Black and White Adjustments in Lightroom 3

As a regular contributor to the PhotographyBB magazine (which you can download for free simply bu subscribing here), I enjoy putting together articles to both educate and inspire.  In this upcoming month’s issue, I am guest-writing a tutorial on Black and White editing with Lightroom 3.  As a sneak-peak of sorts to the readership here, I’d like to share the first portion of that article…enjoy!


The power of Lightroom has been so well documented from various outlets across the internet and magazines, I often find it surprising that such a small amount of space is dedicated to black and white photography.  This month, I’d like to take an opportunity to delve more into the creative adjustments you can make in Lightroom to bring out more in an image than just shades of gray!

There are two areas in Lightroom where you can make creative adjustments to the color to make things pop.  The first two HSL (for Hue, Saturation, and Luminance) and Color are great resources to use when you want to massage the color palette of your image.  The Black and White “tab” though, is where it’s really at.  When you click this tab, the image will be converted to an automated black and white adjustment, where the colors are converted to shades of gray – with no color tones at all.  This is where I’d like to begin the exploration:

While this can be a powerful way to present an image, the automated method of conversion is not going to work all the time (and for my tastes rarely does the default conversion work).  So, you have to dive in and really get comfortable with adjusting color tones.  To start off, I am using a pretty basic image – a red flower, and you can see that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the colored version of the image.

Red Flower

It’s got some great black and white potential though, so let’s go ahead and take it into the BW adjustment panel tab.  When I do that, the automated adjustments will kick in:

Default Black and White Adjustments

It looks interesting, but let’s see what massaging the colors just in the panel can do.  To start, since the flower was red and made up nearly 95% of the composition, I started with the red slider to see what the extremes would do on each end.  Here’s the image with the red slider taken up to +100 and then to the opposite extreme of -100…

Red Flower +100

Red Flower -100

In both cases, for me it’s an absolutely hideous image.  Clearly, there is a balance that must be struck somewhere in the middle – the question is where?  Well, now it comes down to subjective tastes.  For me, the default adjustment had the red a bit too strong – which kind of hid the morning dew of the flower, so I dialed things back a bit, taking the red slider from +22 to -20.  The droplets are now much more visible as they are standing out from the petals!

Red Flower Conversion Progress

So, now we are getting somewhere fun!  I tested a few more sliders, and ended up with the yellows and oranges slightly higher than the default settings, just to give a bit more contrast.  Here’s what it looks like after the black and white adjustments are made:

Red Flower w/ all slider adjustments

Of course there is always a bit of sharpening and noise reduction to make in post production, as well as lens correction, and even a little bit of vignette from time to time to help draw the viewer in.  Once these are done, the final image definitely has a creative look and feel to it:

The Final Edit

It’s clearly not easy to decide both when, to make a black and white conversion, as well as how much to massage or tweak it to your tastes.  The ultimate decision is, of course, up to you as an artist and photographer, but you can’t get there by avoiding the Black-and-White panel!  Take some time to explore it!


There’s more to the article than that, and it has been modified somewhat to make for a better blog post, so be sure you subscribe to the PhotographyBB newsletter when you have a minute.  It is free, after all, and probably one of the best sources of a diverse set of reading material you can find.  Dave Seeram, the editor, has been quite generous with his kindness and patience in my contributions!  Please stop over and give him your thanks as well…nothing but learning and knowledge to gain!

As always though, I end up being more curious than informative!  What types of black and white adjustments do you make?  Do you prefer the neutral grays, or do you like to add a hint of color to your b/w images too?  What methods have you found useful versus not so much?  Sound off in the comments as I love to hear how others are working through their own images!  Happy shooting and we’ll see you next time right here!

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