Do you want to create black and white photos that have more impact? And do you want to do this by using only Lightroom to convert your photos to black and white?
In this black and white Lightroom tutorial, you will learn to do just that. You will learn which sliders to adjust to create a black and white photo which leaves an impression on everybody who sees it.
The basis for this tutorial is a color photo captured either in RAW or JPEG. I suggest that you capture your images in RAW, as you can do more with it in post-processing.
It is also recommended that you capture your images in color in the camera. If you capture it directly in monochrome/black and white mode in the camera, you cannot apply color filters in post-processing. This means that you won’t have control of how the colors are converted into black and white, as the second method in this tutorial shows you. Instead, your camera will control it for you, leaving you with less editing options.
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How To Convert a Photo To Black And White In Lightroom?
In Lightroom, there are only a few ways to convert your photo to black and white. The first method is to use the saturation slider. The second method is to use the Black and White Mix Panel.
Both methods are of course non-destructive, like anything else in Lightroom. However, it is worth to mention, as a program like Photoshop has many more methods to convert a photo to black and white. Some of the methods in Photoshop are destructive, meaning that there is no going back, once you have converted and saved the changes to your photo. Even though Lightroom is a simple black and white photo editor, it is still very powerful. Let us take a look at the two methods using the sample photo below.
Creating Black and White Photos By Using The Saturation Slider
First, begin by going to the Develop module (press D) in Lightroom. If you move the saturation slider all the way to the left, you will desaturate the image, so no colors are left. In this simple way, you can create a black and white image by just pulling one slider. However, as you will see just below this is not the best way to do it. The problem with this method is that you have no control of how colors are converted into black and white and therefore you will often end up with a flat looking image.
How To Convert Your Photo Using The Black And White Mix Panel?
The way to convert your images to black and white in Lightroom while having the most control of the process is to use the Black and White Mix Panel. While in the Develop Module, look at the right side panels. At the top in the Basic Panel, you can switch between Colour and Black & White. To begin editing your photo as a black and white, simply click on Black and white in the Basic Panel.
Normally, when you process a photo you will start making corrections to the exposure, contrast and fixing the highlights or shadows in the Basic Panel. However, unless you have a clearly underexposed or overexposed photo as your starting point, I suggest that you skip these settings for now and return to them later. The first and most important settings when processing a photo as a black and white photo is to optimize how the colors in your photo should convert into black and white.
Setting The Black & White Mix
Back in the days of film photography, photographers would have to apply color filters at the scene if they wanted to affect how i.e. a blue sky should turn out when the film was developed in the darkroom. However, with a digital photo editing workflow, we can wait until processing the photo to apply color filters. Controlling how colors are converted into black and white is basically what you do in the Black and White Mix Panel.
You can change how each of the colors red, orange, yellow, green, aqua, blue, purple and magenta should convert into a grayscale tone. For instance, if you want red colors in the image to convert into bright tones pull the red slider to the right. If you want red tones to convert into dark tones, pull the red slider to the left. The same goes for all the other color sliders in this panel. If you don’t have one of these colors in your image, pulling the respective slider will not affect the image.
The key point is to use the sliders in the Black And White Mix Panel to create more contrast in your images.
If we try to convert the same photo of the Magnolia tree flower with the blue sky in the background, that we saw earlier using the Black and White Mix Panel, you can see how the result will have much more depth and look more professional.
In this photo, I have opted for a dark sky, by pulling the blue and aqua sliders to the left. This adds a lot more contrast to the image. I have also brightened the red colors in the flowers a bit by pulling the red and magenta sliders to the right. Below you can see the settings used in the Black and White Mix Panel.
Even though you might not see green and yellow directly in the photo, they might still affect the conversion into black and white. For instance, the petals look fairly white, but the white color has a little bit of yellow tone in it, which makes it necessary to also adjust the yellow color in the Black and White Mix Panel. However, instead of guessing which colors in the photo are affected by which sliders, you do adjust a specific area in your photo directly. You do this first activating the double-dot and then clicking on the specific area in your photo while pulling up or down. Pulling up brightens the sliders for the area you clicked while pulling down while pressing the mouse button will adjust all the necessary color sliders simultaneously to darken the area you targeted.
Instead of guessing which colors in the photo are affected by which sliders you do adjust a specific area in your photo directly. You do this first activating the double-dot and then clicking on the specific area in your photo while pulling up or down. Pulling up brightens the sliders for the area you clicked while pulling down while pressing the mouse button will adjust all the necessary color sliders simultaneously to darken the area you targeted.
By changing how the individual colors convert into grayscale tones can give your image much more impact and punch.
Take Control Of The Tonal Range For A Pro Look
Once you are satisfied with the settings in the Black and White Mix Panel, go back to the Basic Panel in the top and adjust the exposure, contrast, highlights, and shadows.
