Best software for black & white editing (2023)

Make your best-ever mono conversions. We show you the best software for black & white editing, as well as how to do it in Adobe Photoshop, DxO Film Pack and Nik Silver Efex

When it comes to converting your images to black & white, there are some excellent image-editing software options out there. Below, we’ll explore the key features of three of the best black & white editors – here we’ll look at Adobe Photoshop, then delve into DxO FilmPack 6 and Nik Silver Efex (formerly Silver Efex Pro).

Don’t miss our complete guide to black and white photography too, and how to take better black and white building shots

The best software for black & white all-rounder, Adobe Photoshop

As the best all-round image-editor, Photoshop has a depth of features that no other program can match. The software is part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud, a subscription based service. The Photography package costs $9.98/£9.98 a month or $119..88/£119.21 annually and for that you get Photoshop, Lightroom and 20GB of cloud storage. For 1TB cloud storage the price is $19.99/£19.97 monthly and $239.88/£238.47 annually.

For black & white conversions alone there are at least six methods (Camera Raw B&W Panel, Black and White Layer, Desaturate command, Gradient Map Adjustment, Channel Mixer, and LAB Color technique). But this raft of options doesn’t necessarily translate to superior black & white conversions.

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Where Photoshop really brings benefit to the black & white photographer is in the unique degree of control it gives you over the final image. This is down to two main things. Firstly, Photoshop’s brush-based tools and selection features are the best there is, so local adjustments that let you enhance different areas of the image can be made with precision.

Whether you want to lighten your subject, darken their surroundings or add contrast to parts of the frame, these can easily be done. Secondly, every edit you make can be carried out on a separate Photoshop layer or Adjustment Layer. This non-destructive workflow not only lets you tone things down or increase the strength of an effect but also gives you the freedom to experiment and take your image in any number of directions.

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Fine-tune with B&W Mixer panel

Even though we’re removing the colour, it can still play a vital role in the look of our monochrome image. The Black and White Mixer panel has eight sliders that let you control the brightness of different colour ranges. We can use these to, for example, darken down the blues to make a sky more dramatic, or lift reds and oranges to make skin tones brighter.

You can use the sliders but it’s easier to grab the target tool and then drag left/right over parts of the image. Not only is this more intuitive, it also allows you to affect several sliders at once, which leads to more-natural-looking shifts in brightness.

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Using Photoshop

1. Open in Camera Raw

Photoshop’s Camera Raw and Lightroom both offer identical black & white tools. These are the best tools for converting to mono in Photoshop. Open the image into Camera Raw then click the B&W button in the Basic Panel to begin the conversion process.

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2. Experiment with profiles

If you want quick and easy black & white treatments then try using Profiles. These one-click effects can transform your image in seconds, and also make for useful starting points for further edits. Go to the Profile Browser in Camera Raw/Lightroom and try out the range of black & white profiles.

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3. Boost contrast with Curves

Go to the Tone Curve panel and plot three points along the diagonal curve line then drag them to make a shallow S-shape. The top point controls the highlights, the bottom point sets the depth of the shadows, and the midpoint controls the midtone brightness. The more pronounced the S-shape, the greater the contrast.

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4. Burn the shadows

Open the image into Photoshop for dodging and burning, then duplicate your layer with Cmd/Ctrl+J. The Dodge and Burn tools let you lighten or darken tones. We begin here with the burn tool. First we set the Range to Shadows or Midtones and strength to 20%, then paint to darken areas of the image.

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5. Dodge the highlights

Next we can switch to the Dodge tool (or hold Alt to temporarily switch) and paint to lighten areas. The Dodge tool works best when the range is set to Midtones or Highlights. Once done, we can check our dodging and burning by toggling the layer on and off, or lower layer opacity to tone it down if we need to.

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6. Add local contrast

Adjustment Layers are ideal for making local adjustments. Here we add a Curves layer and plot an S-shaped curve to boost contrast just as in step 3, but then we hit Cmd/Ctrl+I to invert the mask on the curves layer and hide the effect. Now we can paint with white over the image to reveal local contrast changes in the areas that need it.

