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

Lightroom 5

LR5 was just released and for those that didn’t participate in the beta version this will bring you up to date with whats new. Those of you that have used the beta I will talk about what I’ve learned and done with the new features over the past couple of months.

Let me begin by stating the not so obvious. I work in LR every day and it didn’t take me long to realize that it was just faster. Start up, file uploads & openings and brush strokes are tell tail signs of an engine re-freshening. Cross platform file sharing is much faster and much more compatible with more third party applications. If you send a file over to PS for adjustment they are updated in LR immediately.

Lets get into the meat and potatoes of whats new. The are five key areas that have been identified as improvements for LR5 and these are:

Advanced Healing Brush
Radial Gradient
Smart Previews
Video Slide Show

There is a great number of other improvements that I will briefly talk about at the end.

Advanced Healing Brush

To those of you that took the LR 4 workshop series this past winter the much talked about healing brush is here. I told you it was coming. 🙂

The brush is fairly intuitive in fact it operates much like the spot healing tool of the past. LR5 has also made improvements to the quality of the engine that performs the corrections. You have the same two modes of selection, cloning and healing. Cloning will copy the source area as its selected and healing will create a patch that blends similar colour and contrast from the source. They both do a very good job but there are a couple of details I’d like to share. Edges of an image can be tricky. What I’ve learned is to clone in this area, healing can cause a blurring effect. Once you select that area to be replaced move your target away from the immediate location to avoid any obvious pattern repeat.

There is additional new tool  at the bottom of the image box and that is the Visualization Spots. Click this box and it will change the image to a hybrid B&W image that will reveal all the hidden dust spots. By fine tuning the slider they will pop these blemishes making it easy to correct. This new brush and tool set is worth the upgrade price alone. There are some very cool short cuts but I’ll go into those in another tutorial.


This is one of the most advanced horizontal and vertical correction tools out there. Under lens correction select the basic tab, here you will find all the settings for this new feature. Simple horizons like a water scene or a prairie horizon are flawless but it will even correct very complex architectural images.

Horizontal Correction: First select “Enable Profile Correction” to activate it, at the same time click remove “Chromatic Aberration” I’ve discussed this before just do it, then click level and it works wonders.

Vertical Correction: Vertical is the same procedure except hit “Vertical” and it does a good job at creating a perfect vertical rendering, but, if the perspective is not quite right you can still work the image under the manual tab as you see fit. Hit manual and at the bottom of the list you will find a new slider called Aspect. Move the slider left or right to fine-tune the image to your requirements. Do it in that order if you manually correct first it doesn’t work well.

3D Correction: Go back to basic and the last setting to try is “Full” this is a complete 3D correction on the image. Architectural images are the prime candidates for this procedure.  Again from here you can always go to the manual tab after and fine tune it to your liking.

If you have a set of images like a sequence for an HDR you can synchronize and process a set exactly the same so they match up. A very nice feature. One last tip when possible use a RAW file, LR5 uses the metadata like lens type and focal length to correct the image and it will do a better job with a RAW.

This is the untouched RAW file upload
This is the untouched RAW file upload. Shot with a 10-20mm lens there are lots of corrections need here.
Upright adjustment completed, small inverted radial adjustments with tint, brushed tinted highlights, a final global sharpening
Upright adjustment completed, small inverted radial adjustments with tint, brushed tinted highlights, a final global sharpening, a large dark & softening vignette with the radial filter.

Radial Filter

At first I wasn’t that keen on this one but it has really grown on me. The immediate thought is to create a vignette or focal point by highlighting or darkening, sharpening or blurring its great even colour highlights, contrast spot light, the list is endless. Remember that you have all the other adjustments sliders that can be applied with it, so get creative. Don’t forget there is a invert mask button that flips the settings. Now start working some combinations and the results are quite amazing and fun. Remember you are not restrict to be within the image boundary, also stacking does not degrade the image. There are a few short cut keys and special feature keys to this tool as well. I will be posting a specific tutorial on this feature with image samples soon.

