Home > Color Correction, Photoshop Tips/Tricks > Duotone Actions : Easy color conversions.

Duotone Actions : Easy color conversions.


Rather than sell you a packaged action like some sites or simply build it and make it a download, I am going to show you how to make the action for yourself and how to tweak it for your own needs and desires.

Having grown up watching and helping my mom work in the darkroom more than 25 years ago, I am an avid fan of black and white photography. But in this digital world, I see no reason why we can’t just start with a color photograph. And on top of that, who said black and white has to be completely neutral and sterile looking? Lets not forget, their are a number of darkroom techniques to give a classic B&W photo a color tone. In this case I am going to show you my Warm Contrasty B&W action and the Cool Contrasty B&W action I frequently use.

Toni in color.

Toni in color.

Lets start with the color image. (Photo credit: Myself) Not bad on it’s own but it doesn’t really stand out either. Overall the skin tone is great and lighting is fairly even so by all means it would make a salable print or work nicely in a photo montage. Still, it lacks the punch seniors and younger buyers like to see so lets give them some punch, but make the image into a beautiful and timeless B&W at the same time.

Action Menu

Action Menu

Now lets start with the action recording. On your Actions tab in Photoshop, click the icon in the upper right corner to open the Actions menu. If you already have a set of personal actions, you can just click “New Action” and go from there. If not, I suggest creating a new set of actions just for yourself to keep them separate and easier to find later. (Plus you can save and share them with other people.) To do that, click “New Set” and name it something you will remember and then click “New Action”, give it an appropriate name, choose to create it in your new set and press “Record” to start recording steps.

Step one, create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. In the H/S menu, check the “Colorize” box which will automatically desaturate the color and apply a color cast based on the sliders. For the Hue slider, I prefer a setting of 38 and slide the Saturation down to 8. I leave the Lightness at 0, we will use another layer for that.

Color Balance Settings

Color Balance Settings

Step two, create a Color Balance adjustment layer. This layer should have the settings as shown in the graphic. (Shadows +2R, -1G, +1B; Midtones -1R, 0B, +1B; Highlights +1R, 0G, 0B) and leave Preserve Luminosity checked. This layer should be created ABOVE the Hue/Saturation layer or it’s effect will be negated by the effect of that layer. The Color Balance layer is optional depending on if you prefer a more “magenta-red” warm or slightly “green” warm black and white. You can experiment with the layer and see how your images print with and without it to decide how you prefer it.

Curves Adjustment Layer

Curves Adjustment Layer

The last layer is a Curves adjustment layer. I’ve created a custom curve on the master (RGB) channel like the image above. This will brighten up the skin and add some real pop to the image. If it goes too bright, you can always tone it down to taste with the layer opacity.

When finished, press the Stop button on the menu to stop the recording process and finish the action. Before I save the new action set, I test my actions on a new file to be sure they do what I expect so now is a good time to do that. After that, go to the Actions menu and select “Save Actions…” to save the new set in the actions folder in Photoshop just in case.

Here is the finished effect. Because everything was done with adjustment layers, anything can be re-edited at a later time if saved with layers (as a TIFF or PSD with layers). For this example, I have decided to lower the opacity of the Curve layer to 70% and have the “warming” Color Balance layer active as well. (With that layer off it will have a slightly more cyan-green tone overall.)

Toni with Warm Contrasty B&W action.

Toni with Warm Contrasty B&W action.

For a cool blue tone B&W, in step one substitute the Hue of 38 for a Hue of 222 and create the remainder of the action as-is. And this is what you will get.

Toni with Cool Contrasty B&W action.

Toni with Cool Contrasty B&W action.

If you really want, you can experiment with the Hue/Saturation layer to get various other colors depending on your mood. But these are my two favorites and many people really love the slight color they give to a finished print.

When you play back the action on an image, it will place the adjustment layers above the current active layer. If you have edits on other layers, be sure to select the top layer you want to be B&W before running the action. You can still have other layers above these adjustment layers that will not be affected by their actions. (Such as text, sloppy borders or textures effects.)

For people with older versions of Photoshop that do not have adjustment layers, you can start the action by duplicating the Background layer, make the “Background copy” the active layer and then using the standard Hue/Saturation, Color Balance and Curves controls to create the desired color effects within the action. This will give you a layer with the B&W action performed and the original color version on the background layer just in case you need to go back.

EDIT: Now with a HD VIDEO Tutorial! Don’t forget to click the HD button and go Full Screen for the best quality

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  1. jj
    May 3, 2009 at 5:46 am

    I do not like how the action was recorded for it built in a dependency that you start with the top layer as the Photoshop target I would have started the action by recording in the shortcut Atl/option+. which eliminates that dependency by targeting the top layer itself.

    • modifiedphoto
      May 3, 2009 at 11:43 am

      True, but their are a few reasons why that won’t necessarily work. For anyone who may have edited layers (I don’t always flatten my edits right away), I want these effects on most or all of the layers. Thus I create the adjustment layers at the top of my stack above my edits but perhaps below other edits such as text or frames. I will make the suggestion to select the top layer you want the effects on in the action. Otherwise, if you run the action on a flat file (no layers) it will place the adjustment layers above the Background layer anyhow.

  1. May 12, 2009 at 7:28 am
  2. September 4, 2009 at 11:31 pm
  3. October 23, 2009 at 2:35 pm
  4. November 11, 2009 at 1:26 pm
  5. April 23, 2010 at 1:43 am

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