Tip – Grayscale (no wait Black and White) Shortcut

Howdy folks. You’re probably going to laugh at me for this tip. But my job here on the blog is to tell you about things in Lightroom that I find cool, in hopes that you may as well. So here’s an easy one that I’ve been using a lot lately (because I just discovered it). It’s the V key in the Develop module. This simple little key changes your photo from color to grayscale. By the way, the word “grayscale” is just geek-speak for Black & White. Seriously, I don’t understand why it’s not called Black and White. That’s what photographers call it right? I know graphic designers use the term grayscale but when was the last time you said “Hey, he shoots a lot of great grayscale stuff”, or “Wow, look at that awesome grayscale photo!”. Ugh, don’t get me started! Anyway, if you ever want to see what your photo is going to look like as a black and white (there I said it!) then just press V. Sure, its the default conversion but it should give you a quick idea at least. Then just press V again to get back to color.

Have a great weekend everyone. Oh… and graphic designers please unite to complain about my grayscale-bashing (and what the origins really are and why it’s technically correct to call it grayscale instead of black and white) in the comments :)

Author: Matt K

Matt is a full time Education Director for the NAPP and Kelby Training. He's a best-selling author of various books on Photoshop and Photography co-hosts the live weekly photography talk show "The Grid" and is co-host of "Photoshop User TV". In his spare time he practices as a 1st degree black belt in Taekwondo and enjoys spending time with his family in Tampa, FL.

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23 Comments

  1. I think it’s because in graphic design, B&W is really just black and white, no shades of grey. Some bit thing, you set a treshold and values lower than that are treated as “black”, and higher as “white”. In turn, greyscale refers to 8- or 16-bit desaturated images…

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  2. I’m with you. B&W is so much nicer looking and even saves some characters than greyscale. Grey, scale, sounds like some kind of disease you wouldn’t want to have.

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  3. Talking of greyscales I wanted to share a useful Lightroom tip I thought of last weekend and has been useful since.

    Ever had that problem on your laptop (particularly the cheaper ones) where you tilt the screen and you see the image go lighter and darker depending on the angle of tilt. Not very useful for Lightroom image editing is it? You can never be sure exactly what the correct viewing angle is. And as you slowly slouch in your chair the image gets slightly darker (or is it lighter?).

    Here’s the solution: use the Identity Plate in Lightroom to show a gradual blocked greyscale ranging from black to white. That way, whenever you’ve got Lightroom running you can see what your optimum viewing angle should be. If the viewing angle is wrong, more than one of the blocks turn black (or white).

    To create the blocked greyscale go to Photoshop and create a new JPEG image of dimension 50 pixels high x 400 pixels wide. Apply a graduation from Black to White along the length. Apply Image>Adjust >Posterize to about 20 levels, then save.

    In Lightroom go to Edit>Identity Plate setup. Click “use a graphical identity plate” then “locate file..” button to select your greyscale image. Make sure “enable identity plate” is ticked at the top. There you go. Edit with confidence on your laptop!

    If you want me to send you the jpeg contact me via my website (just click on my name above).

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    • I would appreciate if you could send me the grayscale squares for LightRoom, you described in your comment to a letter about how to convert a color picture to B&W, dated Apr. 3rd 2009.
      Thank you,
      Avi Landman.

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  4. Hey Matt!

    I’ve got to be honest with you. I’ve used this and been so disgusted with how dull and lifeless the default B&W conversion in Lightroom looks that I just stopped. Now I take the time to open any good B&W candidate in Silver Efex Pro and run through their defaults when deciding if an image should be converted. When the new version of SEP is released as a Lightroom Export Plug-In it will be even easier. Tell John I apologize but Lightroom’s B&W conversion still needs some work!

    Jeff

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  5. Whatever. B&W, Black and White, Grayscale etc. people should find something more important to worry about. Six of one and a half dozen of another! Personally Black and White sounds like something I see with my eyes. Greyscale does not make me think of seeing something, a new kind of high-tech slide rule maybe :D.

    BTW – Nice tip and THANKS.

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  6. It is a grayscale because it only converts your pictures into shades of gray. You CAN’T get a decent black and white in Lr. As Jeff, I have to open the candidates in Ps [Jeff does it in SEP but still, we're talking about external software here] to get what I want. This black and white conversion is something they really do have to work on for the next versions.

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  7. Great except it does one weird thing – if you click on ‘Greyscale’ the history palette says ‘Convert to Greyscale’ but if you press V then the history says ‘Multiple Settings’. I cannot see any difference between the results except a confusing History entry!

    Please explain that, Adobe…

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  8. Matt:

    I am not laughing, bit I am smiling. I am doing a shoot for a client today and they want “greyscale” prints. This will be a time saver for me when I show them the pix after the shoot. Keep ‘em comin’!

