Part 3 Black&White in Lightroom…
If you have been working on the photos in color, what you should not forget is to reset the copy in the LR catalogue before clicking on black and white (grayscale in older versions) so you can really start from scratch, your original RAW capture. A lot of people without the benefit of dark room experience seem to assume that if a photo looks more or less ok in color you just need to click on grayscale and you will get a nice b&w version. Well, no… you don’t… It is very much like trying to print a color photo in a b&w darkroom, resulting in something very gray and rather dead.
Another attitude that kind of hurts my teeth is that if a color picture is not what you expected or hoped, converting it to b&w may ‘save’ it. Ough! Sorry! Once in a while that may be the case but you should know when taking the picture if you want it in color or b&w. While in color you would primarily look for color combinations and/or accents, in b&w it is all about grayscale, shadows, reflections, contrasts… I must admit that I have grown a bit more flexible myself. My scales shift the other way, though. Sometimes I start off with a b&w picture and seeing the colors end up going color after all… Times a-changing… 😉 But even then I still love the sensitivity of b&w… it remains my first love, not a First Aid Kit.
Now let’s get back to Lightroom.
You have selected the photos you will keep, you think they should be b&w and you have imported them into LR. Of course you can also do the selection in LR, as I do… Or even import directly from your camera to LR… In the ‘library’ module you cannot turn off the colors. So, the first thing you do is go to the ‘develop’ module and there click on black and white. That will give you a first impression of how your RAW looks, what it will need to meet your expectations.
My experience is that with most cameras you will need a slight exposure correction. With my E620 it is normally somewhere between -0,10 and -0,29 which would be equal to a 1/3 stop or less. (People used to thinking in stops may be a bit irritated about the way LR presents these values but just think of the inbetween values you can use this way…) If it is more, my original exposure was not really accurate due to circumstances or by my own fault. But even then RAW gives you more possibilities to correct than you would have with jpg. We already tried ‘recovery’ above with a color picture. It does the same for black&white. Again you may see the white wasteland getting populated with clouds (if there were any, that is…) or a lifeless white shirt may grow creases and shadows. But as using the slider will influence the whole photo and you may end up with other parts being too dark, too light, too flat gray, there are some nice helpers at the top like the ‘adjustment brush’ or the ‘graduated filter’ to work more selectively and brighten or darken selected parts. You do not have the selection possibilities of PS here which is a pity but with those two you can already correct a lot of things once you have learned to control them. ‘Clarity’ is another asset. Again moderation is the key. What it does is deepen the shadows at the edges so the picture gets more depth and even looks sharper. If you jump to a 100%, it will look manipulated. Just a touch of it will add life to your photo. In ‘Tone Curve’ you should be careful using the ‘highlights’ slider as too much clipping there will make your picture look gray and lifeless.
Though you will hardly ever hear b&w photographers talk about white balance or color temperature, something reserved for color photography, with a RAW capture in LR even that turns into a useable asset. But it has to be with a RAW picture. To a degree it works with a color jpg as well if you converted it to b&w in LR but as jpg has already been compressed in the camera, some information is already irretrievably lost and just cannot be recuperated. Not even by LR.
How does this work then? Well, easy, really… 🙂 After clicking on ‘black and white’ what you see on your screen is of course a b&w picture. But LR, smart as it is, still remembers that the original picture had colors. So when you manipulate the sliders for color temperature and tint, it is the colors in the background that you manipulate. And as each color produces a different grey, you can see rather dramatic changes in your b&w picture while the colors are shifting.
Based on the same principle, there is also a bunch of color sliders, 8 to be exact. Those allow you to fine tune your greys. But, as with color pictures, you have to be careful with those as making a red car a tad darker could give the man next to it a darker face too if he is a bit sun burnt. Again after experimenting to learn moderation is the keyword. This function also has an ‘auto’ button and though I usually turn slightly green seeing the results of such a button, I must say that LR at times (still not always, of course) does surprise me by giving me exactly what I had in mind. Nice touch 🙂
A good exercise for the b&w beginner is also to just click back to color every now and then. It will really make you realize how far apart a good color picture and a good b&w are…
And do I really need to say I ended up buying LR and recently even upgraded to the last version?
But maybe I should add a bit of a conclusion here after all.
If you think of switching to RAW, LR is a lovely program to work with and has a lot of possibilities. I have no idea how many people work purely with LR and how many make a combination with PS as I do. I also assume that each of us have our own reasons for our choices. In my case it was the antique CS2 that sent me looking for a solution as PS is an awful lot of money to renew. If I had been working with a newer version, chances are that
I would have gone on with PS when RAW came into my life. But then, again I have no clue whatsoever how PS treats a RAW. Are all it’s possibilities available or is it a plug in that lets you work as in LR and then you can switch to PS? No, not a clue…
From LR I can either export my photos to my PS as a tiff, a jpg, a dng, a psd and if PS would recognize it also as ‘original’ or save it as such and open in PS. And after years of working in PS, working only in LR I would miss a lot of the PS functions, the plug ins that are integrated and my ‘actions’ that I accumulated by and by. Going to PS feels like the finishing touch for me… and then there are the playful moods when dragons grin through the clouds, the big smile of a friend seems to live in a fountain by the seaside, trees swirl like a wormhole in space… 🙂
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