Lightroom Tips to Improve Your Black & White Photos

Andrew S. Gibson’s stunning black & white portraits manage to capture attention and impress at first sight. In the video tutorial below, he explains how to take a color picture and convert it to black & white using Lightroom:

Gibson uses a color portrait of one of his friends and turns it into a very expressive black & white shot. Most of the settings that he uses to improve the photo are subjective; he uses his experience and keen eye to make the image’s best features stand out, and to hide the flaws. However, there are some objective key steps that you will be able to reproduce the same effect on your photos. Gibson uses these steps to take the photo as it was turned to black & white by Lightroom and turn it into an image filled with personality.

How to Convert a Photo to B&W in Lightroom

1. First, open Lightroom’s Basic Panel and click on Black & White. This will automatically turn the photo to Black & White.

before making adjustments to lightroom black and white

Lightroom’s Default Black & White Conversion

2. After the conversion, the picture will be somewhat flat, so use the sliders on the right to increase the contrast and inject some clarity into the picture. These settings are the subjective part, and you can see how Gibson uses them to improve his photo.

3. Identify areas that stand out in a negative way—the ones that are brighter than other areas, the ones that have distractions (in Gibson’s example, there was a stick standing out in one of the corners). Use the Spot Removal Tool to make the areas blend in with their surroundings.

4. In order to direct the eye toward the subject, use Graduated Filters to lower the exposure to the parts around the subject.

adjusting exposure with graduated filters in lightroom

Graduated Filters

5. Go to the HSL/Color/B&W Panel and select the B&W tab. You can use the sliders to make a color’s hues lighter or darker (i.e., if you slide the Orange color all the way to -100 any parts of the photo that initially had an orange hue get darker). Gibson used orange to make the subject’s skin a bit lighter and blue to make the background darker.

adjustments applied to lightroom black and white photo

Final Image

More Tips for Working with Lightroom

  • Before you start editing the photo open the left hand panel. In the History tab right-click on the last action and click “Copy History Step Settings to Before.” That way, when you press the “Show Before” key (default “\”) you will see all the changes you’ve made to the picture.
  • Use the toggles next to each panel to turn the changes on/off and see how individual settings changed the overall aspect of the image.
  • Double-click the color name in the Black & White Mix panel to get the slider back to center position.

By following these steps rather than leaving a photo to Lightroom’s default conversion settings, you can fine tune your black and white photos to make them really catch your viewers’ eyes.

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