Adjusting the highlights and shadows are the next important step in creating amazing black and white images that look professional.
Professional photographers aim at creating a great deal of tonal contrast in their black and white images. Our eyes are naturally drawn towards images contains both pure white and pure black. You can add this to your images do that by making sure that your uses the whole tonal range from absolute black to absolute white. It doesn’t mean that you should have large areas of pitch black or large areas of blown-out highlights. On the contrary, you should aim for balance, where these areas in your photo are very small, but still visible enough to give that sense of tonal contrast.
In Lightroom, you can keep an eye on your histogram, while editing your photo to make sure that you use the entire spectrum from the dark shadows on the left side to the bright highlights on the right side.
Another method is to hold down the Option key (Mac) / Alt key (Win) while pulling the shadow slider to the left. This will temporarily show you an overlay that indicated when you begin to have clipping and lose details in the dark shadows. Adjust the shadow slider just enough until you begin to get these warnings and then let go of the slider.
Next, do the same thing with the highlight slider. Hold down the Option/Alt key while pulling the slider slowly to the right. When you get indications that clipping begins to occur, you should stop and let go of the slider. You will now have a black and white photo that contains a small amount of pure black and pure white. This gives a great tonal contrast in your photo and makes it look more professional. You can fine-tune the levels of black and white by using the black or white slider in the Basic Panel or working with the Curves panel.
Capturing images that naturally contains a good portion of tonal contrast makes processing your black and white images a lot easier. If you push your images file to the limit in processing, artifacts will begin to show.
For instance, if you have an image with only mid-tones, you might be able to stretch the tonal range to include both deep shadows and bright highlights. However, pushing the shadow and highlight sliders to each extreme will, of course, affect the image quality. Knowing how to process an image for a more professional look is not enough. Getting great looking black and white photos all begins when you choose the settings and frames the shot in camera. Over-processing will not make it up for poor exposure.
Getting great looking black and white photos all begins when you choose the settings and frames the shot in camera. Over-processing will not make it up for poor exposure.
Add Even More Pop And Punch To Your Black and White Photo
When a photo lacks colors, the eyes begin to look for something else to make sense of what it sees. You can help with that by making details and structure more visible in your image. This is easily done in Lightroom. Adjust the clarity slider in the Basic Panel a bit to the right to enhance the details visible in your image. I wouldn’t go over +60 with this slider as things tend to look a bit too crunchy.
If your image has a shallow depth-of-field adding clarity to the background blur, will not look great. Instead, you could try to enhance the separation between your main focal point and the rest of the image. You can do this by using the clarity selectively in your image.
Set the global clarity slider to -10. Next, use a Local Adjustment Brush with clarity set at +30 on the main focal point only. This will enhance the details in the main subject only while adding to the perception of separation between your main subject and the background.
Experiment With Duotones
Sometimes a plain grey-toned black and white photo is just not what you want. In this case, you can easily turn your photo into a duotone image instead.
A duotone image is an image that instead of using a normal grayscale blends it with two other colors. One color that affects the highlights and one color that affects the shadows.
Take a look at the samples below. First, you see the original flower photo. Below it, the black and white version. The samples on the right are created with different settings using the Split Toning Panel in Lightroom. The top right sample uses brown and sand colors. The bottom right sample image uses two different blue colors for the highlights and shadow tones. Toning your images can give a beautiful and creative look to your black and white photos and spice them up a bit.
To create a duo-toned image or split toned image, go to the Split Toning Panel. You can either use the Hue and Saturation sliders to find the color you want. Alternatively, you can click on the color field next to the ‘Highlights’ label. Here you can choose the toning color for the highlights directly. Next, choose the color you wish for the shadow tones. You get the best results if the highlight tone and the shadow tones you select are not too far from each other. Otherwise, you will get some a little too creative and funky looking images.
Concluding Words On Black And White Editing In Lightroom
Even though Lightroom is not a dedicated black and white photo editor application, it is still very flexible and powerful.
As we have just gone through above, you can create amazing looking black and white images, by adjusting a few sliders. The most important sliders are those you find in the Black and White Mix Panel, where you control how each color converts into black and white. This allows you to get a good contrast in your black and white tones.
Next, you should remember to adjust the shadow and highlight sliders in the Basic Panel in Lightroom to make sure that you use as much of the tonal range as possible. The goal is to include both a little bit of both black and white in your image. Finally, you will often get good results by increasing the clarity slider as well, as this enhances the perception of details in the image.
Let us see what you can do with these few but crucial tips for creating more professional-looking black and white images by only using Lightroom.
Hey I’m Peter. I’m the owner and editor of Photography-RAW. I make sure that you get the best articles about photography. Personally, I prefer to shoot landscape, nature and macro photography.
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