The Art of Black and White Conversions

B&W Talk 2015

The Art
Black & White Conversions

On Tues. Sept 15, 2015 at the Manitoba Camera Club presentation I was invited to do a presentation on B&W conversions with the intent of showing some of the artistic capabilities of Lightroom. The audience was asked to bring image files that I would process live. We had a lot of fun but unfortunately I ran out of time so I promised I would post them at a later date, well here they are.

Let me preface this document by saying that all the images are the copyright of the individuals who kindly submitted them for this particular talk and demo. I want to thank those that shared their files for this purpose of the demonstration and I hope that I did them justice on the conversions. So lets begin, the images appear in no particular order.

The Actor

B&A Actor_This is a nicely exposed stage shot of an Asian character. There is a strong colour cast from stage lighting so its important to start with colour correcting the image to obtain the correct grey scale tones. Once completed, using the “HSL module”, each colour was desaturated. This technique allows for a luminance adjustment of each colour in the scene. In the “Basic module” a minor exposure and shadows adjustment completed this conversion. A border was added in OnOne FX.

Street Dancer

B&A Dancer HybrideThis was a challenging image because of the complex nature of the capture. Quite a busy street scene didn’t allow for a simple B&W conversion so it was produced as a hybrid to help isolate the subject in an interesting way. Utilizing the radial tool in LR6 set to 100% desaturation was the starting point. In LR6 the new brush selector within the radial tool was chosen and set at 100% desaturation erase all the remaining colour. The dancer, now the only colour, stands out against an other wise busy background. A lightening of her and a slight saturation and its done. Border was added in FX.

Environmental Portrait

B&A Dancer PortrateA nice urban portrait but the subject is a bit lost and not the true focal point. Starting with a crop to remove some of the bright area that catches the eye, in addition it make the image more cinematic. Using the HSL and removing all colour with the sliders allows minor adjustments of all the grey tones. Then added an elongated horizontal radial adjustment of exposure, – highlight and clarity. A second vertical radial adjustment with the same sliders of varying settings completed the look. A vignette was added and a frame in OnOne FX.

Sunrise Fog

B&A Fog & SunriseA challenging fog image. Start with the HSL desaturation conversion to B&W. A gradient tool with a strong clarity selected was dragged down from the top and it revealed details at the brightest point. Switched to a radial tool with a strong clarity setting revealing as much detail as possible with out creating unwanted banding effect of the gradient. Two more radial adjustments were set on each side adding more treeline details. Lastly a gradient tool, set with clarity, dragged from the bottom up to expose the dark details in the for ground. Fine details were added with a brush tool, dodging and burning the stick in the foreground. Frame added in OnOne FX.

High Key Portrait

B&A High Key_


Studio portrait converted with a moderate high key look. Global HSL desaturation colour conversion, a radial tool adjustment with clarity and slight +exposure showed a nice opportunity to go high key. The final has a pushed white and exposure adjustment with some added contrast to retain the details.

Fishing Boat

B&A Sepia HybridThis beautiful fishing scene cried out for a sepia monochrome conversion. The HSL desaturation technique was used as a baseline. Dodge and burning was used to bring out some of the details and the brightening of the boat in the foreground to give it more prominence. In LR6 presents there is a sepia that works very well. A deepening of the colour was added and using a brush some defined pastel colouring was added with a brush tool. Within the brush tool select  temperature and adjust sliders to obtain the tone your looking for, select flow and density high to see the effect, you can adjust it back once you see the correct colour your looking for. Vignette and a frame were added at the end.

Soft Portrait

B&A Soft Glow Eye detailAnother beautiful studio portrait this time made into a warmed soft conversion. HSL desaturation  conversion with luminance adjustments to highlight key facial structure. Radial tool with slight exposure and dropping of the highlights a push on the shadows and sorted by a negative clarity. Select the brush within the radial tool and erase this effect on the eyes mouth and hairline to bring back the contrast as previously created. Framed in OnOne FX.

