How I convert a photo to black and white using Lightroom

As much as you try, you can't always get it right in camera. This is how I fixed an unwanted center composition and converted my photo to black and white using Lightroom.
before
As much as you try, you can't always get it right in camera. This is how I fixed an unwanted center composition and converted my photo to black and white using Lightroom.
after

If you’ve been spending all your nights browsing photography tutorials instead of getting some much-needed sleep, you’ve probably stumbled upon this advice a lot: “Get it right in camera!”

Whether they are talking about exposure or composition, it’s legitimate advice but, alas, not always attainable.

In my case, due to the miscommunication between my previous camera and lens, I often missed focus if I used anything but the center focus point (without a focus-recompose method). Doing so, however, meant all my subjects ended up in the dead-center of the frame.

To give myself options to recompose in the post-processing, I would often back off and allow plenty of extra space around the main subject. This resulted in all the unwanted distraction in this photo of my daughter standing in the doorway showing me her tears.

As much as you try, you can't always get it right in camera. This is how I fixed an unwanted center composition and converted my photo to black and white using Lightroom.

As soon as I pulled up this photo in Lightroom, I knew I had to start by adjusting my crop. Only afterwards would I be able to concentrate on converting it into a rich black and white picture full of depth, drama and emotion.

Step 1: Crop

My goal was to get rid of all the distractions in the frame. I wanted to highlight her face and focus the viewer’s attention on her expression. So, I cropped tight around her making sure I placed one of her eyes on the top and right third lines following the Rule of Thirds.

I avoided chopping off her head on the top and placed her left hand at the lower corner, because it would eventually lead the viewer’s eyes in the direction of her face (in combination with her other hand and pointing fingers).

As much as you try, you can't always get it right in camera. This is how I fixed an unwanted center composition and converted my photo to black and white using Lightroom.

Step 2: Black and white conversion

Using the HSL/Color/B&W Panel, I converted the image to monochrome (simply by clicking on B&W).

Next, I played with the color sliders of the B&W Mix. Mostly, my goal was to slightly lighten up the skin by pulling up Orange (+9) and Yellow (+18).

I moved other colors around to get the best look for this image. The values of these sliders will depend on the colors in a specific photograph.

As much as you try, you can't always get it right in camera. This is how I fixed an unwanted center composition and converted my photo to black and white using Lightroom.

Step 3: Basic panel

Now that I’ve gotten rid of the colors, I can concentrate on creating a dramatic black and white with plenty of contrast and depth. I usually start by fine-tuning the Exposure but here it looked right so I added Contrast (+24), lowered Highlights (-14) and Shadows (-12), increased Whites (+24) and deepened the Blacks (-48).

Finally, I also increased Clarity (+5). The Histogram was notifying me of clipped shadows (notice a little white triangle on the left side). However, I decided to ignore the warning at this point. In the later steps I used an Adjustment Brush to bring back the details in the hair and eyes, and used the Tone Curve to lift the clipping in the background.

As much as you try, you can't always get it right in camera. This is how I fixed an unwanted center composition and converted my photo to black and white using Lightroom.

Step 4: Tone Curve

To achieve more drama in my monochromatic images, I added an S curve (lifted the right side and pulled down the left side, thus creating a curve that resembles a letter S) in the Tone Curve.

Additionally, I slightly pulled up the left end of the S curve to help with the clipping of the blacks as well as create a slight matte effect (notice that the Shadow Warning icon is turned off now).

As much as you try, you can't always get it right in camera. This is how I fixed an unwanted center composition and converted my photo to black and white using Lightroom.

Step 5: Sharpening and Noise Reduction

Sharpening: I do the majority of my sharpening in the Photoshop (Step 14) so here I only sharpened slightly (Amount: 25, Radius: 1.0, Detail: 25).

Noise Reduction: This photograph was shot at ISO 100 so I didn’t need a ton of noise reduction. Pulling up Luminance slightly was enough (Luminance: 15).

As much as you try, you can't always get it right in camera. This is how I fixed an unwanted center composition and converted my photo to black and white using Lightroom.

Step 6: Lens Correction and Effects

Lens Correction: 24mm lens is a wide angle lens that has quite a bit of distortion, so that’s why I pulled up a couple of the sliders under the Manual tab.

Effects: I like adding some vignetting in Lightroom by pulling down the Amount slider (-12).

As much as you try, you can't always get it right in camera. This is how I fixed an unwanted center composition and converted my photo to black and white using Lightroom.

Step 7: Face

Considering my main area of interest is my daughter’s face, I used a Radial Filter to add a little more contrast (+15). Don’t forget to make sure that the Invert Mask box is checked, otherwise the changes will affect the area outside of the filter.

