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Lightroom Tutorial: How to Convert Colour Photos into Powerful Black-and-White Images

Just like we do, digital cameras see the world in colours. While we can easily produce photographs with the exact same colours as we see them, in some images colours do not “work” together and are more of a distraction than an advantage. The solution is then to “think black-and-white”: to strip the image of its colours and to leave only the moment, the emotion, and the idea. Nowadays most colour to black-and-white conversion is done digitally. In this tutorial, you will find tips on how to convert your colour images into powerful black-and-white ones using Lightroom.

In the original image I am starting with, a little boy is playing by the fountain Place des Vosges in Paris. The photo was taken in the Spring season, when the trees and the grass were lush and green, and one can easily recognize the famous brick buildings of the square in the background. In this image, the colours may not be particularly distracting, however, they are of no particular interest either and do not add to the overall scene, so I decided to experiment with converting this image into black-and-white. 


After importing the image into Lightroom 5, I press D to take it to the Develop module. There are several ways to convert a colour image into black-and-white: by pressing Black & White in the Treatment panel, by selecting B&W in the HSL / Colour / B & W panel, or simply by pressing the V key on the keyboard. In all cases, Lightroom will automatically convert the colour image into greyscale. Here is what our image now looks like:


Just as with a colour image, I first start making general adjustments by toggling different tone sliders, such as Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks in the Treatment panel, as well as the Temperature and Tone sliders: even though we are working with a greyscale image, toggling the colour temperature may change your image dramatically.


You may notice that greens and reds, when converted to B&W, usually produce a very similar shade of grey (compare, for example, the upper part of the trees and the wall behind them), thus making the image look flat and uninteresting. However, there is a solution to this: just like in B&W film photography, different colour filters will have different effects on a B&W digital image, highlighting certain areas and enhancing the contrasts depending on the filter that is being used.

My next step is to have a look at some of the Lightroom B&W Filter Presets in the Preset panel on the left side of the screen. Below you can see the effect from applying various colour filters:


The green filter effect looks the closest to the result I want to achieve, which is to separate the treetops from the buildings, to keep the rest of the trees dark enough so that the backlit fountain stands out more, and to accentuate the little boy who is currently blending into the background. 

After applying a green filter, to fine-tune the image, I go to the HSL / Colour / B & W panel and toggle different colour sliders, thus seeking to highlight some areas and darken others, as well as to bring more depth into the image. You may do so by toggling the sliders, or by using a Targeted Adjustment Tool, located in the upper left corner of the panel: click on it to activate, then place the resulting pointer against the area of the image you want to darken or brighten (for example, against the green leaves or the red bricks), click on it and slide the pointer up (to brighten) or down (to darken) without releasing the mouse button. Lightroom will automatically determine the colours you are working with and adjust the sliders in that direction.


Once you are satisfyed with the result, it is always advisable to zoom into the image and check that the corrections are not overdone: toggling the sliders to extremes often results in unwanted artifacts or dark halos around the edges:


Finally, I add some Clarity and Post-Crop Vignetting (to be found in Effects panel) to the image. In B&W images, I usually add more Clarity than in the colour ones to make the details stand out more without having to worry about the loss of colour. Vignetting slightly darkens the edges of the image, and thus brings more attention to the central scene. Here is the resulting image:

  • BW_02
  • BW_07

Let us know how this works for you and share your results with us!


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About the Author

Nadia Gric

Nadia Gric

Nadia is passionate about the visual aspect of life and the personalities she meets along the way. Living in the heart of Paris, Nadia never stops exploring the City of Light through her camera and readily shares her knowledge and love for photography.

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