Steep Rock Shoreline

B&A Steep RockA nice shoreline scene with an overcast nondescript sky. When one sees a shoreline of water and rocky cliff we conjure up a storm or a dramatic sunset, well in this case a storm prevailed. HSL conversion allow some amazing detail to be revealed in the waters and cliff in the foreground, the sky however remained nondescript. Clarity added more detail and some dodge and burning pretty much completed the majority of the foreground. The sky needed further help and that was accomplished in OnOne FX. A trick I use is to add multiple layers of sky set at different opacities and scale to make it more believable. I also like to invert the dominant sky and use that to create some highlights in the water. Brought back into LR and a slight dodge and burn and that completed this image.

Vintage Aircraft

B&A Vintage AircraftAnother image that cried out to be a monochromatic sepia image. In this case the HSL conversion technique really helped to find details in this image. Really play with the luminance sliders to find out which once work best for the given image, remembering the colours of the original image are key. Lastly a soft white glow was added to the window with the radial tool and the chair was erased from that glow.

Glowing Sunrise

B&A Sunrise Silhoutte_A soft glow of an early morning light with a detailed silhouette of trees and their reflection. Does this defy the basic definition of B&W being one part black and one part white, well, yes it does. HSL adjustment helps to define this automatically. There is a strong black that is obvious but its the subtle grey tones that become just as obvious. This is a great example to use for the sharpening technique with the masking tool. When sharpening for fine detail use a small radius, meaning a smaller pixel cluster, add detail to the amount of your liking but here is the real key. You don’t need or want to sharpen the clouds, sky or refection in this image so use the Masking slider. Press option in Mac and at the same time slide the controller, only the white highlighted areas are being sharpened, nun of the black is being effected. On this image it was set at 100 so only the tree edges were sharpened and nothing else, perfect. No white exists and when the greys were adjusted there was a shore line detail that came to light that was not seen in the original image.

The Storm

B&A Stormy Coast LineIn all due respect to the maker of this image this is one that you don’t want to spend much time on because you know it takes to long. Well here we go. HSL is my starting point in B&W workflow. Try and find any detail in the blown out area -100 in highlights, white clipping -40, try clarity and contrast. It all still leaves this white abyss with no detail. Next is to clone some cloud into the space, not everywhere, just where there could be a strong cloud. Then take the image to a second software package, in this case OnOne FX, and layer in a cloud layer or two. Its the only solution and is left to a whole world of interpretation.

The Bridge

B&A B&W Hybrid   This was sent to me as a B&W image so I had a chance to play. I did a minor crop to add a more linear feel to this image. Took it into OnOne FX and added a texture, frame. I returned back to LR and took the brush with a blue temperature and colourized the bridge, it was intended to be a bit sloppy as an urban grunge.

Vintage Farmstead

 B&A Vintage Farm Pastel

I saved the best for last, well in my books anyway. This is a the B&W conversion using HSL with hand colouring two or three pastel colours. A high key conversion is the base. The colours are added with the brush tool and in effect, select a temperature colour you like, add some clarity and brush over the area you want coloured. A last adjustment of exposure to find that right high key look.


Introduction to artistic B&W conversions.

•    study the image well before you start.
•    what is the content
•    what is the mood
•    what are the compositions strong points

A good understanding of the image goes a long way in creating an artistic rendering.

The different ways to convert RGB images to B&W in LR6.

1 – “Basic” – use the B&W tab for an automatic conversion.
The RGB channel percentages should theoretically add up to 100% (i.e. 50% Red + 40% Green + 10% Blue = 100%). More than 100% means lighter images and less than 100% means darker images, so it’s really up to you.
The default option is 100% Red, 0% Green, 0% Blue, but 30% Red, 60% Green, 10% Blue is a good starting point.
2 – “HSL”  – desaturate all the colours individually. By using the luminance colour sliders you can adjust the grey scale of every individual colour zones.

4 – Radial Tool drop down – desaturation set at -100.

5 – Brush Tool drop down- desaturation set at -100.

6 – Gradient Tool drop down – desaturation set at -100.

7 – B&W Presets in LR6 are many, each having a variety of interpretations.

There are a lot more ways to do this in LR6 use your imagination and have fun.
Lastly Remember: If you’ve spent a lot of time working with a certain image, take a break for a while and then use a fresh set of eyes to look at it again. Over concentration can be easy to do, if you’ve looked at it for too long taking a break will often help you identify what needs to be done.

B&W conversions should be a lot fun so enjoy yourself.

