photoshop creative

Photoshop Tutorial: How to make inspiring monochrome effects

Posted in:
Tips & Tutorials, by Mark White
September 15, 2013

How to convert a landscape image to a powerful monochrome composition using essential tools in Photoshop Elements

We simply can’t settle on a method of monochrome conversion. Using Photoshop Elements, there are a number of ways to remove colour from an image, with some producing better results than others. But not everything in Photoshop Elements is on the surface. It takes a bit of digging around to find the tool or adjustment that produces the desired effect. The following steps focus on how to use the Convert to Black and White adjustment, whereby you have multiple presets to play with to adapt around your image. 


Inside Photoshop Elements, go to File>Open (Cmd/Ctrl+O). Locate this image ‘Landscape.jpg’ from your resource disc, or find one of your own nature-based images to work on. Select it from the Open dialog. This image will show up in the centre of Photoshop Elements as a new Background layer.





Take a closer look at the image by clicking a few times with the Zoom tool (Z), or by pressing Cmd/Ctrl and +. Assess the lighting, exposure and detail in the background and foreground objects. If you can see areas that are too bright or too dark, go to Layer>New Adjustment Layer and select Brightness/Contrast.






To boost the brightness of this landscape image, move the Brightness slider up to 15. Increase the Contrast slider to around 10. This should prepare the image better for a monochrome conversion, and as an adjustment layer these changes are permanent.





Click on the Background layer in the layer stack. To help work non-destructively in Photoshop Elements go to the Layer menu at the top of the interface and down to Duplicate Layer. We’ll be renaming this layer later on, so leave it as background copy. Hit OK.






Convert the image to monochrome by going to Enhance>Convert to Black and White. Inside this adjustment’s menu is a before and after of your image and a bundle of Style presets. Click on the Infrared Effect Style to boost the highlights, shadows and midtones for an expressive black and white image.





The Infrared Effect Style will blow out the highlights in the image such as in the field in this image. To reduce the exposure in the highlight regions, gradually lower the Contrast slider in small amounts until you see the whites reduce in strength.






Lowering the Contrast slider will flatten the whole image. To bring back vibrancy in the sky and mountains, boost the Blue slider ever so slightly. Small changes here go a long way. For a final tweak, lower the Green and Red sliders. Hit OK.






Double-click on the infrared layer to rename it ‘Infrared Effect’. This helps to identify which monochrome setting was used. Click back on the original Background layer and press Cmd/Ctrl+J to make another duplicate version of it. Click on the eye button next to the Infrared Effect layer to hide it.





Go back to the Convert to Black and White adjustment under the Enhance menu, and this time click on the Scenic Landscape Style. For this effect, boost the Contrast slider up slightly and hit OK. Rename this layer ‘Scenic Landscape’.






Click on the Infrared Effect layer and add a layer mask by going to Layer>Layer Mask>Reveal All. You should see a white mask appear on this layer, highlighted blue to indicate that it’s currently active.





To edit a layer mask, set your Foreground colour to black by clicking on the top swatch at the base of the Toolbar. Drag the colour selector to the bottom left corner and hit OK. Masks work with black and white paint to reveal or hide parts of its layer.






Select the Brush tool (B) and change its Size to a soft 400px, with Opacity set to 90%. Paint over the clouds to reveal the contrast from the Scenic Landscape layer beneath. Run the brush over the highlights of the clouds to bring out the lighter areas.