Lightroom Week: Monochrome Monday

March 29, 2010

Learning, Lightroom, Photo Tips

Lightroom has an outstanding conversion to black-and-white from color. In Lightroom 2 it is called Grayscale, and for the upcoming Lightroom 3, they have gone back to the traditional photographic term of black-and-white. Let’s look at converting a color image I shot in the ancient bristlecone pines in California.

I recommend that you do your basic adjustments in color, including setting blacks, checking whites, adjusting midtones and sharpening. Next, create a virtual copy. This allows you to make changes on a separate version of your file and still keep the color image for comparison or other use. This does not create a new file, so there is no change to your hard drive.

To create a virtual copy, right-click on the photo. Even if you use a Mac, you should be using a right-click mouse because of so many context-sensitive menus in Lightroom (Control-click is a substitute for right-click in the Mac). This creates a second version of your image identical to the first. Use the F6 key to hide the bottom filmstrip and give you more working space.

Click on Grayscale in the right panel. Your picture changes to black-and-white. Don’t be satisfied with this first version because it is for a easy to get a much better conversion of your color image. All of the sliders in Grayscale change how colors are translated into brightnesses of gray, but you don’t have to guess which slider to use.

Click on the little target icon in the upper left corner of the Grayscale panel. This is the targeted adjustment button. It activates your cursor and you will see the cursor change when you move it over the photograph. Notice that when your cursor is over something in the photograph, the color is over will show up as a highlighted number in the grayscale mix.

Now all you have to do is click and drag up or down. Up makes the color a lighter gray, and down makes the color a darker gray. That’s it! You don’t have to drag any of the sliders — Lightroom does it for you!

Click and drag in different places in the image to make them either lighter or darker until you get a black-and-white picture that has the richness and tonality your subject deserves. Stop the activated cursor by pressing the esc key.

A traditional touch for black-and-white is to darken the edges and corners of the image. Click on Vignettes in the right panel and reduce the Amount. How much to reduce it depends on the subject, your tastes and the amount of blending from Feather.

Finally, check the noise in areas like sky if you have made a big adjustment there. Reduce the noise in Detail or use a program like Nik Software Dfine (which I consider essential for digital photography).

Learn to work efficiently and effectively with Lightroom with my Lightroom Workflow Library and Develop DVDs available at


This post was written by:

- who has written 27 posts on The Digital Photo Experience.

Rob Sheppard is the author/photographer of over 30 books, the editor-at-large for Outdoor Photographer magazine, and a nationally known presenter and workshop leader. His specialities are nature photography and helping photographers with digital technologies from getting the most from small sensors to Lightroom to Photoshop. Check out Rob’s websites at and

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One Response to “Lightroom Week: Monochrome Monday”

  1. Bob Rockefeller Says:

    To translate these tips into Aperture 3, see my latest blog post:



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