How to: awesome looking fashion B&W!

posted in Fashion

How to: awesome looking fashion B&W!

In this tutorial, we are going to take a look on how to make up that cool black and white effect alot of fashion photos got. I’m not talking about the typical ‘black-with-a-twist-of-purple’ kind of stuff, but more like the example below. Judging by alot of searching on the web, I have come to that conclusion that it clearly works best on studio-shots. Ambient lightening and random locations in the background, aren’t gonna work, in my opinion. :) An example of a photo containing the effect can be seen here;

Look how the black and white effect looks a bit ‘retro’, and ‘washed-out’. Hard to describe, but the key to achieve this is to change the max and min. of the Levels in the photo. Credits:

The way I managed to get close to the result I was looking for, was by testing, testing, testing and a little more testing! :) Based on the photo above, I went to Photoshop and made up a blank canvas. Filled it with 100% black and went making a ‘Levels’-adjustments layer above it. The main goal now, is only to get the ‘black’ correctly created.


Levels Adjustment


By doing this you will get the smooth look, which actually is rather difficult to explain what exactly is, but you get the idea. Try playing around with the sliders, and go for the setting that fit you most. Next up, is to tweak the colors a little – and when I say ‘a little’ I mean; VERY little! Barely noticeable, and that is the key. Go to the ‘Layer’ menu > ‘New Fill Layer’ and choose ‘Solid Color’. By doing this, you’re creating a layer just above the previously selected, and fills it with a choosen colour…and speaking of it; go with #1d1032. Change the opacity of the layer to a number between 3 and 10. Finally, go change the blending mode of the layer to ‘Soft Light’.


Color Fill


So now you got two layers; one which is smoothing the shit out of the black-contra-white edges, and another layer which is tweaking the overall colour of the image. You can see the HUGE difference on the picture below… :)

'Without color fill' Vs. 'with color fill'

‘Without color fill’ Vs. ‘with color fill’

(At this point, it is worth noticing that there are plenty of other ways to achieve a similar effect. For example, why not try make a ‘Gradient Fill’ layer, change the blending mode to Soft Light, change the opacity to 25% and let it fade from #00405b to #e1eab1? This is going to give your photo a more greenish look, but still retro enough to look awesome!!)

So, now we know how to get the correct ‘black’. Next up; high contrast!
Obviously we need a black and white photo, to reach our goal. So if you haven’t allready converted your photo, I will advice you to go create a ‘Black & White’ adjustment layer with the following settings:

Red = 16 Yellows = 42 Greens = 18 Cyans = 65 Blues = 35 Magentas = 61

Red = 16
Yellows = 42
Greens = 18
Cyans = 65
Blues = 35
Magentas = 61


Have in mind that it is still 100% up to yourself to adjust and experiment on how to get the best result, so don’t be afraid to change the values a little.

Back to the high contrast I was talking about..
This point of the tutorial, has nothing to do with the post-process, but more about the lightningsetup you’re using when shooting. What I did was placing a large 100×100 softbox mounted, on an Elinchrom Style RX600, and moved it pretty far up and changing the angle of it, so it nearly came ‘from above’. :-)
But what you CAN do post-process, is creating a ‘Gradient Map’ with the default black and white colours. Make it Normal Blend-mode and opacity 100%.

Last, but not least; create a new group (folder!) and place all your adjustment layers inside that, change the blending mode to “Pass Through” and voila!


You should end up with a layer construction that looks similar to this photo....otherwise you missed something! :p

You should end up with a layer construction that looks similar to this photo….otherwise you missed something! :p


So… now we know how to get ‘that look‘ (if anyone has some great ideas on what to call particular effect, feel free to drop a comment at the bottom of the page! :)) – so why not try it out in practice, and go apply it to a photo?

After the break you will find some examples of some photos I shot where you are able to see the ‘before vs after’.
Otherwise feel free to check out the series of photos I made with the effect applied on this link: Project Melanoir





  • Patrick

    I can’t get the same result following up the tutorial

    • Hi Patrick.

      Im sorry that you didn’t make it work, but I need some more info before I can help you. :-)
      Could you please attach a screenshot of how your layers are, the result you got and maybe the test photo you used?

      I can assure you that the guide does work, so something might went wrong in your process :)
      Which version do you use?

      • Patrick

        I use your own picture.

        • Can I see your layer order? :)

        • Did you remember to change the blend mode on the folder?

          • Patrick

            Yes. It’s the mode “Pass Trough”.

            You can see the psd file here:

          • Ahhhh, okay – I’ve found the fault in your layers! :)

            Your top layer (the one called: Gradient Map 2) needs to switch place with the other Gradient Map-layer you’ve made. It might sound weird, but the layer with the gradient colours, needs to be on top and remember to change the blend mode to ‘Soft Light’ and opacity to 25% on it!

            That should do it for you :-)

          • Patrick

            Thank you very much for your help!

          • Glad I could help! :)
            And thanks for even trying, and using my site.

            More tutorials will come as soon as I get the time – mainly focusing on doing fashion retouching.