Lightroom Tips

Tip: Black and Whites…Difference Between RAW and JPEG

I know that most of us using Lightroom probably shoot raw most of the time. But I’m constantly importing photos from my point-and-shoot as well and those aren’t i the raw format. Plus, I’ll typically work with photos my family takes and they’re DEFINITELY not in the raw format. So when it comes to black and whites this tip is kinda important. See, if you import a RAW photo into Lightroom, it automatically adds contrast to the photo as part of Lightroom’s RAW conversion process. (If you look in the Tone Curve panel you’ll see that Medium Contrast is selected in the pop-up menu.) However, if you import JPEG photos, there is no contrast applied by Lightroom (Tone Curve is set to Linear). Since, contrast is huge when it comes to Black and Whites then try choosing Medium Contrast from the Point Curve pop-up menu before doing anything else. Heck, even try the Strong Contrast option as it may work well too. The main idea here, though, is that there is no contrast being added by default (like there is with raw files) so you’ll have to do it yourself.



  1. Ken 12 January, 2010 at 21:13 Reply

    Hi Matt –

    I have a tone curve question. Can the tone curve do (most of) what curves does inside Photoshop? Often I get the exposure, blacks, contrast, etc just where I want them in LR, and it looks great, but then if I then open the photo in PS and add a simple s-curve curve adjustment layer, the photo is much improved, with more “pop”. Have you ever noticed this? Any idea what is going on? Obviously I would like to avoid a round-trip to Photoshop if it is not needed.


  2. guarana 22 December, 2009 at 16:11 Reply

    or you can simply make a develop preset with the contrast you want and choose that preset on the import window.

    Though I actually though that the JPG already had some kind of contrast applied so that’s why it’s linear by default, while the raw on ‘medium’ is about equivalent (saying this by memory, I haven’t compared side by side).

  3. Barry Schirm 20 December, 2009 at 11:12 Reply


    You can change the default setting. However, the default setting is global. Just start with the default setting on an image, change the contrast setting to what you want, and then hold down the ALT key and press the “Make Default” button at the bottom of the of the right panel in the Develop module. Click Yes, and that’s it. The next time you import images, the default settings will be applied, including whatever contrast setting you decided on. You can use this technique to go back to the original default if you’ve made a bunch of changes to the default setting.

  4. Tony Davis 18 December, 2009 at 12:43 Reply

    From what I have seen it is not just limited to B&W and jpgs. The contrast is set to linear when you import PSD and TIF files as well

    I am probably using a drastically and unoptimized work flow compared to some, but it works for me. In the case of HDR with PS CS4 I will combine in PS for the HDR converting to 16-bit with minimal changes beyond the combining of exposures and the return to LR for final tweaks. I always have to set the Contrast from Linear at the start of the remaining tweaks.

  5. John 18 December, 2009 at 12:19 Reply

    Great reminder – especially around the holidays and I too end up with a point and shoot sometimes at the family events.

  6. Lance Hankins 18 December, 2009 at 12:08 Reply

    This tip makes me remember to ask – is there a way to change the default application of medium contrast for raw images to strong? I find I want strong in about 90% of my photos. It’d be nice if I only had to change the ones I DIDN’T want it on…

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