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Creating Black- and-White Images

There are two methods for converting your images from color to black and white, and I’ll start with the method that has been in Lightroom from the start. But, the newer method (definitely my preferred method) gives you more choices, live previews, and, I think, a far better result. Plus, once you’ve made the conversion, you can use the same techniques you learned in Chapters 5 and 6 to really fine-tune your conversion.

Step One:

Here‘s our original color image of a section of the Louvre Museum in Paris, and I thought it would make a good candidate for converting to black and white (not every color image makes a good black-and-white image, no matter how good the conversion technique). At the top right of the Basic panel is a Black & White button, but I don’t ever recommend using it for your black-and-white conversion. Essentially, it just removes the color from your image and you wind up with a very flat-looking, boring conversion, so I don’t use it at all.

Step Two:

Instead, we can get a better conversion by clicking the icon with the four little rectangles just below that to bring up the Profile Browser. There are 17 different black-and-white conversion profiles here, some emulating classic darkroom conversions using different color filters to achieve different looks. The thumbnails display a preview of how the different conversions would look on your photo, but if you hover your cursor over any thumbnail, it gives you the preview on your actual image. Scroll through the list and find one that looks good for your image (I wind up using B&W 04 and B&W 09, as seen here, the most by far. I love how contrasty they are, but I still hover over all 17 just to see if there’s a better conversion for the particular image I have onscreen).

Step Three:

A lot of what I do with a black-and-white image is to introduce a lot of contrast. While you will see some “flat matte-look” black-and-white images on Instagram (mostly portraits), for the most part, what makes a stunning black-and-white image is applying a good dose of contrast. Let’s start by closing the Profile Browser (click on the Close button at the top right) to get back to the Basic panel and set the white and black points (see page 148), and then let’s crank up the Contrast quite a bit. Don’t be shy with that Contrast slider—it’s your friend, especially when creating black-and-white images. I also pulled back the Highlights to –100 to help bring some detail back into the sky, and I opened up the Shadows a bit, so things don’t get too dark. Okay, this is a decent start. Note: You’ll notice that once you apply one of those B&W creative profiles, at the top of the Basic panel, you now have an Amount slider. That controls the amount of the B&W profile you chose—dragging it to the right intensifies the effect (usually making the image brighter with B&W conversions), and dragging it to the left lessens the effect, making it darker.

Step Four:

Once I get my base contrast set, then it’s time to “bring out the big guns” with the mac-daddy of contrast, the Tone Curve. So, head down to the Tone Curve panel and from the Point Curve pop-up menu, choose Strong Contrast (as shown here) to add an “S-curve” to the diagonal line in the panel. That S-shape adds contrast, and the steeper you make that “S” (by dragging the points on the curve), the more contrast it adds. I love what just applying the preset did here, but if your image needs even more, click on the first point below the top-right one and drag it upward to brighten the highlights (making the S-curve steeper). To darken the shadows, click on the second point from the bottom-left one and drag downward (making the curve even steeper).

Step Five:

At this point, I boost the Clarity because it controls midtone contrast and it looks great on images like this with lots of detail. I also drag the Texture slider farther than the Clarity slider to further enhance the detail. Now, this image is starting to look super-crisp, on the verge of “crunchy,” so I should probably back off on those numbers a bit, but I know in the printing process some of that will be lost, so I’m leaving it there for now. But, just a heads-up to keep an eye out while you’re adding Clarity and Texture, so you don’t get super-aggressive with them.

TIP: Would This Make a Good B&W Image?

Wondering if a particular photo would make a good black-and-white? Press the V key on your keyboard and it makes the image black and white. If it doesn’t look good, press V again to return to the full-color image.

Step Six:

If you want to tweak particular areas of your image, there’s a B&W panel (seen here) that lets you do that. Each color slider corresponds with the underlying colors that were in the image before the conversion. So, for example, if you wanted to make the sky in this black-and-white image darker, you’d drag the Blue slider to the left. If you’re not sure which color slider controls which parts of your image, you can get the Targeted Adjustment Tool (called the TAT, for short—see page 223 for more on how it works), click on an area you want to adjust, and it knows the underlying sliders for that area and will move them for you as you drag up/down. This is how, before we had B&W profiles, we used to do our black-and-white conversions. We’d hit the Black & White button at the top of the Basic panel, and then come to this panel to tweak the colors. But, the profiles offer us so much more, and we can still use the B&W panel to tweak things.

Step Seven:

The first part of this last step is optional, but it’s a very popular one with photographers who want a more traditional darkroom black-and-white look, and that is to add some film grain to the image. Go to the Effects panel, under Grain, and increase the Amount to add a noisy/grainy look to your image (as I’ve done here, but at the small size you’re seeing here in the book, I’m not sure it’ll be that visible). The farther you drag this slider to the right, the grainier it gets (I dragged the slider over to 20). Lastly, you want a really sharp image, so don’t forget to head over to the Detail panel and add some nice bouncy sharpening (if you’re wondering what “bouncy” sharpening is, you’re not alone. I just came up with that term as I was typing that sentence, but if I had to describe it, it’s somewhere right between a “frisky” amount of sharpening, and some “zippy” sharpening).

Step Eight:

Here’s a before/after, where I’m comparing the conversion of the color image by just hitting the Basic panel’s Black & White button (on the left) with the method you just learned (on the right).

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