Smart Preview

How many times have you wanted to work on an image with out your external hard drive with you, all you get is the dreaded cannot locate so you can’t work on the image. Create a smart preview and you can work off line on any image in your file. In Library mode just under the histogram is a small box, select the images you want to create a copy of and click,  LR5 will create a smart preview for you. LR saves these new files as as a lossy DNG file which is a compressed file of 70% – 50% so it won’t take much drive space. Remember because its a compressed file when you do certain adjustments like sharpening (off line) they may not render correctly on screen, but as soon as you reconnect to the hard drive with the original file, LR5 will update the full file correctly. This is a fabulous convenience addition.

Video Slide Show

If you create slide shows LR5 now allows you to create sides show presentations that incorporate movie clips. You just inserts like a image and it plays automatically. This is a nice feature to enrich you audience in your presentation.

There are a number of other improvements that are incorporated into version 5 that are worth mentioning. Some of the filter algorithms have been improved so be amazed as you explore. The noise reduction filters are now excellent. I shoot with a vintage Nikon D200 which is notorious for low light noise, its scary to consider going over ISO 400. I just competed a stage production shoot at ISO 1100 and my images are very usable. Highlight and shadow recovery sliders will amaze you. B&W conversion can be precisely mixed with 8 colour channels that can make or break a conversion. The enhanced 64-bit cross-platform pipeline speeds up image tasking whether your a Mac or PC user especially moving from one software package to another. LR5 print capabilities are superior and it has now replaced a costly rip program for my professional printing needs.


In conclusion I will suggest if you are using LR3 and enjoy it, come out of the dark ages to see what LR5 can do for you now, its magical. If you are a RL4 user and have found its become your go to image processing software then the advanced healing brush is worth the upgrade alone. If your a photographer and a PhotoShop devotee and don’t want to subscribe to Adobe cloud, check out this powerful processing package and all the online articles and tutorials on LR. That support alone should convince you to get on board. Its 1/10 the price and you’ll use more than 10% of the software program because its designed for photography. Adobe has now made it clear that PS (which has become a cloud suit subscription) is clearly become a graphic designers product. Lightroom was created for photographers and will likely remain a stand alone package.

Lightroom is priced at $ 79 for an upgrade, well worth the investment in your images and even the $ 149  for the full version is a tremendous buy for the photographer. I highly recommend it.

Night Time Variation

Last night I was working late in the studio and just before midnight I could hear the wind pick up and the distant boom of lightning strikes. I thought about going out but I had a 5:15 call in the morning. When the rain started I opened the door by my desk, I love listening to summer rains and storms, before long there was a torrent of water coming down and the sky was alive with a mother natures light show.

I grabbed my camera and started to shoot down the brick walkway which includes a canopy of trees and a park bench. I’m not one to use a flash but I had a interesting shoot at the Vaughan Street Jail a while back where I used a remote flash behind walls and other objects which created interesting shadow and back lighting results. Well I had an inspiration to take an umbrella and place a remote flash under it and place it in the scene.

The wind was quite strong so I had to anchor the umbrella on the cast iron bench limiting my possibilities. I chose an umbrella that was a complimentary colour to the setting, a blue Matisse pattern and began the process of trying different power settings for the on board and remote flash units. I started using a 28 -70mm at first but change to a wide angle 10- 20mm due to the close proximity and narrowness of the location. I tried different positions and angles for about 30 min then put the card on the computer.

I did some simple corrections in lightroom 5 and began to think this could be interesting. I took a couple of files into OnOne and applied some simple FX filters giving them a darkened whimsical feel which I began to like even more. Check out the spirit orbs that are floating in the darkness.

Rainy Daydreams-46 Rainy Daydreams-47 Rainy Daydreams-48 Rainy Daydreams-49

I think this concept has some interesting applications to followup with using different locations (abandoned builds, fields, trees, bridges, rivers or lakes, grassy knolls).

I’ll continue to post images as I expand my locations this summer.