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

Capturing Emotions, The Human Condition.


This was a talk presented to the Manitoba Camera Club, February 3, 2015 and The Winnipeg South Photo Club, March 18, 2015.

The Art of Emotion

Tonight we are about to embark on a journey to try and gain a deeper understanding of photography. We are going to delve into the mysteries of capturing emotions and feelings in two dimensional digital images. Can a photograph depict and evoke feelings that are deeper than say a raw journalistic capture of a shooting, accident or riot. We know how those make us feel. My hope is we’ll have some understand of these subtle dynamics by evenings end and how you can apply it to your images.

One of the gallery experiences I enjoyed over the past 5 years allowed me to interact with photographers both local and from around the world. These conversations allowed for the sharing of ideas and concepts, combined with my continued work and studies in processing images, I began to formulate a theory on the understanding of how emotions can be comprehended and applied. Within this presentation I will try to explain some of these intricacies which I have applied to my work.

So sit back and enjoy this journey to your inner emotions.

Creative Photography.

The Human Condition

This is the first in a series of articles that will be posted on my bog Joe Kerr Photography under the subject titled “Creative Photography”.

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I would like you to close your eyes and listen to these sound bits and see if you can visualize the scenes you are about to hear. So relax and open your minds eye.

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Here are a couple of questions to help open your minds eye:

Did your visions easily flow from one sound bit to the other ?

Do you have a favorite ?

Were your thoughts in B&W or Colour ?

How did each sound bit make you feel ?

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Great images all begin at the capture, so here are some critical issues and influences when going out to capture amazing images:  Remember this is about the human condition and gaining an understanding of capturing emotion in images.

Lets start from the very beginning.

How did your day start out ?
Are you looking forward to your shoot ?
Do you have a plan on what your shooting ?
Is weather or sunlight a factor in you deciding to shoot today ?

Is today an optimum day to capture that subject ?

These and many more questions all influence how well your shoot will go but ultimately how you will feel about it. It is my opinion that how you feel is the most important key to capturing great emotional images.

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Putting yourself in a mindful space that is relative to what you are shooting is inherently difficult. This is one of the most important and influential characteristics of great photography and that is to actually feel your potential images before you even hit the shutter.

Here is a situation that may help you understand this. Do you remember the most amazing sunrise opportunity you’ve ever had and how you felt when it presented itself. Can you also remember another morning that was equally beautiful but for some reason it just didn’t pan out. You see the differences in your images but do you remember how each of those days started out and how you felt.

This is not a contemporary thought process lets take a step back in history for a minute and learn from two masters.


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Ansel Adams immersed himself in his environments and became so in-tuned he even named trees and rocks in around his cabin near Yosemite. He followed and created trails that became his home under the sky, yet, he understood that nature only allowed him a moment of opportunity, they weren’t his, but his photographs were, and he could share them. He became much more philosophical about what he was feeling while capturing images and constantly wrote in his journals his thoughts. He clearly understood how his images could and would effect his viewers and how his emotions would influence each capture. Because the print was what everyone would see, Ansel spent enormous amounts of time perfecting his prints in the darkroom so that they were perfect portrayals of what was in his minds eye not just a capture of a scene. He wrote about having a vision of his print before capturing them, and though these images were very personal to him, as a viewer you can see and feel that.

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In a completely different photographic genre there’s Yousuf Karsh. He was another artists that lived through his photography. As a portrait photographer he didn’t have the lighting sophistication that we enjoy today. Still, he enjoyed shooting on location, the most challenging portraits of the time. His innate sense and feel of natural light combined with his in camera skills he created images that are astonishing even today. With those simple techniques he created outstanding portraits that brought his subjects to life. Yet, I think most importantly, he took time to study and understand his subject first. He then visualized and executed sitting techniques that both relaxed them and yet brought out their personalities knowing something of who they were. Upon studying his work you can actually feel their personalities come out of the prints. His compassion to execute what was in his minds eye made him a world renowned photographer during that era and even today?

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I referenced these two artists because most of you know of them, and, they are masters whom we can relate to through their images but also as human beings. Although uniquely different they shared an inner bond of an innate sense of a divine intervention that helped to create their art. I certainly don’t profess to be in the same league of either of these famous photographers, yet, I do understand what they were trying to convey in their memoirs. Theirs and other similar concepts have been my inspiration for years and I will try to convey to you tonight what that means. No this is not a religious intervention but it is a deeper understanding of what made them tick and create amazing images.

The Capture:

On that note let me express to you what I’ve learned and have adopted as my usual or unusual process in capturing.

How I shoot varies greatly. example: If I’m with a group or with another person I rarely do what I truly like to because the dynamics will not allow. If the moment feels right though, I may disappear from the group to find my own space knowing that time will allow me to explore what is being presented to me.

Here is what I like to do as a solo shooter and I think the difference will be self explanatory. During solo shoots I take a lot of time, I’m not a run and gun type of photographer. Again, I’m going to talk about the human process behind the camera.

Nature or Scenic Shooting:

I chose this genre of photography because its one that most of you can relate to. Here is a list of things I do in preparation to taking that first shot.

