My black-and-white conversion action

An action to use when you don't want to use actions!

Taking control

There are a wealth of black-and-white conversion actions out there, giving mixed results.

I, however, am a control freak, so I like to do my black-and-whites from scratch – starting with a basic conversion, then plenty of manipulation with selections and Levels until I’m satisfied.

The initial conversion is usually one of three methods: desaturate, gradient map or luminosity. So I made myself an action to quickly compare the results of these three methods and choose my favourite, then proceed with the edit.

My "Choose your own conversion" action

Here it is:

(Mac users, you might have to Option-click the link to make it work.)

It creates three adjustment layers, of which only one is turned on initially:

black-and-white action
  • The layer named “Leave on” is a desaturation layer.
  • The layer named “Toggle second” is a Gradient Map layer.
  • The layer named “Toggle first” is a luminosity layer.

How to use it

Simply run the action to add the three layers.

Then begin by turning the “Toggle first” layer on and off, to choose a winner between it and the “Leave on” layer:

(In this example, I’ve decided that it looks better with the “Toggle first” layer turned on.)

Then, toggle the “Toggle second” layer on and off to decide a grand champion between it and the winner of the previous round:


In this example, I’ve decided that it looks best with all three layers turned on, giving me this:


I then proceed to make further adjustments until I achieve a finished work:

finished photo


  1. Although it has taken me several minutes to write this explanation, the actual process is lightning fast – only a few seconds.
  2. The “Leave on” layer must remain visible for the action to work. Only toggle the other two layers.
  3. Every photo is different, so you’ll get different conversion results each time. Sometimes the best result will be achieved with only the “Leave on” layer visible; sometimes the “Leave on” layer and one of the other two; and sometimes all three.
  4. REMINDER: This is NOT a complete conversion action. It is designed to swiftly give you the best “raw material” from which to sculpt your masterpiece.
  5. This action works with all versions of both Photoshop and Elements.

Take your black-and-white images to amazing heights

If you love black-and-white photography, my Levels Class will blow your mind. I will teach you methods that create stunning monochrome masterpieces every time.


If you have a question about this article, please feel free to post it in Ask Damien.