How to Convert Color Portraits to Black & White in Lightroom

Converting color images into black and white is a fun process, especially if you know what you’re doing. But most photographers are shy of getting their hands wet because of the sheer complexity and workload. Hopefully this video by Andrew S. Gibson will clear the air around the process:

Convert to Black & White

color portrait lightroom


The first step in the process is to click on Black & White in the basic tools.

Tip: Set yourself a reference point by clicking on the history panel, right clicking on the latest step, and then clicking Copy History Settings to Before. This way you can check the before and after versions of the image simply by using the backslash key on your keyboard.

Gibson used the expose to the right technique. This gives the image as much exposure as possible without treading the red line and clipping the highlights. This is not a general rule, but you can certainly try this out if you feel like it. You still have the option to reduce the exposure in Lightroom and give it the effect that you want.

Adjust the Exposure

Pull the exposure slider to the left to bring down the exposure (recommended if you used the expose to the right method).

color to black & white conversion

Step: 2 – Exposure Adjusted

Contrast and Clarity

Normally when you convert a color image to black & white it looks a bit flat. Work the contrast and clarity sliders until the image looks just about right.

Highlights and Shadows

Tweak the highlights and shadows slider in case you need to make the image a bit darker or lighter.

Local Adjustments

Up until now, you’ve been making global adjustments to the image. To really make the image pop, local adjustments are required as well. This can be done by using a graduated filter, adjustment brush tool, and presets.

Gibson demonstrates a simple process to enhance the eyes by using a preset that he himself developed. Don’t worry if you don’t have the right tool; there’s always one that you can buy to meet your own editing taste.

Lightroom post-processing technique

Before and after of enhancements made to the model’s eyes

Gibson also shows how you can do some local adjustment to facial hair.

Always zoom in when you make changes and then zoom out to check the results. It’s easy to go overboard with the brush tool. Just in case you do go overboard, don’t worry, Lightroom does provide you a life-jacket. Simply use the Erase tool to revert the changes where it looks a bit too unrealistic.

blacka nd white lightrom conversion


There’s a lot more to a black and white conversion than just clicking on Black & White in the Lightroom panel. Take your time making adjustments, and your portraits will really impress.

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2 responses to “How to Convert Color Portraits to Black & White in Lightroom”

  1. Scott Walter says:

    A real nice job. I need to slow down and not simply apply a black and white preset.

  2. In the first place, why convert when you can shoot real good
    B&W images with present day DSLRs …… ?
    I work with a SONY Alpha DSLR – A 560 with a Minolta AF
    50mm f /1.4 and a SONY DT 16-50 f / 2.8 lens. I get excellent results
    every time I shoot in B&W setting. The images come out in 100%
    B&W with the right contrast & brightness leaving no room for
    any ‘photoshopping’ ….. !!!

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