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Day 6 of “I’m Giving Up Photoshop” Month (Black & White)

Welcome to Day 6 in my self-project-ish, month-long postings of images I’m only using Lightroom to edit. If you’re just coming in to reading this and haven’t read the original post where I wrote why I’m doing this, then make sure you check that out too. Okay, here goes:

The Photo: A Black and White Conversion
Today’s photo is our first black & white of the series. If you look at my portfolio, you’ll notice I’m not a huge B&W fan. Given the color version of a photo or the black and white, I’ll choose the color version nearly every time. And when I do B&W conversions, I usually use onOne’s Perfect B&W Plug-in. Anyway, I thought this made a good example for a black and white so let’s give it a try. It was taken on a cloudy overcast day under the Manhattan Beach Pier in southern California.

(click to see the image larger)

Photo Details:
Camera: Nikon D800
Lens: Nikon 16-35mm
Aperture: f/11
Shutter Speed: 10 seconds
ISO: 100
Filter: Lee Big Stopper 10-stop ND

The Black & White Conversion
The first thing I did was press the letter V to convert the photo to b&w. This is the same as going to the B&W panel and turning on the black and white conversion. But on a photo like this, with little color to start with, I’m not going to spend much time in the B&W panel itself. Most of the time is spent in the Basic panel on getting a nice contrasty black and white because it’s kinda dull now.


Basic Processing
Overall I wanted to make the photo darker with the Exposure slider. I also moved the Highlights and Shadows sliders in opposite directions. Almost HDR-like to tone down highlights and open up shadows. From there, I adjusted the Whites and Blacks with the Option/Alt key and boosted the Clarity slider quite a bit. I’ve mentioned it in another post, but when you push the Highlights,  Shadows and Clarity sliders you run the risk of halos around some of the edges. If I had Photoshop to use here, I’d probably bring the photo in there and do the adjustments with more accurate selections. But you’ve really got to look close to see them so it’s not a huge deal.


Lens Corrections and A Strong Vignette
I turned on the Enable Profile Corrections checkbox and then added a strong vignette (in the Effects panel) to really tone down the edges of the photo. I want the center of the pier to stand out so I really boosted, not only the Amount, but the Midpoint and Feather settings too.


Adding Some Drama With The Radial Filter
Black and whites like this really benefit from a lot of drama. One way to add it is using the Radial Filter. But I used it in a different way. I want to keep the edges dark, but I want the middle of the photo to be brighter because that’s really the part that catches your eye. So I increased the Exposure and turned on the Invert Mask checkbox at the bottom of the Radial Filter panel. Then I dragged a circle over the pier which makes it even brighter.


Detailed Adjustments
I finished things up with the Adjustment Brush. I thought the top of the pier was too dark so I brushed in some brighter Exposure at the very top. I had to use a really soft feathered brush for this though, so it blended in with the rest of the pier.


I also added a new Adjustment Brush layer and painted some more Clarity in to the clouds in the sky. Again, you’ll probably notice some halos start to appear and if we were using Photoshop here, we could probably use selections to make the adjustments more refined.


I thought the bottom of the photo looked too dark too. Rather than paint the adjustment in with the Adjustment Brush, I grabbed the Graduated Filter and just dragged from the bottom upward, to gradually brighten the whole bottom part of the photo.


Removing Spots
Next I went to the Spot Removal tool, and turned on the Visualize Spots feature in the toolbar below the photo. That helps you see (and remove) any spots that may be in the sky.


Some Sharpening
The photo is pretty sharp without any sharpening added. I think the Clarity adjustments, though not exactly like sharpening, do a good job to add detail. But I’ll finish up in the Detail panel with a little sharpening as a final touch.


What Else?
So what’s missing? Not much actually. Other than some of the halos around the pier from really pushing those adjustments, we acomplished a lot here. Lightroom may not create the prettiest B&W right off the bat, but with some creative toning you can do a lot with it. And that’s really the key with black and whites in LR. You can’t just take the defaults like you can in a lot of the popular plug-ins like Perfect B&W or Silver Efex Pro.

What About Plug-ins?
Personally, I love the plug-ins for black and white. I know we did a lot here with just Lightroom. But plug-ins tend to have a ton more features like grain, color tinting/toning, film effects, filters, and presets that do most of the work for you very quickly. That’s really where they shine. For a basic conversion like we have here, Lightroom works great. But if you’re really in to black and white photography, I think plug-ins are definitely worth investing in.

This one isn’t really fair because the before/after are going to be so different, but here’s the two photos so you can see the change.

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Thanks for stopping by. Have a great day!



  1. salsaguy 31 January, 2014 at 16:45 Reply

    Andrea, check out the youtube videos on Learning Lightroom 5 by ANTHONY MORGANTI, where he shows exactly how to set the white and black point in every single one of his videos. Matt is not making it easy for a new person to understand what he means by just his post. You need to see it done on a video to understand completely how it’s done. Once understood its very easy and important.

    Andrea said: “. In many of your edits you state that you adjust the White and Black sliders while holding down the option/alt key. I am wondering what this does?”

  2. Andrea B 15 January, 2014 at 11:09 Reply

    Thank you for this series. I just started using Lightroom and my biggest debate has always been if I should edit with Lightroom or Photoshop.
    I have 2 questions for you:
    1. In many of your edits you state that you adjust the White and Black sliders while holding down the option/alt key. I am wondering what this does?
    2. You have also mentioned using Perfect Photo Suite. Would this be a good alternative to use with Lightroom, then to adding Photoshop? I am primarily a portrait photographer and what I have seen on their website it looks like this would be a great solution to some of my shortfalls with Lightroom. Example: stray hairs…

    Thank you for your time.

    • Matt K 15 January, 2014 at 18:34 Reply

      Hi Andrea – You’re very welcome.
      1) It shows you the white and black point which helps get a good overall tonal range in the photo.
      2) I think it’s great. It’s awesome for portraits. Not sure how it works for stray hairs, but I would download the free trial and give it a test before you buy it, to see if it does what you need. But I’m a big fan of onOne so they’ve got my recommendation.
      Thanks 🙂

  3. Jon Reid 15 January, 2014 at 03:41 Reply

    Very nicely done – one of the best mono conversions I’ve seen. And I used to think that black and white was one of the reasons to go into Photoshop.

    At the Lightroom guru, maybe you can answer this question. When I open an image in Photoshop, it seems slightly darker than the version in Lightroom. What I see in Photoshop is more consistent with how the image appears in a web browser or other picture viewers. Am I imagining this?

  4. Irene 14 January, 2014 at 16:04 Reply

    Another great post – what would you do with the color photo if you had decided to process it? It would be great to see both the finished color photo with the finished B&W.

    • Matt K 14 January, 2014 at 12:06 Reply

      Hey Pete – the halos are a result of the Shadows/Highlights/Clarity adjustments. I had mentioned it in a revision on the post, but maybe you caught an earlier version before I updated it 🙂

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