Magic Moments



The Challenge:

I just participated in the “fivedayblackandwhitechallenge”. This event took place on Facebook and the idea was to create a chain of willing photographers to share 5 images from their portfolios and to invite 5 other photographers into challenge to perpetuate the event. On Oct 21 I was invited in by Anil Sud a good friend and mentor who is an amazing photographer in his own right. A special Thank You for that.

Observations and Objectives:

So the question became what will I bring to the table. On a weekly basis I share a fair bit on Facebook so what would be the idea behind the images I was about to show for this challenge. My thoughts became one of newness. I spent time and looked at some of the images that people were post I realized they were from all over the world so I knew there was a larger audience pool. I decide to share some new images and processing concepts to see what comments this broader audience would yield.

My Submissions:

My first image was posted on Oct 21. This was a shot taken at the Leo Mole sculpture garden in Winnipeg. When I first saw this original colour image I liked the contrast that existed between the dark greens, dark clear waters and the light yellow lilies. When I loaded it into LR5 and did a basic B&W conversion, based on a preset I created, I discovered much more. In B&W this image shows a tremendous amount of character in the depth of blacks in the matte leaves, the bubbles on the waters surface and of course the subtle details of the flowers that once you look into them you see more and more of the details that first look appear to be slightly over exposed.

B&W Lilies

Captured at the Leo Mole Gardens, Winnipeg, Canada.

My second image was posted Oct 22. This was a shot taken in North Eastern Alberta at Elk Island. This location became a favorite haunt of mine for about five years. Arriving predawn I would walk among the bison sleeping in the in the meadows and trees. I got quite used to them over the years and I had a good understanding of their body language so I was comfortable walking among them, stupid maybe, but it allowed me to get some very peaceful morning shots. This was one taken just as the bison were awakening. The setting was very nice with the edge of a forested area behind adding some nice light and vertical contrast to the dark animals and tall light grasses.

Bison Morning #2

Captured at Elk Island, Alberta.


My third image was posted on Oct 23. This was taken in the Rockies near Jasper, Alberta. I was on a two day hike in the mountains and I came upon this small alpine lake. Along its shoreline were the roots of fallen trees that had been bleached by the sun and waters. The white sculptural roots strictures were a beautiful contrast to the dark green of the forest and the emerald green waters. The B&W conversion allowed even more depth and the selective highlights I chose created a nice “S” curve to the composition.


Taken at an alpine lake near Jasper, Alberta.

Taken at an alpine lake near Jasper, Alberta.


My forth image was posted on Oct 24. On my travels to the city of Chicago in 2011 I captured this shot from the Navy Pier. Looking west on a bleak rainy day the sun would breaking through the clouds every once in a while. I lined up the lamp post to be directly in front of the sun so it would illuminate the glass shades. The twin towers were wrapped in a shroud of mist but the dual antennas rose above the mist rendering a classic double elements composition.  In processing I discovered a fortuitous third double of a pair of birds just above the lights. Divine intervention…

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My fifth and final post was on Oct 25. With an international group I thought I would end it with an iconic symbol of the Canadian Prairies and take a step back in time when the history of our country was just being written. The Iron Horse is a imposing machine of iron and steel with a belly full of fire and boiler full of steam on the brink of catastrophe, yet, it intimately wove a steel thread that forged our culture and heritage from coast to coast. The Prairie Dog Central is the oldest functioning steam locomotive in North America, circa 1882, which still runs today. Its an amazing sight to behold as this Hollywood star steams across the prairie landscape as its black smoke plum dissipates into the abyss of the westerly prairie winds. I apologize that I was posting two images but I thought its was appropriate as they symbolize the coming and going of an era in early Canadian history.



The five colleagues I invited were Alex Morrison ( About Nature Photography ), Tse Li Luk ( Tse Li Luk photography ), Hans Arnold ( Hans Arnold Photography ), Keith Levit ( Keith Levit Photography ) and Rodney Braun ( Rodney Braun Photography ).


So this concluded my posts for the challenge. During my five days I was determined to share comments with as many photographers as possible. I search “fivedayblackandwhitechallenge” for the five days to see other peoples works and give comments when I was inspired by their images to do so. I must have “liked” upwards of 100 posts and commented on 20-25 that were outside of the community I already knew. There were some great images.