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Recreate classic black & white film look in DxO FilmPack 6

It’s sometimes said that digital photography struggles to capture the ‘feel’ of black & white film. While it might be impossible to recreate the feeling of being in a darkroom – the smells, the red glow of the safelight, the magic of the chemical process – the actual look of black & white film isn’t unattainable, and there isn’t some sort of inherent flaw in the digital image that prevents you from making great black & white photos.

The ‘feel’ of black & white film can be broken down into distinct characteristics like contrast, tone, grain, and dynamic range. These characteristics can be analysed, quantified and recreated in digital images. This is exactly what happens in DxO FilmPack 6. FilmPack 6 is a film emulator that gives you 221 looks to play with. Amongst the 65 black & white settings there are toned effects and the films on offer are classics such as Agfa APX 100, Kodak Tri-X 400, Fujifilm Neopan 400 and 1600, and Ilford FP4 Plus.

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DxO has a deserved reputation for image quality – its PhotoLab application offers unrivalled automatic noise-correcting and lens-correcting tools – and this same attention to detail is carried through to FilmPack. Each of the film effects has been carefully calibrated through in-depth analysis and lab tests of the film stocks on which they are based, with particular attention paid to the grain, dynamic range and contrast of each classic film.

FilmPack costs £129, and it works as either a standalone app or as a plug-in for Lightroom, Photoshop, Capture One or DxO’s own PhotoLab.

DxO FilmPack 6 Review

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Time Machine titbits

In days gone by black & white was the only option, but these days we make a conscious choice to remove the colour. Why do we make that choice? Perhaps because it connects the image to a rich photographic heritage. FilmPack 6 gives us an intriguing look into this heritage with its unusual Time Machine feature.

This lets you filter the different film stocks by the decade in which they were first released, so you can, for example, look at films from the 1950s like Ilford HPS 800, or the 1970s like Polaroid 672 here. Each decade also brings up a set of classic photos – of public figures, street scenes, famous portraits and landscapes – and offers insights into how the image was created, its place in history and the film used to capture it.

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Using DxO FilmPack 6

1. Choose a preset

Open FilmPack 6 (or if using Photoshop go to Filter > DxO > FilmPack 6) then begin by choosing a film stock from the list on the right. You can filter the 84 films on offer to view the various black & white choices. As well as film stocks, you’ll also find several image effects such as ‘old postcard’ and ‘new selenium’.

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2. Find out about the film

When you choose a particular film stock an info box will pop up that explains when the film was first produced, when (or if) it was discontinued and what the characteristics of the film are. We’ve chosen the classic Kodak Tri-X 400 here, used ‘by the great reporters of the 1960s and 1970s’.

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3. Fine-tune the grain

You can fine-tune the characteristics of your chosen film stock in the Modify workspace. A film intensity slider lets you tweak the overall strength of the effect, and grain settings below allow you to add more or less, or choose between different formats like 35mm, medium or large format – each of which has its own specific grain.

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4. Control micro contrast

A set of tonal sliders let you adjust the exposure and add more or less contrast. The Micro Contrast and Fine Contrast sliders can be useful for defining details like the clouds here. Heavy use of these can detract from the overall feel of the film stock and result in an image that looks over-processed, so use a light touch.

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5. Try a border

If you like you can finish off your image with a border effect. There are 35 to choose from, ranging from simple black borders or white keylines to atmospheric old glass or paper edges. These can be great if you want to complement a classic film stock with a vintage effect.

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6. Add a vignette

The vignette controls in FilmPack 6 are excellent. We can add a vignette to darken down the corners of the frame (which works especially well for symmetrical compositions like this one here) then adjust the centre point and sizing. There’s also an option to blur the corners to mimic the edge softness of old lenses.

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Convert to black & white like a pro with Silver Efex

Silver Efex Pro (now known as Silver Efex) has long been the tool of choice for monochrome lovers, and with good reason. If you’re after a program that’s dedicated entirely to black & white photography, it’s the best you can get. You get a wide array of presets, brilliant contrast control, a variety of film stock presets and the ability to make precise local adjustmentswith Silver Efex’s intuitive control point system.

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As such there’s plenty of depth to this black & white plug-in. But more than this, the best thing about Silver Efex is how it just seems to come up with the goods time and again. Whenever we edit our images there are inevitably umpteen decisions and judgements we need to make – should this slider be set to 10 or 20? Should I boost the contrast a touch? Should I add more grain? And so on.

