How to Convert Images to Black and White on Your Smartphone

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Converting an image to black and white is one of those simple tasks that photographers should be able to do well on any device. Unfortunately, a lot of the apps that do black and white conversions on smartphones don’t give the photographer a lot of control. Let’s look at how to do it properly.

How to Convert Images to Black and White on Android, the Easy Way

If you’re feeling lazy and want a quick solution, Google Photos—which comes bundled with Android—has a very easy way to convert an image to black and white.

First, open your photo in Google Photos. Then tap the “Edit” button, which looks like a pencil.

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When you do, you’ll be greeted with a number of filters. Some of these are black and white, so scroll through to find one you like and choose it.

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Alternatively, tap the adjustments button (the three sliders in the middle) and Adjust the “Color” slider all the way to the left.

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When you’re done, tap “Save” to save your photo. Google will save your edited photo as a copy, so you still have the original if you want it.

This is the easy way. You can make it look even better if you’re willing to tinker, so check out our “better method” in the third section of this post.

How to Convert Images to Black and White on iOS, the Easy Way

Apple’s stock photos app has a very quick and easy way to convert an image to black and white, if you want the simplest solution.

Open the image you want to edit in Photos and tap the slider icon in the upper right corner.

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You’ll get taken to Photos in built editor.

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Next, tap the three overlapping circles icon to access the Filters.

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There are three black and white filters to choose from: Mono, Tonal and Noir. Pick the one that works best for your image. I’ve gone with Noir.

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Tap done and the changes will be applied.

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Although Photos has some more powerful conversion tools built in, I find them a little confusing to use and not as flexible as other options. For a more advanced black and white conversion, check out the next section.

How to Convert Images to Black and White, the Better Method

If you really want your photo to look as good as possible, it’s more than just taking away the color. You can perform a lot of the following edits in Google Photos or Apple Photos, but I’m going to use Google’s Snapseed app (iOS, Android) for a few reasons:

  • The same app is available on iOS and Android.
  • It’s free.
  • You get a bit more control than even Google and Apple Photos offer.
  • It’s still simple to use.

You can follow along with your photo editor of choice, but we really recommend Snapseed.

Open Snapseed on your smartphone and tap Open.

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Scroll through your photos until you find the image you want to convert to black and white.

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Select it to open it in Snapseed.

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Tap the edit button (it’s the Pencil icon in the bottom right corner) to bring up the Tools and Filters options.

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For this article, we only need to use the Black & White filter, so select it from the Filters menu.

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The image will now be in black and white, but we’re far from done. We’ve got plenty of options to tweak and play with—it’s the reason we’re using Snapseed and not just applying the Inkwell filter in Instagram.

Let’s break down what each of the options does.

By default (at least for me), the Presets menu is open when I apply the Black & White filter.

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There are six presets: Neutral, Contrast, Bright, Dark, Film and Darken Sky. They’re preset combination of the other settings we can configure rather than specific filters.

For example, if you start with the Dark preset and then brighten it, you’ll end up with something that looks like the Neutral preset. Brighten it some more, and you’ll get the Bright preset, even though you started with Dark.

When you’re editing your image, try each preset to see what works well as a base for your image. I like Dark, but different things will work for different images.

The sliders icon in the middle of the screen brings up three options: Brightness, Contrast and Film Grain.

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These are the three options you’ll use the most to control how your image looks. Brightness controls the overall brightness of the image, Contrast the contrast and Grain adds noise to emulate the look of old films.

The Dark preset has already decreased the Brightness of my image by 20 and increased the Contrast by 20. Different presets have different effects.

Swipe up and down on the screen to scroll through the three options.

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Swipe left to decrease the value and swipe right to increase it.

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You can access the three options at any time by swiping up and down. At the top of the screen, you can see which option you have currently selected and can always change it by swiping left and right.

For my image, I’ve gone with a Brightness of -10, a Contrast of +25 and a Grain of +10. Play around with the options and go with whatever works for your image. You can always go back and change things.

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The final configuration options are the Color Filters. Tap the circular icon at the bottom of the screen to select them.

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The Color Filters work in a slightly weird way. They emulate physical filters that film photographers used to put in front of their lenses to modify the color of light and thus, how each color is converted to black and white. Because of how light works, each filter actually darkens the complementary colors of the filter color. For example, a red filter lets red light through but darkens blues and greens.

  • The Neutral filter leaves everything as normal.
  • The Red filter darkens blues and greens.
  • The Orange filter darkens blues and greens.
  • The Yellow filter darkens blues and magentas.
  • The Green filter darkens reds.
  • The Blue filter darkens reds and yellows.

That’s only a very rough guide as each filter has a slightly different effect on each color, but you don’t have to remember any of it.

To find a filter that works well for your image, just try each one. If you don’t like any, go with the Neutral filter.

For my image, I went with the Yellow filter.

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There are three buttons left we haven’t covered yet. In the top right corner is the before/after button. Hold this down to see what your image looked like before any edits. It’s really useful for making sure the changes you’re making improve the image.

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The X in the bottom left corner cancels all the changes you’ve made while the tick in the bottom right corner accepts them. When you’re done, tap the tick in the bottom right to apply all the edits.

Now it’s time to save the image out. That way you can share it to social media or just keep a copy for yourself.

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Tap the Save button and then select the option you want to use. Normally, I save a Copy.

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And that’s it, you’re done. Here’s what mine looks like after all the editing.

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Sure, we could have just used a filter, but a little more editing goes a long way.

Harry Guinness writes occasionally when he’s not busy skiing, sailing, partying, lifting weights, or otherwise dodging responsibility. His main areas of interest are himself, gin, and crazy people with interesting stories to tell. When people won’t pay him to write ill-thought-out opinion pieces, he covers photography, technology, and culture. You can follow him on Twitter.