July 7, 2010


Making Photographs Black & White in GIMP

Black and White images have been neglected ever since the introduction of colour into film photography, due to the fact that colour is ‘best’ and what we see (colour) is the true beauty of a scene/object. As this is the case now, whenever black and white images are created it is perceived as a kind of artistic aesthetic that the photographer has wanted to achieve and considering colour is the norm now, this photograph is viewed in a different light and more of an artists creation rather than the representative. So, I hope to get you more creative in experimenting with your photographs with these easy Black and White conversion processes!

Black and White - Uluru, Northern Territory, Australia

Black and White - Sand Dune, Northern Territory, Australia

1. Choosing your preferred method:

There are a few different methods to achieving the black and White image:

Here is the original photograph in colour:

Original colour image

Original colour image

  • Desaturate  > Simple, yet no control over end result:
  • Go, Colors –> Desaturate:
Desaturate - Lightness

Desaturate - Lightness

Desaturate Lumosity

Desaturate Luminosity

  • Grayscale > Easy enough, just loses all colour data:
  • Go, Image –> Mode –> Grayscale


  • Channel Mixer Monochrome > Great control and results are excellent:
  • Go, Colors –> Components –> Channel Mixer…
Channel Mixer

Channel Mixer

  • Lab > Quick, yet results are not great – best for when working with other layers:
  • Go, Colors –> Components –> Decompose (Select LAB)


  • Gradient Map > Good contrasts and easily made as another layer to change intensities with Opacity:
  • G0, Create a new Layer (if wanting to change Opacity) –> Colors –> Map –> Gradient Map (Make sure you have FG Black and BG White):
Gradient Map

Gradient Map

I usually go for the Channel Mixer as it offers the most control over the result! For more information on B&W go here!

2. Using the Channel Mixer

  • Open your photograph up in GIMP.
  • Go, Colors –> Components –> Channel Mixer…
  • Select Monochrome and leave Preserve Luminosity until the end (optional).
  • Now, you can experiment with the channels:
  • The Red Channel moved to the right will increase the brightness in the highlights like clouds and sand.
  • The Green Channel moved to the right will increase the brightness in the regions like grass.
  • The Blue Channel moved to the left will darken the blues such as sky and water.
  • The Channels are very simply and correspond to the colours in your photograph, so you’ll get the hang of it quickly!
  • So, in this photograph I have blackened the sky by decreasing the Blue Channel, and intensified the brightness of the orange/red sand by sliding the Red Channel right and kept the Green Channel in a similar spot to the Red:
Black-White Channel Mixer

Black-White Channel Mixer (click to view larger)

  • To increase contrast you can open up Levels (Colors –> Levels) and cut the edges off, as shown:
Levels adjustment - Contrast

Levels adjustment - Contrast (click to view larger)

  • Here is the end result:
Channel Mixer Result!

Channel Mixer Result!

  • This is the original colour photograph:
Original Photograph

Original Photograph

3. Recolouring

  • Selective colour is appealing in some black and white photographs so experimenting with this is fun:
  • You can achieve this by selecting the individual colours with the Select by Color Tool (Shift + O), however this only works best in simple images.
  • You could use the Scissors Select Tool, to get a selection as I have done for this photograph, below:
Selecting Colour

Selecting Colour

Another great method is HUE/SATURATION desaturating colours, which is very easy:

  • You can easily remove the unwanted colours from your image by selecting the colour and setting the saturation to -100:
  • As you can see all I have left is the Red:
Selective desaturate

Selective desaturate (click to view larger)

That’s It!

If you get stuck anywhere just comment below!

If you’d like to use these photographs please Contact Me!

Please comment below if you have any questions and I’ll answer them ASAP!

All images on this site are copyrighted© – All Rights Reserved.

Written by Mike

Michael Scott is the publisher and photographer behind Scott Photographics! He is very passionate about his photography and enjoys sharing the best of his experiences for others to enjoy too! Contact Mike via email!
Read more from Featured, Gimp, Tutorials
18 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sep 27 2015

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for the comment.

    Yes Richi is talking about 1bit B&W where the pixels show 100% black or white nothing in between (so lots of contrast and very little data).

    You can do this too in two ways:

    1) Image>Mode>Indexed… -> select Use black and white (1-bit) palette

    2) Colors> Threshold… (play with the 2 sliders…)

    Hope that helps:)


  2. Mike
    Aug 27 2015

    Thanks for taking the time for this. I’m kind of new to processing so it’s very helpful. I’ve been decomposing first so I get see what each channel looks like on it’s own ( noise and such )..then using channel mixer. The hue / saturation tool looks cool I’ll have to play with that.
    I don’t fully understand Richi’s question though, could you touch on that ?….again, thanks for a very helpful tutorial

  3. Aug 10 2014

    No worries John, happy to help :)

  4. john
    Aug 9 2014

    Such an easy tutorial yet I had no idea about the mixer till I stumbled here Exactly what I was looking for. Thank you!

  5. Andreas
    Jun 8 2013

    I really like the selective desurate photo. How you can see that all plants and everything on that rock turns into gray while the rock is stil preserved is quite a stunning effect. I did once take a portrait of myself and made just me in grayscale, while keeping the rest of the picture in color.

  6. Richi
    Mar 1 2013

    I landed on this page looking for B&W conversion.
    But like all other pages I found so far, it only shows how to convert to greyscale.
    Is color to B&W conversion (1bit per pixel) conversion still included in todays software? I used it a lot a decade ago, but now can’t seem to find it.

  7. Feb 17 2013

    Thank your very much for you talent, effort and time.

    I am using some of your tutorials in our IT classes.

  8. Oct 15 2012

    Hi Jo,

    Here is a tutorial on selective colouring: https://www.gimp.org/tutorials/Selective_Color/


  9. Jo
    Oct 14 2012

    I have been looking online for help with doing a colored photo black and white in Gimp and finally I found your email that explains it better than anyone on here…thank you so much this has helped me so much..i am very new at editing pictures so I am just learning how to do all this….Can you point me in the right direction on how to have some of the pic with color and some of it in blk and white step by step..:)

  10. Jan 11 2011

    Thanks Kent :)

  11. Kent
    Jan 11 2011

    I didn’t expect much when I opened this tut, but was I wrong! I never knew about the Channel Mixer before and I’ve been experimenting with it all day now! It’s great for getting those dark skies like Ansel Adams is famous for. Also, by bumping up the red and green you get an effect almost like infrared film. Great when coupled with Soft Glow! Thanks!

  12. Oct 12 2010

    Yes you can apply this to any composition, the Channel Mixer is my primary option I would go with when wanting to experiment with varying photographs to see what works best when translating from colour to black and white :)

  13. Ewien
    Oct 12 2010

    I just discovered this tutorial and this option :) so I am still playing around with it…would it especially work with big areas, such as skies, landscapes etc? Or do you use it too to make portraits black and white?

  14. Oct 11 2010

    I personally use the Channel Mixer for Black and White photographs, because of the flexibility and the multiple combinations! I like to make my blue skies dark and this is easily done in the Channel Mixer!

    What about yourself?

  15. Ewien
    Oct 11 2010

    Would you recommend the GIMP-option FX-Foundry > Photo > Effects > Eg Black and White, choice: Channel Mixer? as a quick and easy go?

  16. Aug 23 2010

    Hey, A+ post. You’ve just gained a new reader! Thanks.

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