With Silver Efex these judgement calls just seem to be a little easier than with other editors. Perhaps it’s the strength of the presets, which often take your image a long way straight off the bat. Having a solid starting point ensures that, while you might go on to try out different effects, tonal settings, colour tinting and so on, the end results are almost always pleasing.

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Silver Efex comes as part of the Nik Collection by DxO, a suite of eight plug-ins with 250 presets so you can also make use of Analog Efex for vintage treatments, HDR Efex for high dynamic range images and Perspective Efex for perspective corrections. The set costs £135 and there’s a free 30-day trial.

The power of vignettes

When editing monochrome images we can push our edits further than we perhaps would with colour photos. They can withstand heavier lightening and darkening without looking too over-processed. Of course, this is only helpful if we have a clear idea of the best places to lighten and darken.

The viewer’s eye is naturally drawn to the lightest parts of an image first, and away from darker areas. This is why one of the simplest monochrome local adjustments – a vignette – is so effective, as by darkening the corners of the frame we can draw the eye into the image. Silver Efex offers a handy set of vignette presets like the Lens Falloff 2 effect used here. We can open up the settings to further fine-tune the brightness and spread of our vignettes.

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Using Silver Efex

1. Try a preset

Drag an image into Silver Efex to begin editing, or if in Photoshop you can open via Filter>Nik Collection>Silver Efex. The simplest place to begin is the presets panel at top left. This gives you a range of effects to try out, from classic black & white treatments to old analogue processes and vintage colour tints.

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2. Adjust dynamic brightness

We chose the Full Dynamic (smooth) preset here in the ‘Modern’ set. Next we can use the sliders to the right to fine-tune the look of our mono conversion. The Global Adjustments panel lets us make typical changes to brightness, highlight detail and so on. The Dynamic Brightness slider here gives us a welcome boost.

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3. Boost the structure

The contrast and structure controls in Silver Efex are second to none. Increasing Highlights Structure here lets us pull detail out of the clouds without making them look over-processed, while the Midtone structure slider lets us add contrast to the midtones, which gives the image a bit of extra crunch.

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4. Try the film stocks

Scroll down the list of settings on the right and you’ll find a set of film stock presets. Based on classic film stocks similar to those in FilmPack 6 (DxO produces both FilmPack and Silver Efex), these film effects apply differing amounts of grain, contrast and dynamic range to your black & white image.

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5. Use Control Points

The Control Points feature lets you make local adjustments to areas of the image. Unlike brush-based adjustments, these work by automatically locking on to details within an area defined by a simple circle. We can then go on to alter the tones using the sliders on the right. Here it lets us brighten the figure.

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6. Try colour filters

As anyone who has used lens-mounted colour filters with black & white film will know, different colours will filter out different wavelengths of light, resulting in brighter or darker colours. The Color Filter options in Silver Efex let you mimic this effect. Here the red filter lifts the subject’s clothes.

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Further reading:

How to convert images to black and white in Lightroom

Get the black and white film look – with digital cameras

Photo editing masterclass: Converting an image to black and white


Best software for black & white editing? ›

Most photographers (29.83%) use Adobe Lightroom because it offers all the editing features they need. In terms of core editing functionality, this is certainly true – Lightroom offers everything that most photographers would ever need to manage and edit photos.

What editing software do most photographers use? ›

Most photographers (29.83%) use Adobe Lightroom because it offers all the editing features they need. In terms of core editing functionality, this is certainly true – Lightroom offers everything that most photographers would ever need to manage and edit photos.

What app makes everything black and white? ›


This black and white photo app for Android and iOS features about 10 free black-and-white filters, but you can also manually create them by changing some settings and then saving them as a preset that's ready to be applied to other photographs.

What image format is best for black and white? ›

JPEG (or JPG) is short for Joint Photographic Experts Group. They work best with photographs both in color and black and white. JPEGs are also the file format that we print most often for our customers.

Which tool can you adjust to create a black and white photo? ›

To create black and white images in Photoshop, you need control over your light and dark levels. Follow these simple steps: Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Black & White will allow you to adjust the light level of the colors that make up your image. Here you can strip out all but the gray tones.

