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Better Black and White in DaVinci Resolve

Tristan Kneschke

There’s more to monochrome than dragging the saturation down to zero. Learn the nuances of rendering black and white in DaVinci Resolve.

The Traditional Way

While losing all the saturation in a color image is the intended effect, setting saturation to zero at the beginning of the workflow ties our hands since we’re unable to use the color information for later processing. We want to remove the color in a way that still gives us full control of the image.

Better Ways to Work

Using DaVinci Resolve, there are two better ways to work. The first is to create a node at the end of our tree with the saturation set to zero, and then create additional corrections that occur before this node. In this way, we can still pull keys on parts of the image (like the skin) that we would be paying attention to during a session using color images.

In the node tree below, the process containing the move to desaturate is last, allowing me to pull keys on the girl’s skin and dress with ease.

Black and White in DaVinci Resolve: Node Tree 

The second way to work is to use Resolve’s Monochrome mode, which emulates the Black and White adjustment layer used in Photoshop. This preserves the color information underneath and allows us to perform fast moves that give us interesting creative effects.

Monochrome mode can be accessed by clicking in the RGB Mixer tab while in the Color Page. There’s a little drop-down menu where Monochrome can be selected. This gives us single sliders for the red, green and blue channels.

Black and White in DaVinci Resolve: monochrome location

Make sure Preserve Luminance is selected, as you won’t get as favorable results otherwise. Without this checked, you’ll have to make sure the three sliders add up to a value of 1.00 to keep the image at the same luminance before you processed it in monochrome.

Note that the remixing of the color channels doesn’t work in this mode, and any corrections you’ve made to the color image before using Monochrome mode won’t be applied. If you’re using a control panel, any color adjustments will still be applied to the saturated image. Deselecting Monochrome will show you these results.

Play around with processing the separate color channels. You’ll see that increasing the value in the red slider, or decreasing blue, tends to enhance a subject’s skin tones. Let’s take a look at an originally color image, courtesy of Shutterstock.

Black and White in DaVinci Resolve: Original - Unbalanced

I always perform a base correction to get the image balanced, adjusting for color casts and, in this case, paying particular attention to the luminance of the image overall. It’s just a primary correction, so I won’t delve into secondaries until later.

Here’s my quick balance of the image. I added some contrast from the original and lifted the mids.

Black and White in DaVinci Resolve: Original - Balanced

Once you’ve got an initial balance, create a new node and select Monochrome from the RGB mixer. Dial in some interesting looks by playing with the sliders and get it as close as you can to the final look you want.

If you’ve taken the time to balance the image in the first node, you may not have to go back to the color wheels to adjust your luminance values, although it’s always a good idea to double-check since your eyes may have been swayed by the color information in the image.

You can create additional nodes before the monochromatic node that separate specific details you want to affect, but remember that if you pull certain objects too far, you’ll get artifacts resembling a swarm of ants. You may opt to create power windows for the elements you want to feature or deemphasize.

Black and White in DaVinci Resolve: Black &  White 1

Here’s a look achieved by increasing the blues. In our image, incorporating the green slider produces the most subtle effect since most of the image is her red skin values and her blue dress, but some of the background vegetation is affected.

Black and White in DaVinci Resolve: Black & White 2

Sometimes the effect using Monochrome can be quite striking. I’ll illustrate this with an image that uses vibrant saturation in all three primary colors. Check out some of the grades to see how much variety coloring in monochrome can provide just by playing with the primary sliders.

Black and White in DaVinci Resolve: Black & White 3

Black and White in DaVinci Resolve: Black and White 4

Black and White in DaVinci Resolve: Black and White 5

I hope you’ll see that coloring a black and white job is much more complicated than just setting the saturation to zero.  And don’t forget to check out some of our other color grading articles.

Got any shortcuts or tricks for getting great black and white in DaVinci Resolve? Show us some of your looks and share your tips in the comments,