Lightroom 4 Expressive Black and White Workflow

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Please look at the picture full size against a grey background.

I thought with this post I would talk about the order in which I do things in Lightroom 4 to create an expressive Black and White picture – Workflow is the new posh name for this process.

Here is the unprocessed raw colour file – the start point.

The Adobe wisdom is that they intend the workflow to be from the top to the bottom of the controls in the Develop Module. This may be fine for most people doing minor adjustments to a colour picture.

For our purposes i.e. expressive black and white picture we need to use the controls that have the most significant effect on our file first.

Make all global (whole picture) adjustments first.

1- The first thing I do in the Develop Module is use a pre-set I made to do three things:

a) convert to black and white by turning all the saturation to zero in the HSL (Hue, Saturation, Luminance) section. This retains the B&W image as a colour picture.

b) Post Crop Vignette adds a moderate amount of edge darkening. Lr adds this control BEFORE the Basic controls eg Exposure, contrast etc.

c) Turn on the Lens correction – this can have a major effect on the picture brightness.

2 – Next set the white point by fine tuning the white and highlight controls so the brightest white is around 95% (this does not apply to specular highlights that should be 100%).

3 Set the Black point with Black and Shadow controls. The perceived thinking is that the should be a black somewhere with detail in the shadows. There are other views to this.

4 I tend to use the Curve to set the overall brightness and contrast.

Here is the picture (right) with just the global adjustments.

Adjust / correct the biggest local (selected with Adjustment Brush Tool) problems areas first in order of distraction.

In this picture the biggest problem to sort out was the sky that was far to bright.

Other balancing adjustments were:

a) lightening and adding contrast to the dam wall

b) lightening and adding contrast to the middle distance

c) darkening small areas of sky

d) removing unwanted highlights in the foreground

e) darkening the highlights created by the parked cars

The aim of selective lighten and darkening is to make a tonally balanced picture. A top tip temporarily flip the picture vertically and look at where the brightest and darkest tones are.

The final picture (below) with all the selective balances.

The shadows in the trees in the bottom RHS were considerably lighten in the version posted here. This is due to the conversion from a 16 bit Pro photo RGB file (with a very big color space) to an 8 bit Jpg at 72 dpi sRGB for the web (very small color space).

In my last post I had a comment from Janice about soft light in the Slate Quarries in North Wales. I went to look for soft light pictures of slate quarries of which I have many. On the way to north Wales I made a detour to the Elan Valley. Like wise I was diverted to processing this shot of the one of the Elan Dams.

Hopefully this has been useful.

A big hello to all the new followers of my little blog this week.

(c) Andy Beel FRPS 2012

4 responses to Lightroom 4 Expressive Black and White Workflow

  1. Janice says:

    Thank you for your very detailed post on your workflow for a black and white image – really useful and well explained – a great image too.
    …………..Oh dear! another place to put on my places to visit, I have only just got back but already want to return to Wales.


  2. Lesley says:

    Very good idiot proof guide Andy, a great help. I am still unsure about the ProPhoto color space have you ever done any comparisons with a mono image to Adobe RGB? Intrigued about 1a, didn’t know that!


    • andybeel says:

      Hi Lesley thanks for the feedback. I have not done any test with these two color spaces but feel that the Pro photo RGB is great for making prints with as I do. sRGB has difficulty retaining shadow detail from a file originated in Pro Photo RGB by at least 10%. I am always lightening shadow detail in files that will go on the web with the sRGB colour space. Andy


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