Your tips helped me a lot editing my product photos, specially the photos I take with a model. Thanks so much.

  • Awesome tutorial!! I didn’t know that It was so easy to do, I work over the tutorial and I am success. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Really enjoy your tutorial rather than YouTube video tutorial for white portraits. thanks for sharing your brilliant work.