  • Clearly pack all that is need for that day, the night before. One bag and a tripod.
  • Pack snacks for me and the creatures.
  • Look up some creative websites that inspire you.
  • Leave early with plenty of time to spare so your not feeling rushed.
  • Listen to music or other inspiration audio bits en-route.
  • Once I arrive I will find a trail off the beaten track, people are everywhere these days and personally I don’t want a shot that everyone else has.
  • Arrive and chill. Stop, look and listen. This is how I begin the process of interacting.
  • Until I’m feeling what I’m about to interact with I will not begin, take deep breaths and relax and survey my surroundings.
  • I like to feel a sense of perspective of who I am in this environment and how I could be perceived by those who live in this environment.
  • Feel the time of day, maybe its the warmth of the sun as it begins to lighten the morning skies, get a feeling of the trees wakening as the winds begin to blow, listen as the birds begin to sing and as life begins to stir in the forest.
  • Listening I can hear and feel life all around me and by being still, for sometime now, the forest will begin to reveal itself.
  • Over time you will learn the rhythm of nature and understand how it will react to the foreign sounds you create, remember you are the intruder.
  • Remaining quiet and still is exhilarating to me, I can be here for hours and not think anything of it.
  • Always be aware of the light, watch its glow illuminate the trees and the meadows, be aware of where it is and isn’t, light is the key to all great shots.
  • When nature presents itself go slowly, take time to try to understand the creatures in their habitat, see how they react to sounds around it, watch and learn every move, ears, eyes, neck and over-all body language.
  • Watch every detail, the direction it appears to be going, is there better light coming up, can you time the optimum reaction to the camera, take it in and feel it, until it becomes a part of you.
  • I can get so involved that I can feel their heart beating and I’ll watch their breathing, a relaxed sigh, a sudden and alert gasp and hold.
  • Patients and more patients think before you hit the shutter, timing is everything. No paparazzi shooting here.
  • Given the optimum opportunity I’ll take my shot, stop, silence, then shoot again if possible.
  • Depending on the creature the timing is different. Deer, first shot, is a waist, its the second and third that count.
  • Watch in wonder and learn. Can you learn, feel and understand how they are feeling? I think I can. When the creature is relaxed and calm, is that the shot you want, or, maybe its when they are alert with attentive ears perked. What ever the looking your waiting for, watch and learn and anticipate.
  • Now when I say “Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like.” can you begin to understand ?

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Post Production:

With everyone’s lives full of hustle and bustle I’m sure some of you are thinking this is mambo jumbo by now. As I was preparing my talk I was thinking the same thing maybe I should just do a standard show and tell. Well that’s not me, so lets move on to the next step.

Now let me show you how this continues to relate and what it looks like in the end. I apologize that I don’t have a 14 step action set to sell you that will create amazing results for your images, its not that simple and nor should it be, this is creative art.

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Lets start with your studio. Have you created a special place to create your art. Is your studio a place you enjoy going to and does it provide inspiration for you, or have you even thought about creating a special environment. Does music play a roll in your life and studio ? All this plays a part in how you feel about your photography. I’ve had the privilege of visiting numerous studio’s and the cream of the crop do have a special place to create their work so its fact, not fiction.


Let me walk you through a couple of my photographic opportunities and how I perceived and processed them. My processing actually begins when I’m capturing the image in the field. My mind is already thinking about how these will likely be processed, I’m also not close minded but this is my starting point.

Each photographic concept has a different starting point in the camera settings. Each subject has its own unique feel and needs to be processed that way. There are no single one action fool proof buttons here, this is art and needs that individualistic attention to detail. Here on the blog I’ve attached links to each set of images and the details in capture and processing follow the link to learn more. Each set was a study on its own.

Deer & Heron in Minnesota

Click here for more details

auto remote camera

auto remote camera
Matlock Piers

Click here for more details (coming soon)


Parc La Salle School

Mountain Sheep

Click here for more details

Two Sheep

Three sheep vertical
Leo Mole Statues

Click here for more details


Ian Tamblyn Concert Wpg., Feb 24 2012

As you work through your processing procedures and begin experiencing the joy of creating a wonderful image, you will find a persona emerge, were the hardware and software actually mean less, it becomes more important to know how the image feels. You will begin to find a style that reflects an inner you, one that is comfortable, intuitive but is understood. You must trust it when it happens, let it flow through you and learn to get out of the way, don’t clutter it with techno mumbo jumbo let it shine clearly.


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So where do your inspirations come from. I think its very important to find outside stimulants that help to fertilize your imagination and keep your creative neurons flashing.

Here are some places I go to find what I need to keep me creative:
Cirque du Soleil – the artistic sets but more so the costumes that amaze me
Theatre Productions – take a blank stage and transport me to another place and time is crazy how its created with forms and lighting.
Movies Productions – special effects and CG environments astound me
Attend art shows – art today is an unlimited canvas, explore everything you can
Inspirational websites – In the digital realms of the web the world is your oyster
Quotes – I look for quotes that inspire me.
Google an image topic – This is simply magic at your finger tips at any moment
Join and share in different communities. – The more the merrier, share and you will be rewarded 10 fold

There is no wright or wrong places to find inspiration, its what makes most sense to you and what inspires you to create your art.


Keys to Remember

Your eyes need to learn to listen before they look.
Patients pays off.
Don’t shoot what it looks like, shoot how it feels.
Be mindful of the event and while shooting be aware of how you might work it in post production.
Create a studio space that is both inviting and inspirational to you.

Be yourself !

What I’ve just expressed to you is my own personal formula on what I’ve learned over the years. To some it will appear goofy, some may like a part of it and others may find this inspirational. For those that found it amazing there are some doctors just outside the room in white jackets that want to talk to you, please have your medical cards ready.

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Thank you for your time.

Joe Kerr


Links to Reference Materials

Alan Ross Photography   Here is a link to a blog by Alan Ross who was one of Ansel Adams lab assistant. He reveals some amazing insights into Ansel Adam’s daily routines and how he perceived his art. Its a very interesting read.