As much as you try, you can't always get it right in camera. This is how I fixed an unwanted center composition and converted my photo to black and white using Lightroom.

Step 8: Eyes

Now that I had made all the general changes, I started concentrating on specific areas of the image by using multiple Adjustment Brushes.

To start, I noticed that although overall her face was lit well, her eyes were very dark. So, using an Adjustment Brush, I increased Exposure (+1.42), lifted Shadows (+100) and added Contrast (+56).

As much as you try, you can't always get it right in camera. This is how I fixed an unwanted center composition and converted my photo to black and white using Lightroom.

Step 9: Face and hands

I added even more Contrast (+15) around her face and hands.

As much as you try, you can't always get it right in camera. This is how I fixed an unwanted center composition and converted my photo to black and white using Lightroom.

Step 10: Hair exposure

Remember when I deepened the blacks? It affected her hair too much, resulting in some lost detail. So, using an Adjustment Brush I increased Exposure (69) just around the hair.

When I used my Adjustment Brush, I feathered quite a bit to have smooth transitions but that also meant that some of the brush affected my daughter’s face. I didn’t need added exposure on her forehead and cheeks, so I selected Eraser and erased brush effects from her face.

As much as you try, you can't always get it right in camera. This is how I fixed an unwanted center composition and converted my photo to black and white using Lightroom.

Step 11: Hair highlights

After I had increased exposure on her hair, I realized some of the highlights were affected too much so I used a new Adjustment Brush to tone down those highlights (Contrast: -79, Highlights: -100, Clarity: -100).

As much as you try, you can't always get it right in camera. This is how I fixed an unwanted center composition and converted my photo to black and white using Lightroom.

Step 12: Background

I knew I had to remove all the background distraction from this image. The Adjustment Brush is pretty much like a magic wand in such cases.

I pulled down four main sliders (Exposure: -2.81, Contrast: -79, Highlights: -79 & Shadows: -91) and covered everything I wanted gone in the background. This included the whole window on the other side of the room and part of the door right next to her.

Sometimes I need to use this brush several times (in this case 3 times) to tackle some of the lightest areas. Sometimes it’s useful to play with the Flow slider. If you’re not looking for a very drastic change, a lighter flow will do the job.

As much as you try, you can't always get it right in camera. This is how I fixed an unwanted center composition and converted my photo to black and white using Lightroom.

Step 13: Shirt

I used yet another Adjustment Brush to decrease the Exposure (-51) and Highlights (-20) on her shirt, otherwise it was much lighter than her face and rather distracting.

As much as you try, you can't always get it right in camera. This is how I fixed an unwanted center composition and converted my photo to black and white using Lightroom.

Step 14: Resize in Photoshop

Most of my photo sharing happens on Facebook and I’ve found that an image resized to 2048 px on the longest side looks the best once uploaded there, so that’s what I did here.

As much as you try, you can't always get it right in camera. This is how I fixed an unwanted center composition and converted my photo to black and white using Lightroom.

Step 15: Sharpening

I prefer sharpening in Photoshop as well. For an image with 2048 px on the longest side, I used the Unsharp Mask method with the following values: Amount: 50%, Radius: 1.0 pixels, Threshold: 0 levels.

As much as you try, you can't always get it right in camera. This is how I fixed an unwanted center composition and converted my photo to black and white using Lightroom.

Step 16: Adding Grain

Finally, I like to add some grain to my black and white images. I do this as a last step because the amount of grain needed depends on the size of the image.

In this case, I added Gaussian 2%. Note: Make sure you have the Monochromatic box checked.

As much as you try, you can't always get it right in camera. This is how I fixed an unwanted center composition and converted my photo to black and white using Lightroom.

And here is the final edit.

As much as you try, you can't always get it right in camera. This is how I fixed an unwanted center composition and converted my photo to black and white using Lightroom.

Remember, if you end up with the edit you love, make sure you save it as a preset (in Light Room). Next time you want to achieve a similar effect while converting an image to Monochrome, you’ll have a good place to start.

About the Author:

Sopo is a self-taught photographer, originally from the small, yet gorgeous country of Georgia, now living on Long Island, NY. She seeks to document her two daughters’ everyday through authentic, story-telling photographs. She is constantly exploring new mediums to feed her need for creativity, be it designing intricate jewelry, drafting and sewing children’s garments or learning to paint with watercolors.

2 Comments

  1. Christopher Hall May 03 2018 at 12:09 am - Reply

    Brilliant article. I used some of the tips yesterday. Thank you!

    • Sopo Aug 29 2018 at 3:47 pm - Reply

      I’m so glad it was informative!

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