Editing B&W Images
Many of you may have noticed that recently I've been uploading many black and white images. I am really enjoying this new "medium". So, I thought that I would show you my conversion process. I still shoot all of my photos in color. After I download the images onto my computer, I import them into Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. If you don't know, Lightroom is Adobe's software made for photographers. It allows you to catalogue and keyword images, edit them, and then export to various places such as the web, your hard drive, or email. I highly recommend Lightroom, and if you don't have it, you can download a free trial from Adobe's website and play with if for a while. Note: I have no affiliation with Adobe, I just really enjoy using Lightroom. I am now an affiliate, but I only recommend products that I really like. You do not need Lightroom to do many of the things I talk about in this post, other editing programs may work as well. For this post, I will show you all of my tonal edits in Lightroom, on a RAW image I shot at Piedra Blanca. I will start now by showing you the original image before I have applied any edits:
I started by clicking the black and white button to convert the image to grayscale. Note: you will notice yellow circles on some of the images in this post, I added those to highlight a particular button or feature and they are not part of the software.
Next I set my white point to brighten the lightest parts of the image. To do this, I hold down the "Option" [Mac] or "Alt" [Windows] key, while dragging the white slider. That will show me the clipping that is occurring in the image. I looks like 60 is a good number. Note: In Lightroom CC you can hold the Shift key and double click on the word "whites".
Next, I set the black point the exact same way to make the blacks darker.
Normally I don't set the whites or blacks this high so that there is that much clipping, but in a B+W image we want lots of contrast, and this one of the best ways to get that. This is what the picture looks like now:
But it seems very dark, so lets lighten it up some. For this, I am going to start with the shadows slider to lighten the dark areas of the picture. For this, I just move the slider until I like the result.
98 seems like a good number, so now we can see lots of detail in our image. Except, our sky looks sort of dull. So lets lower the highlights slider to darken the light parts of the image.
-24 looks good, now our sky has a little more body to it. Though unfortunately, by brightening the darks, and darkening the brights in our image, we lowered the contrast in the image. To get some more punch I will raise the contrast slider.
27 is what I chose, but it still seems too dark. Because I want to brighten everything, I am going to use the exposure slider to lighten the picture.
+.65 of a stop is just enough to show us more on the tree and rock, so that is where I stopped. For my last edits in the basic panel, I am going to to increase the clarity to show more detail. Clarity is just a fancy term for mid tone contrast, but it does make things "clearer". See what happens if I raise it to 100.
But that is not what we want, so I am going to leave the slider at 27. But I still want the sky darker, however, I don't want to use the highlights slider for that again, because that will change all of the highlights not just they sky. So lets move on to the B&W panel.
This panel adjusts the luminance of each color in our black and white image. So everywhere that was a certain color in an image is adjusted by the corresponding slider. Because I want a darker sky, I am going to lower the blue slider to get that effect. -40 ended up being a good number.
Now I also want to draw some attention to the tree. After all, my composition is playing the shapes of the tree and the rock against each other. To get that effect, I wanted to lighten the tree. For that, I am going to use the targeted adjustment tool. This little tool allows me to change the luminosity of a color, or group of colors, by picking the element in the photo that I want to change and then dragging it. This makes it lighter or darker depending on the direction I drag in. This tree ended up having both green and aqua colors in it so the tool changed both.
Now For the rest of the sliders, I am going to tweak them to see what elements they change, and then decide where to place them to get the effect that I am looking for. Here are the final places for each slider in this image. Notice that some of them are at zero. That is either because I don't want to change those values, or because those colors were not in this image and so they did not matter.
I felt that everything was a little two even at this point. So to add depth, I started some local adjustments. I began by lightening the rock a little. I grabbed the adjustments brush from the top panel by using the shortcut "K" on my keyboard. I started by painting over the area that I wanted to lighten. Lightroom shows me a red mask of where the edits are going to apply when I have the box "Show Selected Mask Overlay" on. To turn the overlay on or off, just press the "O" key. I started by making a large mask. Then I subtracted out the parts I didn't want by using the eraser brush (hold down "Option" [Mac], or "Alt" [Windows] when using the adjustment brush tool.
After I had my mask in place, I pressed the "O" key to hide the red mask. That way I can see what I am doing. To emphasize the rock a little, boosted both the contrast, and the exposure to brighten and define the sandstone.
Because things in the distance appear darker, I decided to darken everything but the rock and some of the tree branches to pop those two elements. Again I stared with a large mask, and then subtracted out the parts I didn't want. But first, to get a new mask I have to click the new button.
You have to be careful masking around skies because any little mistake shows. One thing that may help a lot is to turn on "Auto Mask". That will only paint the mask onto objects that are a similar tone to whatever is under the cross hairs in the middle of your brush.
I really liked how this image was turning out, except I wanted to add a little more attention to the tree, so I created another new brush to add a little exposure and clarity.
After those selective adjustments, I thing we are good for the tonal editing. Here is the image after all the edits we did just now.
Now this image is still not done, I still have to remove some dust spots in the sky, and sharpen it to bring out a little more detail. All RAW images are inherently slightly soft and require sharpening, so that is something to keep in mind. There other edits that I do on every image, I just wanted to show you what I do to edit the tones in a black and white image. Try it out, I have been having a lot of fun with this. I highly encourage you to play with Lightroom because it is an amazing piece of software that is very cheap. So go get a free trial and see what you can do. If you have any questions about using Lightroom or want me to edit some photos, please send me a message, or leave a comment below. If you enjoy this blog share it with friends, subscribe to my newsletter, or consider a purchase. Have a good day.
- Graceson Aufderheide