A simple seven-step process to create dramatic black and white images in Lightroom

For the longest time, I wasn’t a huge fan of digital black and white conversions. I stuck with film. Ilford FP4+ to be precise. It wasn’t a “purist” thing. I just felt that digital black and whites didn’t look as good as what I could get right out of the developing tank. Software, and specifically Adobe’s RAW processing engine, has come a long way since then, though.

Now, digital black and whites are quite commonplace. But how do you get the most out of your digital black and white conversions in Lightroom? Well, Pye Jirsa’s here with a seven-step process to help you get the best out of your shots for a nice dramatic result. He even gives you his raw file so you can follow along exactly.

The process is quite straightforward if perhaps a little counterintuitive at times. And, perhaps most oddly at all is that the process starts off by working in colour. This is mostly due to the fact that the white balance and tint settings can hide contrast and detail that you really want to bring out – particularly in areas of brightness.

The second step enhances this effect to make the detail and contrast differences even more obvious. See, I told you it was a little counterintuitive. But it’ll all make sense in Part 3. Here’s the timestamps for each step in the process.

  • 1:46 – Make it look good in colour
  • 2:35 – Exaggerate the colours
  • 3:38 – Convert to black & white and reduce exposure
  • 3:49 – Reveal the tones
  • 4:52 – HSL/B&W Mixer
  • 5:47 – Amplify presence
  • 6:18 – Local adjustments
  • 10:28 – Summary

As my attitude towards digital black and whites has changed over the years, so has my approach to converting them and it’s actually quite similar to Pye’s process here in Lightroom. I use Adobe Camera RAW and Photoshop, but a lot of the principles are still the same, which is essentially using colour to give you more control over the black & white conversion process.

While I still occasionally grab the F100 and a roll of Ilford FP4+ to shoot black and whites, this is a great workflow for creating detailed and dramatic digital black and white conversions from colour raw files. And you don’t need to use any 3rd party plugins or software – although Silver Efex Pro is still a lot of fun and can produce great results.

How do you do your digital black & white conversions?

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