    Haymarket Joe

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  9. Yeah, In photography I always say Black & White. That’s what it is for me.

    Also, in a related matter, I’ve come to notice that dropping the saturation down to 0 gives, in my opinion, a better outcome than using the Grayscale option. I’ve been trying both options on the photos I want to change to black and white, and I almost always end up prefering the desaturated version.
    It’s probably something basic, but I’ve never realized that before.

    Anyway, simple, but great tip Matt :)

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  10. I just recently did a couple of b/w in LR, and they turned out great. It took some careful tweaking, but I was pleased with the results. I even had some more experienced photographers take a look at them, and they were impressed.

    John

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  11. thanks matt,
    now for the REAL question….how do you spell GRAY?
    is it grey, or gray?….
    i’m just gonna spell it “BLACK & WHITE”!!!

    al x

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  12. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that a “black & white” photo isn’t just black and white, but a whole range of grays. So I guess gray scale makes a bit more sense. I too want to know: grAy or grEy?

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  13. I don’t know about you but I have over 40 B/W presets in a folder…not many are what I’am looking for….. A good range of tones and contrast…like a good Tri-X neg printed on a 3 Agfa Bavaria 118(Matte) paper…got any new ones …B/W….or grayscale ones?….presets that is

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  14. I know many B&W photographers who actually call it Mono(chrome) – I personnaly prefer mono to B&W too.
    This is no longer shades of grey but the title allso covers tints (i.e. sepia) – much more scope.

    This hot-key is good as a fast preview (found it most other packages too) as long as you accept that thats all it is – a preview. You still need a good eye to realise that an image is worth the effort, and then the skills (or actions!) to make it a better image.

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  15. Wow.. I’m surprised no one got it. Either that, or I missed it completely.

    Grayscale has to do with the amount of ink laid down in printing a B&W print back in the day. It’s also the reason it’s called monochrome, mono meaning singular as in a “single” ink being used to create a multi-tone image. By extension, it’s also why we use the phrase “Duotone” and “Tritone”… two or three colors to get a multi-tone image. Now to defend us graphic designers: Photographers, why balance with an 18% Gray Card? Isn’t gray simply… well, gray? :-)

    Love ya mean it don’t go changin’…

    Two things BTW… 1) If you haven’t had a chance to check out David Ziser’s Digital WakeUp Call, do so IMMEDIATELY! Wow… simply wow. And 2) Speaking of Wow, onOne Software has some nice B&W plugins available in their free Developer plugin downloads for Lightroom. When converting to “non-color” images (there, I’m safe, right?) I use one of their presets and then find I have very little tweaking to do at all!

    Many thanks… and I hope the humor comes through. You know what a sticky wicket these blogs can be!

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  16. Hey folks.
    OK, first the smiley face in the posting from Friday, was my sarcastic way of saying DO NOT give the history and theory behind Grayscale (sorry it’s boring – insert smiley face again).
    Next, GRAY is an American derivation of the original spelling GREY. Supposedly, the difference is similar to something like organize/organise. Generally it seems that those who write COLOR will write GRAY. Those who write COLOUR will write GREY (but not all the time).

    Anyway, since I’m American I do and will continue to spell it GRAY. :)

    Thanks,
    Matt K

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  17. Hi Matt,

    As a Photog and Designer I would say this: Grayscale is the term for the color space and differentiates the photo from one in the RGB or CMYK space. These are the terms Photoshop uses so it should be no surprise that LR does the same. Black and White, on the other hand, is just a common term (and not all that accurate, really, when you think about it).

    @PWRamirez: photographers balance to an 18% gray card because (to simplify) that exact tone is the mid-point between solid black and completely white. Since that is how a light meter works (not knowing your subjects actual color or brightness) it makes sense to take a reading from an object of known brightness. Test this out sometime with a digital camera by setting your meter on auto and pointing it at an evenly lit black, gray and then white object. They will look remarkably close to the same brightness because the meter is trying to expose to give you a “middle gray” value for the subject.

    BTW, the 18% refers to 18% reflectance across the entire spectrum, which makes the color a mid tone plus also truly neutral.

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  18. Handy to have however, I still use Russell Brown’s old tip of two HSW adjustment layers in PhotoShop for B&W conversions. The results are much smoother and you tend to get less blotches screaming look at me if you push the individual colors to far. Actually can’t really push the sliders too far.

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  19. Good Tip…. on a related note though, are there any presets that have a similar effect in Lightroom as some of the filters (like charcoal) have in Photoshop. I’m assuming this type of operation exceeds the scope of LR, but I’ve been surprised by the power of other presets so I figured I would ask.

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  20. Good Tip…, works also in Library module. After first use you will see “multiple settings” in history, if you press V again “convert to grayscale” appear
    Thanks
    Mariusz

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