Black and White photography has become popular all over again. In my opinion, that’s happening for two reasons: (1) Digital photography has made color the de-facto standard, so we’re now seeing more color images than black and white. (2) That which is rare tends to be more eye-catching. Not only are we seeing more black and white, but more de-saturated color. The latter has already been covered in Michael Clark’s DeSaturating Lightroom blog.
There are lots of tools in traditional image-editing software that help to convert images to black and white. Nevertheless, I’m convinced that Lightroom can do most of the job better and faster. Once you’ve covered the basics, you can always tweak the regional areas in Photoshop or any other standard image editor. The rest of this blog will demonstrate the tools you can use and the results they produce.
Here’s the workflow I’ve found most successful for converting color to black and white:
After adjusting the color image in the Develop module (which isn’t really necessary, but usually provides a good starting point), I make a Virtual Copy (Library > Photo > Create Virtual Copy). I then select the virtual copy in the Library module and go to the Develop module. In the HSL panel, I click Grayscale. You can see the result below.
The grayscale version is okay, but a bit on the bland side. Just as I would in Photoshop, the first thing I do is go to the Channel Mixer. But there’s a big difference in Lightroom (or Bridge, BTW): It’s called the HSL panel and it Grayscale mode I can mix eight colors. It’s like having eight different glass lens filters and being able to vary the intensity of each. No special instructions are required for doing this. Just drag the sliders until you like what you see. I often start by clicking Auto Adjust in the Grayscale panel.
Next, I fiddle with the Red and Blue sliders, since they generally make the biggest tonal differences. Then I play with everything else in the Grayscale panel. All that’s left is tweeking the Histogram and Tone Curve. I adjust the Histogram by placing the cursor on the part of the Histogram that I want to lighten or darken and the drag horizontally. I then click the little target/dot in the Tone Curve panel, place it in the image in the area of tonality that I want to brighten or darken, and drag. You can see the results I got on Telegraph Hill immediately below.