How do you make a black and white edit? ›

Custom Black and White Effects

Go to Edit and select Tools. Choose Adjust from the options menu. Scroll to Saturation and adjust the sliding bar to -100 to make it black and white. You can also select Contrast and adjust the slider for more vivid detail in your photo.

What are the three things to consider when editing black and white photos? ›

“However, elements of light, composition, and texture are just as important in a black and white photo as they are in color, if not more so.

What do professionals use to edit pictures? ›

Photoshop is designed for advanced image editors and professionals. (Beginners should consider Elements or Luminar.)

What are two well known picture editing software? ›

Top 10 Photo Editing Software
  • Photoshop.
  • Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.
  • Canva.
  • Photos.
  • Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic.
  • Picsart.
  • Adobe Photoshop Express.
  • Adobe Creative Cloud Express.

Why do old black and white photos look better? ›

One merit of black-and-white photography is that it forces the viewer to see the foundational aspects of the image. Since there are no distractions of color, the eyes and brain focus on the basic composition and characteristics of light instead.

What app turns B&W photo to color? ›

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  • Colorize: Color to B&W Photo. Photo & Video.
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  • PicPlus: Photo Filters & Edit. Photo & Video.
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What is the difference between black and white and grayscale image? ›

What is the difference between monochrome and grayscale printing? In monochrome printing, there are only two colors – black and white. The printer will only be printing black and the white will be unprinted. In grayscale printing, the printer will print everything in different shades of gray.

How do I edit a half black and white photo? ›

Press Command + Shift + I on a Mac, or CTRL + Shift + I on Windows to Invert your selection. Once you have done this, Photoshop will have selected everything except the colour you have chosen to highlight. After making your inverted selection, simply delete that portion of your photo!

What is the rule of 1 3 in photography? ›

The rule of thirds is a composition guideline that places your subject in the left or right third of an image, leaving the other two thirds more open.

Can professional photos be black and white? ›

Some b&w photos actually outperformed color versions! The difference in scores wasn't large enough to imply that you should always use black-and-white headshots. But, there's definitely nothing wrong with removing color from the photo. So, if you want to use black-and-white, go for it!

How do I make something black and white in Adobe? ›

Open the document and click CTRL + P on your keyboard to reveal the print menu. Select Microsoft Print to PDF from the Printer tab. Tick the Print in grayscale (black and white) option then hit the Print button. You can now save your file.

What is the most important element in black & white photography? ›

Shadow. In black and white photography, shadows aren't just darker regions of a photo: they are key elements of your subject, and may even be the subject themselves. Whether they contain details, or are completely black, shadows play an important role in the feel and impact of your photos.

What 3 elements are super important when composing a black and white image? ›

Shape And Texture Are At The Heart Of Great Composition

The scene contained very little color yet with compositional elements such as light, shape, texture and tone I knew I was on a winner.

What is the number one free photo editor? ›

The best free photo editor you can download today is GIMP, which rivals Photoshop with all it can accomplish, entirely for free. With GIMP, you'll have access to most of the best premium photo editor features, like layers, masks, custom brushes, and smart selection tools.

What is the easiest free photo editor to use? ›

GIMP. Among the most well known best free photo editing software programs is GIMP. Like Paint.Net, GIMP also has extensions you can download to access additional editing options and new file formats. Many of these extensions are created by GIMP users that know exactly which features their fellow users want.

Do most photographers edit their photos? ›

Almost all professional photographers (some may not, but certainly most do) edit their photographs. It's a critical step in the process.

Is Lightroom better than Photoshop? ›

A head-to-head comparison.

On a high level, Lightroom is the best tool to manage and process the thousands of photos that live on your devices. Photoshop specializes in greater control to achieve more expansive edits that will help you make a few images look flawless.

How can I edit photos like a professional for free? ›

Where can I edit my photos like professionals for free? If you want to edit photos like a professional you need professional photo editing software, which is usually paid. You can use Lightroom and Photoshop for free for 7 days. Alternatively, you can use free photo editors, such as GIMP and Inpaint.