I guess I was an anomaly by doing this but I thought sharing opinions would be something that most would look for. Unfortunately on the receiving end my images rarely earned any comments outside of my known friends and colleagues, which I really appreciated, but it was a bit of a disappointment not hearing from photographers from other countries.

So, would I do it again, of course I would… its a joy to share the art you create.

Some Interesting News:

When I spoke to Rosemarie & Pat Keough about joining in on the fivedayblackandwhitechallenege they gratefully declined because in a few short days they are leaving on another amazing photographic expedition that will see them on a return journey to Antarctica and then on to South America to venture up the Amazon River. I’ll look forward to learning more about these amazing expeditions in the future.

Rosemarie told me about an exciting recent development regarding their book (tome) entitled “Antarctica”. She wrote “Big news for us is that the prestigious Arts + Auction magazine, in its current international edition, highlights our photographic tome Antarctica as being one of the “Three Classics” together with Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail by Ansel Adams (1938) and Henri Cartier- Bresson’s The Decisive Moment (1958).”  Attach is the pdf of the article “Snapshot of Photography Books, The Top Shelf.” Good company indeed! You can read more about their amazing books and travels by clicking on the link above.

Art+Auction – Keough

I’m look forward to the next challenge.

One Moment in Time





Photography is all about capturing moments in time and preserving them. When your presented with that moment be prepared or loose it. Most photographers will admit, if they are honest, that they’ve missed far to many and will try to be better prepared at any time. Today that is made a lot easier with the advent of cell phones that have reasonably good cameras but these certainly don’t replace a DSLR for quality files but they’re easily accessible to make that capture.


This is one of those moments that came up very quickly and was over with in a couple of minutes.

Recently, on a student outing, we were at a lake location for a sunrise shoot. All the cameras were set up on tripods facing east and everyone was anxiously waiting for their moments to capture the aura of a new day. A steady wind was coming out of the west and as the wind picked up I turned and there was this amazing boiling cloud formation know as mammantus clouds coming over our heads. Alone these are an interesting cloud structure and poised on a broad scene they are very dramatic. Then I noticed all the birds scurrying about sensing an impending storm and higher up the gulls were souring in the air turbulence. I collected my camera in hand and I began to shoot the larger birds with the back drop of the clouds.


The birds were moving very quickly partly due to the winds but also gulls are generally quick fliers. I immediately thought of capturing them as a silhouette, at the altitude they were flying the details were not necessary so I made a setting selection. I always shoot manual so with the ambient light low and by increasing my shutter speed to keep the birds sharp I ended up with a setting of 1/180 to 1/500 sec, f 2.8 and the ISO was already set at 200 for the sunrise. I always check my in camera metering to make sure I don’t blow out any highlights, if there is any danger I shoot on the dark side and bring it back in Lightroom.

_DS23925 _DS23919-3



In post production the decisions were almost immediate. There was very little colour so a conversion to B&W was obvious and it was the first step. I took the first image and tweaked it till the clouds were well defined yet the bird remained the darkest point which became the focal point. I saved this as an action and applied it to the 56 images as a base line. The clouds were really quite uniform in brightness so I could make a decision individually as to where a stronger highlight could be placed. The obvious choice would be around the gull but I chose not to be that obvious because in mother nature its more random. In stead I let each images cloud structure decide where the brightest point would be and the bird was secondary even though it was the focal point, bit unusual, but I believe it worked out well.



The last bit of artistic license was to convert them to a deep sepia tone which gives the images a more menacing and intense essence. To finish all the images were taken into FX pro and given a simple frame and a light glow with no blacks, to make sure there was no halo around the birds.  The glow gives the clouds a very nice soft look and deepens the background from the foreground, with a sharp bird detail, almost appearing 3D.

B&W September Challange

Cemetery Highlights

I’m a solitary kind of guy so I do most of my photographic work solo. Especially when I’m looking for some very moody images I don’t want to be thinking of other people or a time frame to finish by. I like to stop and spend time when visiting those chosen locations, I want to relax and really get a feel for them.

Back lit or rim light.

Back lit or rim light.

