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Five Simple Steps to Make Amazing Black-And-White Photos!

by | 5 years ago

I love black-and-white photography. Ansel Adams is my mentor, and I studied a lot of his techniques, but I have to say that it’s not always easy to get the perfect stop-in-time moment, where everything seems to fit together and create an emotion. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but learned a lot from them. I am pretty happy with my black-and-white technique in Lightroom so let me share it with you today in five easy steps!

step one: use the b&w targeted adjustment tool and white balance for a great sky

In the Develop module, go to the HSL/Color/B&W panel and click on B&W in the header. This will convert your image to black and white. In the top left of the panel, you’ll see a little round icon; this is the Targeted Adjustment tool (TAT).

Once you’ve clicked on the TAT, click-and-drag on the sky. If you drag up, the sky is going to get brighter, and if you drag down, it will make it darker.

Basically, it detects the colors in the sky and changes their saturation based on the direction you drag; you can see the Black & White Mix sliders moving as you drag. But, don’t go over 50 or 60 because it will create weird halos in your photo. Also, you can go up to the Basic panel and adjust the Temp and Tint white balance sliders to add texture to your sky until you find something that you like.

step two: use the graduated filter to close up your photo

Before I start with the Graduated Filter, I’m going to do my usual workflow to have a nice start. In the Basic panel, I set the Highlights to –48, the Shadows to +60, the Whites to +44, and the Blacks to –28.

Now on to the Graduated Filter (M)! I usually add a minimum of three filters. The first one you can add near the top of your photo and lower the Exposure to add some drama to the sky (here, I lowered it to –0.97). When using the Graduated Filter, start where you want the effect to be 100% visible and drag to where you want the effect to fade away to 0%.

Then, click on New at the top of the panel area, and add another filter at the very top of your photo and lower the Exposure to make it darker. This closes up the photo and guides the eyes of the viewer to the inside of it (here, I lowered the Exposure to –0.77).

And, last but not least, add a third Graduated Filter at the bottom of the photo and lower the Exposure, again (to –0.77, here) to really create this effect of closing up the photo. Press M to exit the Graduated Filter.

step three: make the center of your photo brighter

For this, I get the Radial Filter (Shift-M), boost the exposure (to +1.77, here), invert the mask by turning on the Invert Mask checkbox at the bottom of the panel area, and increase the Feather amount to 100. Then, I simply place this Radial Filter in the center of the image to draw the viewer’s eyes inside the photo.

step four: densify your exposure and add contrast

Back in the Basic panel, if you lower your Exposure (here, I set it to –0.30) and add some Contrast (+39, here), it will add a lot of drama. You can also play with the Shadows, if it looks too dark (I boosted them to +100).

step five: use brushes to re-light your photo

This is the fun part—you get to take a brush and paint some light over your photo. Get the Adjustment Brush (K), and at the bottom of the panel, set your Flow and Density to around 70 or 80, the Feather to 100, and then boost the Exposure (here, I increased it to 1.16).

Now just paint over the part of your photo that you want to enhance, like the bench in this photo. The idea is not to go crazy with this, and not to make it look too obvious. So, make sure to not have big spots of light because it then defeats the purpose. I also brightened the bushes to the left and right of the bench a little.

It might seem like a lot of retouching, but when you study the old masters of photography, they used the same techniques on their film—they would add +3 of exposure, 4% of dark, and so on to create this dodge-and-burn effect! But it’s way easier to do it today in Lightroom!

ALL IMAGES BY SERGE RAMELLI