Creating great looking black and whites in Lightroom is a lot of fun. It’s a rewarding challenge finding the right balance of tones. Here are a couple portraits with black and white conversions and some notes about how I edited them.
Original photo straight out of camera: ISO 200, 35mm (50mm equivalent), f/2.0, 1/250s, Fuji X-T2. Shot in raw compressed format.
After Editing in Lightroom (about 5 minutes of work):
Notes on the edit:
The first thing I did for this conversion is add a large soft radial filter in order to darken the edges of the photo (vignette). This helps just generally darken the background, and create more contrast with his brighter skin tones. I like using the radial filter because it really gives you a lot of control over the placement of the vignette.
The next thing I did was work through the Basic panel in order to fine tune the contrast of the tones in the image. I think it’s easy to add too much contrast to black and white photos at the expense of detail. So my goal was to get pretty bright skin tones without losing detail, while still maintaining good overall contrast. For this I find reducing the highlights helps preserve detail, while bumping the whites helps give a more natural look to the brighter areas.
Tip: Lightroom is a big program with tons of tools and features, but the most powerful are probably just the adjustments you can make under the Basic panel. When editing an image I spend the majority of my time in the Basic panel fine tuning exposure, contrast, tones, and white balance. The basic panel might seem simple (and it is!), but it’s the most convenient, powerful, and fastest way to improve your photos!
After the basic panel adjustments I also added an adjustment brush mask to add a bit of extra clarity and a shadow bump to just his eyes.
He also had a bit of a cold, so I did a small bit of retouching around his nose (using the spot removal tool in Lightroom).
And that’s it!
Here’s another photo that I edited along side it with the same approach as above.
Original photo straight out of camera: ISO 200, 35mm (50mm equivalent), f/2.0, 1/320s, Fuji X-T2. Shot in raw compressed format.
And after editing in Lightroom (probably less time since I copied settings from the previous photo as a starting point)
The photos were taken from slightly different angles and had different exposures so I couldn’t do the exact same processing on both but my goal with the editing was to make them look as similar as possible with respect to the tones. Overall I like the skin tones I achieved in the first photo better. Depth of field is shallower in this photo because there’s less distance between the subject and the camera – which has the effect of reducing texture in his skin and I think as a result the tonal gradient in this shot feels a little less natural (or less to my preference anyway – for some styles of photography like beauty shots this would work out well). Personally I like to see more texture and tone in the skin.
For this shot I also added an adjustment brush mask adding clarity and a shadow bump to just his eyes. It’s probably a bit too strong.
I had originally processed these photos quickly just to be posted on Instagram. If I was printing them I would spend more time fine tuning the clarity/sharpness in the eyes to make sure it was as natural looking as possible. I would also spend a bit more time in the Basic panel fine tuning tones, especially for that second shot.
If you want a quick dose of black and white editing make sure to check out our Before/After: Black & White tutorial. It’s a video screen cast tutorial where you can can see the process (start to finish) that I take converting 10 photos to black and white using Lightroom. It’s pretty incredible value for just $19.