Lightroom Black and White

An Adobe Lightroom Black and White conversion is both quick and effective.

Often considered a management and RAW converter, it’s overlooked for Black and White conversion, yet there are many readily available presets available for download from the internet.  

Adobe Lightroom also has a few presets built in as starters.  When I’m using any software, Adobe Lightroom included, I always check out the presets before I start with preconceived processing ideas; presets are a source of valuable inspiration. So before we start with the software, let’s think about the principles within Black and White Photography.  

The hues are gone; the only thing remaining is the tone distribution.  Note the word distribution.  Black and White photographs are not ones from which the colour has been merely drained by hitting the desaturation slider. So no tone distribution = no interest is the first golden rule. 

Check on the terminology........

  • Tone is the brightness or luminosity of an object.
  • Hue or chrominance is the colour or spectral response of an object.
  • Saturation is the amount of hue.
  • White, grey and black have no chrominance but have luminosity or tonal values.
  • Pink is red with a high tonal value. 

Assumed prior and other knowledge which will not be covered in this tutorialimporting your images into Adobe Lightroom

  • The Develop Module.
  • The Basic panel.
  • Adjustments like the exposure; the contrast; the black point; the white point; set the highlights; set the shadow.
  • Exporting images.
  • Printing.
  • Publishing.

In the days of Black and White film photography, we used to make all kinds of adjustments to the exposure, over-the-lens filtration and the soup in which we processed the film before choosing a printing paper with a specific contrast ratio, exposing parts of the image for different times, choosing another soup in which to process it, then often accelerating specific areas.  

This was all in the interest of gaining a wide tonal range to meet OUR needs.   It’s sometimes difficult assessing the outcomes in a real image, so I have made a crude simple colour swatch to enable us to compare the controls and results on simple colours as well as look at the results in a real image. 

Colour images are made from a composite of Red, Green and Blue information gathered from the camera exposure and Adobe Lightroom lets you blend this information in different proportions.  The controls within Adobe Lightroom are Red, Green and Blue together with five other hues, namely, Aqua, Magenta, Yellow (which are the hue opposites of Red, Green and Blue) and Orange and Purple (to expand the control width). 

There are quite a few methods for producing a Black and White image including allowing the camera to make a Black and White JPG file.  I’m not going to detail them.  


Lightroom Black and White
Shooting Tips

I would advocate shoot in Raw; gather as much image information as you can; choose your monochrome image in the processing stage so you can re-visit it and change it as you wish.

In fact many cameras let you shoot in a whole range of preset modes from film types to black and white with a whole range of predefined settings to simulate the breadth of photographic genres – but these are outputted as JPG files.  

The trick is to shoot in RAW+JPG and that gives you the gimmick recipe picture but outputs the RAW file which is pure digital information with which you can experiment for eternity because it’s not destructively processed – it’s there for use time-after-time.  

The only downside is that this method of storing the data on the memory card decreases the number of images you can capture; typically you’d get 100 JPG for every 37 RAW but recording both file formats simultaneously would take that to about 27.  But I think that’s a small price to pay for flexibility. 


Lightroom Black and White

So let’s get down to producing that Lightroom Black and White image.

In this tutorial I’m assuming that all basic adjustments have been done.  Of course once you’ve made a Lightroom Black and White image you will return to these settings (and others) to fine tune them.



Select the Black & White tab

You’ll get a Lightroom black and white image, surprise, surprise and it’ll be quite acceptable.  Some of the adjustment sliders like vibrance and saturation will grey out because they are only used in colour adjustments.











The most information about the conversion comes from the colour swatch.

The tones (the blackness-greyness-whiteness) are fairly uniform and the image is flat.

If we look further down at the other panels, the availability of the HSL/COLOR/B&W panel has changed.  Only the Black and White option is available to us.



When we open this panel up we see the settings which Adobe has chosen for us.  We’ll be returning to this panel later. 

What about the presets which Adobe has chosen for us as part of the Adobe Lightroom package?  They’re in the left hand side of the UI.








I’d contract the navigator to view them all initially, but if you hover the mouse over the preset name the Navigator panel changes to show the effect of the preset.  

TIP - always undo a preset if you select it, before you select another otherwise Adobe Lightroom applies one preset on top of another! Very annoying is that foible. 












So what about some of the other presets. 

A blue filter is often used in exterior monochrome work to emphasise haze.


In Adobe’s preset, the contribution from the blue component of the image has been increased and the contribution from the yellow component of the image has been decreased; blue and yellow are opposite colours on the colour wheel.  I don’t like this rendition of the image but it acts as a useful learning point.

Traditionally in analogue Black and White film photography, yellow filters were used to emphasize the sky.

Notice how the values of the blue and yellow sliders have been moved in opposite directions to those for the blue image, together with a component from the aqua filter, and how this adds drama to the sky by darkening it.

So to get maximum impact you need to consider sliders as pairs.  The colour contrast pairs are

  • Red <-> aqua
  • Green <-> magenta
  • Blue <-> yellow
  • Orange <-> purple

Ok, so what about personalising the preset and then saving it so we can access it again for another image?

Moving the blue and aqua filters further makes a bigger change to the sky.


Now the sky has much more interest but the sand is far too pale and contrasts too much with the sky.  Easy fix ...

  1. back off on the aqua;
  2. bring back the yellow slider; and
  3. lighten the green

This separates the tree and foliage from the background.


So is there anything else we can do to this image to make it stand out?

Step 1 – check the basic settings panel for exposure etc

Step 2 – go to the Effects panel and add grain and a vignette


I added a slight dark vignette; rounded; slightly feathered; some grain


I’m pleased with the Adobe Lightroom Black and White effect; and it’s a rapid process.

Saving the preset is simple

Click on the “+” in the Presets panel


A dialogue box appears; give the preset a meaningful name; click on the <<create>> button.



There you have it!  A nice start to your Lightroom Black and White conversions ...

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