What is one example of an image editing program? ›

Even if you've never done much image editing, you may have heard of Adobe Photoshop. Available for both Windows and Mac devices, Photoshop is an extremely powerful application that's used by many professional photographers and designers.

Is there a free photo editor? ›

We are Pixlr, free photo editing and design tools with AI-power. Edit photos and create stunning designs right in your browser, on your phone or desktop for free.

Why do people still take black and white photos? ›

Black and white photography removes any distraction of color and helps the viewer focus on other aspects of the photo, such as the subject, the textures, shapes and patterns, and the composition.

Do photos look better on white or black background? ›

White is likely better for displaying less vibrant/saturated color more accurately and realistically than black backdrops.

Are black and white photos still popular? ›

At first, black and white photography was a necessity due to limitations with technology, but even now in our digital age, we still enjoy creating without color.

What is the free colorizing app? ›

Google Snapseed is a free app with advanced photo editing features. It strikes a wonderful balance between thorough editing and simplicity. This is one of the most popular picture coloring apps available because it is compatible with both iOS and Android smartphones.

Is Photomyne app free? ›

The Photomyne app is free to download and use. However, if you want access to unlimited scanned photos, you will have to pay for a membership. Additional related apps are also subject to subscription fees.

What is it called when a picture is black and white with one color? ›

The definition of monochrome is an image displaying a single colour or different shades of a single color. Monochrome photography is photography in which the entire image is recorded and represented by differing amounts of light instead of different hues.

What is the free program to change the color of pictures? ›

Fotor. Fotor is a great app choice if you want to change the color of your image. Additionally, Fotor has tons of image editing options, which makes it great for more than just color changing!

Is there a way to reverse a black and white photo? ›

Here's how to do it:
  1. Download PhotoDirector.
  2. Import the image.
  3. Tap "effects" and choose "invert"
  4. Edit the inverted area.
  5. Save or share the picture.
Mar 10, 2023

What is the best color space to edit in? ›

I recommend setting your color space to Adobe RGB in your camera. This will allow you to convert your files to sRGB later if you wish to while giving you a wider gamut of colors to work with while editing. The great thing about Adobe RGB files is that they can easily be converted into sRGB for screen use.

When should you edit in black and white? ›

Black and white photo editing can add a touch of nostalgia or elegance to any picture. It can also be used to convey a feeling or mood, or to simplify complex images. In fact, there are all sorts of reasons why you might want to try black and white photo editing. The good news is that it's not hard to get started.

What is the most accurate color space? ›

sRGB vs.

sRGB (or standard red, green, blue) is the most common, widely used color space. RGB stands for Red-Green-Blue, all primary colors. sRGB combines the three colors in all the ways possible, for example: red and blue or red and green; or blue and green.

Should I use sRGB or Adobe color space? ›

In general, though, sRGB is the standard best suited to simpler needs, and Adobe RGB is ideal for advanced photography and printed works. If you enjoyed this read, make sure to check out our article on color correction vs color grading or find your next creative monitor here.

What is the most accurate color profile? ›

The most common color profiles in photography are called sRGB, Adobe RGB and ProPhoto RGB. sRGB stands for standard red green blue and is the smallest of all three color spaces. It is the most commonly used color space today with the greatest consistency across the majority of platforms.

How to do a black and white edit with color? ›

In Photoshop, the steps are:
  1. Duplicate the layer. Open your desired photo in Photoshop and duplicate the layer. ...
  2. Desaturate your original layer. This means you'll turn your original layer into a grayscale image. ...
  3. Choose your accent color. Switch to your duplicate layer now. ...
  4. Invert your selection.

Should you overexpose black and white film? ›

Overexposing black and white film can help to create high-contrast images with deep blacks and bright whites. In addition, it's a great way to add drama to your shots. Overexposing film is a fantastic method to ensure you're getting as much analog information from the scene as possible.

Do you color correct before editing? ›

Color correcting is the process of editing film or video footage to fix any imbalances in the color so it can appear how the eye is meant to see it. Do you color grade before or after editing? Color grading is ideally done after an edit of a video is completely finished.

Why do photos look better in black and white? ›

Black and white photography removes any distraction of color and helps the viewer focus on other aspects of the photo, such as the subject, the textures, shapes and patterns, and the composition.

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