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Cemeteries are one of these locations I like to quietly meander through. I have to be in the right mood and that will usually strike me early evening or near sunset. I lean toward grounds that have an abundance of trees, they offer very interesting highlights and shadows, backgrounds or great silhouettes and vistas to look beyond. I also look for older cemeteries with the grand head stones topped with amazing sculptures or if your lucky you can find architectural limestone or marble crypt.

Looking to the sunset a distant vista of light through the trees.

Looking to the sunset creates a distant vista of light through the trees.

Its also important to note that stepping into a cemetery I have already converted my eye to thinking that I’m shooting with B&W film. Its a different mindset for me. I’m looking for more contrast and texture, more depth in shadows and highlights in a scene or subject.

Think outside the box and this may still sound a bit creepy, some will call this getting into the zone, but, as I wander about I listen to the sounds of the birds, trees rustling in the breeze, I watch the dancing dappled light filter through, I’ll become comfortable and a sense of calm will come over me, if the stars align my instincts will begin to guid me.

This is when the magic either happens or not, if not, I may not even take a shot and just walk. I may see the most amazing sculpture and try my best techniques to capture it but if it doesn’t want to pose for me then it won’t work. On the other hand you may find your drawn to a detail, for no apparent reason, one you’ve never had an interest in but suddenly its the most fascinating feature on the grounds, they speak to you and your excitement grows and you say why haven’t I shot this before. Is this divine intervention, I like to think so because I’m not in control I was brought here.

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I saw her from afar and  stay here for some time, "together forever".

I saw her from afar and stayed here for some time, “together forever”.

Have you had a moment when you felt someone watching you or out of the corner of your eye you see movement but don’t see anything. I treasure these sensations here and I’ll let them guide me and most often I’ll see something that is truly moving and capture an image that is compelling.

I may have walked by this marker many times and never seen.

I may have walked by this marker many times and never seen it till this day.

When I return to my studio I’m usually excited to down load the days shoot. In opening these image files I usually have a different sense of first impressions. One of my first processes is to do a general B&W conversion, I don’t know why but I feel that cemetery shots are best suited to a B&W conversion and I need to see all the files that way. I have my own B&W conversion formula that produces all my shots dark, its where I like to start. Out of the abyss I will select the highlights that I want to bring forward therefore the mood is instantaneous and more in tune to what I experienced.

Dappled light through trees.

Dappled light through the trees at Fraser’s Monument.

Alright so now you know that I’m totally crazy. I hope you find this set of images inspirational and when you next visit a cemetery say “hi” to the folks there for me.
Word of caution if your visiting a gated cemetery make sure you park outside and walk in, nothing like having your car on the wrong side of the gates when they close at sunset.

September B&W Photography Month

B&W September Challenge

Being that Sept. was designated as B&W photography month, and now with all my surgeries are behind me I’m starting to feel myself again. So, I thought I would have some fun and begin a post that would challenge everyone that wanted to build on their B&W portfolios.

I’m challenging myself to find as many different image genres in my archives to show you in B&W. I hope it inspires you to build on your own creative ideas and to help you develop your style and techniques in image capturing and processing. If your wanting to share an idea or related image here feel free.

B&W Movement

Goose Berry Falls_-30

One of my personal favourites in B&W is the movement of water in particular water falls. Most water movement expressed in B&W has a magical feel that is simply calming but liberating. When you see a well captured image it takes your breath away then it lulls your senses and feeling of calms prevail. Contrast is of major importance in these images, the back drop of rocks must be deep and dynamic showing strength and structure. The waters movement is the opposite it must be light demonstrating fleeting cascades of movement but should never be over exposed, details must be in the highlights. I like to find in these captures faint details of a rock or a splash or droplet juxtaposed to the main movement of the body of water. You will often find hidden rocks below thin vials of water along the edges, these are seen and appreciated in B&W renditions so pay attention to these fine details.

In processing B&W images never think that a simple third party filter set or global adjustment programs with sliders will suffice, they only create a starting point and you need to spend some time here with a brush, radial tool or point adjustment tool and begin to dodge & burn the details in. Having been a trained painter and pencil sketch artists I find the brush tools have given me the best results but recently I’m working more with a radial tool and creating some amazing results.  auto remote cameraauto remote camera

Remember don’t be in a hurry, spend time with your images and the results will be well worth the effort.