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This chapter is from the book

Develop Module

Now it's time to head on over to the Develop (D) module and start having some fun with our images. Let's review the options for converting a color image to black and white within the Develop module. Once we review all the different ways to convert, we'll cover the details and how-to instructions for each method.

Using a Preset

One of the simplest ways to do your black-and-white conversion is to use one of the many presets that come preloaded in Lightroom (Figure 4.4). A preset (A) is a set of adjustments that have been preconfigured to create a desired effect.

Figure 4.4

Figure 4.4 The Develop module is where you'll spend most of your time editing images in Lightroom.

The benefit of using a preset is it provides instant feedback on your image and can speed up your workflow. Many times I'll use presets to guide me in deciding which images I'll convert to black and white. It's like using a color filter in the field: It provides me with valuable feedback and a good starting point for my black-and-white conversion. Presets are so incredibly easy to use that you'll feel like you're cheating.

Using the Panels

You can also convert to black and white by navigating over to the Basic panel and choosing the Black & White treatment (Figure 4.4, B ), clicking on B&W in the HSL/Color/B&W panel (C), or simply pressing the letter V on your keyboard. Using any of these methods will generate a monochrome version of a color image. Now, don't fret, your color image is still intact, as you can see if you toggle back to the color setting. Lightroom won't alter your original file—feel free to play with the Develop module sliders without worrying about what's happening to the original. It's called nondestructive editing, and it means you can rework images to your heart's content.

The Basic panel Black & White conversion generates a monochrome image based on white balance. By moving the Temp and Tint sliders you can make global adjustments to the image.

The B&W selection within the HSL/Color/B&W panel offers the most control over a black-and-white image. Black & White Mix is very similar to Photoshop's channel mixer, creating a grayscale version of red, green, and blue color channels that make up the RGB version of the color image. We're able to influence independent colors that blend together to make the monochrome image simply by increasing or decreasing the saturation. (Refer back to the example of the Volkswagen Bugs, in Chapter 1, where we used saturation to increase contrast.)

The Preset Workflow

My number one goal in this book is to help you start making beautiful black-and-white images, and the best place to begin learning is with presets. Presets can be addictive, and for good reason. They do a pretty decent job. It is extremely rare, though, for me to bring an image into Lightroom, click on a preset, and say, "Wow, that's it, I'm done!" Typically, what happens is I land on a preset that gives me a great starting point or baseline that I can tweak as I move forward in creating my vision. We're going to look at a few examples in the coming pages, but first let's make a few adjustments to our workspace, as well as to Lightroom.


As I mentioned in Chapter 3, controlling the light in your workspace is crucial to photo editing, so try to work in an environment where you can control it, whether by window shades, dimmer switches, or both. Shelter your monitor from direct light and try to avoid working in the dark, as well.

Background Color

Consider changing Lightroom's default background color. I like to work with a black background when I'm reviewing potential black-and-white images. It helps me visually when I'm looking for contrast within an image. You can change your background by right-clicking your mouse anywhere on the background and selecting a color (Figure 4.5).

Figure 4.5

Figure 4.5 Don't forget to consider your background color. I prefer to use a black background when viewing my images.

Preset Preferences

Next, we want to make sure that our auto mix black-and-white conversion function is turned on. Whenever we make an adjustment to White Balance and click on Black & White in the Basic panel, it will automatically update the color channels (Figure 4.6).

Figure 4.6

Figure 4.6 Customize your presets to save time and energy.

  1. Navigate to Lightroom Preferences.
  2. Click on the Presets tab.
  3. Make sure the check box "Apply auto mix when first converting to black and white" is checked.
  4. Click OK.

Creating a Preset

Presets are wonderful tools for streamlining repetitive tasks or creating your own particular style for future use. Let's review how to create a preset (Figure 4.7).

Figure 4.7

Figure 4.7 Creating a preset with your signature style is a great way to add consistency to your work.

  1. Start by making any adjustments in the Develop module that you wish to record for future use.
  2. Go to the Presets module and click the + sign.
  3. Give a name to your preset and put it in the folder of your choice.
  4. Select and adjust only the settings you wish to correct.
  5. Click Create.

That's it. Now you have your very own preset that you can use on future edits. As I warned you, this can be addictive. But it can save you a whole lot of time!

Selecting an Image

The first thing I like to do in the Develop module is narrow down my field of candidates. I do this by filtering my view so that I see only my five-star-rated images. This allows me to focus on just those images I think are worth taking to the next level.

My next step is selecting images that I think will work well as black and whites. I start by scanning my five-star images, looking for those that have interesting light, shapes and forms, lines, or any of the other characteristics we discussed in Chapter 2.

Once I land on an image of interest I move my cursor over the Presets panel slowly, working my way down the black-and-white presets. I normally start by selecting BW Contrast while reviewing the effect on the image in the Navigator panel (Figure 4.8). Case in point: While I was in Africa visiting the Maasai, we ventured into one of the huts for a lesson on fire building. The hut was fairly dark, but we had nice light coming from the doorway. The image didn't work for me in color, but once I converted it using the B&W Creative - Look 2 it was an interesting, high-contrast image.

Figure 4.8

Figure 4.8 Highlighting presets and reviewing the changes in the Navigator window helps me determine if I should convert an image to black and white.

The presets are there for a good reason: They're a fast and easy approach to converting your color image. I'm not a big fan of reinventing the wheel (improving it, yes; reinventing it, no), so if a preset is 75 percent of the way there, I'll use it. However, one click of a preset will rarely get me to my final image. If that does work, trust me, I wouldn't feel guilty about using the preset, and neither should you. That just leaves us with more time to work on our other images. In the case of the Masai warrior I ended up going one step further and cropping the image before I was finished.


I try to do most of my cropping in camera by carefully composing my image, but at times it doesn't work out or I simply miss something. In the case of the Masai warrior, I found the hand on the right side of the frame distracting. Because it was dark, I didn't see it when I was framing the shot. No need to worry; Lightroom has an excellent cropping feature.

  1. Click on the Crop Overlay mode button in the Develop module, or use the keyboard shortcut R.
  2. Select a crop overlay. You can do this by pressing the letter O while in the Crop & Straighten tool panel (Figure 4.9). You can also choose Tools from the menu, then select the Crop Overlay tool and choose your preferred overlay. I use only two overlay designs: Golden Ratio for cropping portraits, and Rule of Thirds for cropping landscapes.
    Figure 4.9

    Figure 4.9 I used the 4x5 / 8x10 preset to crop in tighter on my image.

  3. If you're going to do a lot of printing, try to crop using the aspect ratio of your desired print size. The crop tool preset will provide a list of some of the most common print sizes (Figure 4.10). Click on the word "original," left of the small lock icon, to view the available ratios.
    Figure 4.10

    Figure 4.10 You can create your own custom crop preset or use one of the many available.

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