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The digital age of photography is all about color, but there’s no denying the beautiful simplicity of black and white. You don’t need to shoot film or set your digital camera to black and white in order to achieve bold, desaturated images. In this tutorial, we’ll learn how to take a color image and turn it into a striking black and white picture in Lightroom. This effect works best with landscapes or images that already have strong contrast and clean lines, as well as portraits if you’re going for a more serious, moody tone. 

Start by opening a color image in Lightroom. At the top of the editing box, click Black and White to remove the saturation from the picture. If you’re editing a landscape, the first step is to straighten the horizon. Click the crop tool at the top left side of the editing box. Then click the angle tool and drag it along the crooked horizon line and press enter. The image will automatically straighten out. 

Bump the Highlights slider all the way down to -100. This is going to bring as many details as possible into the sky, clouds or other highlights. Then bump the Shadows slider all the way up to +100. This will bring details into the darkest parts of the image. Your image will now look pretty flat and underexposed, but don’t worry – we’ll bring more contrast and brightness back in. 

Hold down the Alt key and bring up the Whites slider until right before you coloured pixels showing up on the document. These pixels are showing where the highlights are clipping, or where there’s not enough information to show detail. Make sure there aren’t any pixels because you don’t want the whites to be clipped. Do the same with the Blacks key. Now your image should have a strong level of contrast. You can continue tweaking these sliders throughout the tutorial. 

Increase the Contrast slider slightly, but don’t overdue it. The Contrast slider makes increases the overall contrast rather than focusing on specific areas and we want to keep as much detail as possible in the image. Increase the Clarity and Exposure sliders slightly as well.

Then go down to Tone Curve. Bump up the Highlights slider. This will increase only the brightest parts of the image. Then bump both the Lights and the Darks down slightly.

Go down to the Detail edits and bump up sharpening slightly. If you increase sharpening too much, the image will start to look really grainy. Hold down the Alt key and increase masking to sharpen all of the white areas of the image. Make sure you’re not selecting any sky or water or else the effect could look unnatural. 

If you’ve increased the shadows dramatically and the image is looking noisy or grainy, bump up the noise reduction slightly. A little bit of extra noise in black and white images adds a film effect, so don’t increase the noise reduction too much or it will start to look glossed over. If you’re working on a landscape, go down to Lens Correction and select Enable Profile Correction. Make sure you select the right lens in the drop down menu. This should remove any warping your lens created. 

Play around with the Post-Crop Vignetting settings to add a slight vignette to the edges of the image. This will increase the moody feel. 

Select the brush tool at the top of the editing box and double click Effect to reset the sliders. Then bump up exposure and clarity slightly and increase feather to 100. Then start to paint over the highlights to make them pop even more. 

Create a new brush, but this time decrease the exposure, increase the clarity and paint over the shadows with the feather still set to 100. 

If you want to add another dimension of lighting and contrast the the image, click on the Radial Filter tool at the top of the editing box. Click Invert Mask and set the feather to 100. Then drag different circles around the picture to add specific filters to different areas of the image. 

Make any final adjustments in the basic editing box, and you’ll have yourself a dramatic, moody, black and white image.


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