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!”
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 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).
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.
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.
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).
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).
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).
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.
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).
Step 9: Face and hands
I added even more Contrast (+15) around her face and hands.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And here is the final edit.
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.