Black and White Conversions

by Michael Clark

Adobe Lightroom has the best grayscale conversion technique I have ever used. It is so intuitive and easy that I find myself converting a large number of my images to Grayscale. In the Develop Module, at the top of the right panel there is a choice of Color or Grayscale. By clicking Grayscale your image is automatically converted to black and white.

And by using the Before and After split screen you can see how you are adjusting the black and white image with the color version referenced just next to it as in the image below. To create the split screen click on the X|Y icon in the toolbar (2nd from the left).


Once you have the images next to each other in both color and grayscale you can use the Grayscale sliders (see image below) to adjust the black and white tones. The Grayscale Mixer box is just below the Tone Curve box, the third down from the top. Lightroom gives you very specific control of each color channel and since you can see which color you are working on it is a very intuitive process of working up your black and white image.


The grayscale mixer palette shows up with auto adjustments already made but you can adjust the sliders individually to adjust the grayscale image. Also, don't forget that you can still adjust your exposure, curves, contrast and vignetting as well. Using the Targeted Adjustment Tool in the Grayscale panel allows you to adjust the tones any where in the image just by clicking on that section and moving the mouse up or down. This is a super slick method for working directly on the image. [See my earlier blog post on Targeted Adjustment Tools if you don't know about these.]

I prefer to adjust the individual colors in the Before and After mode so that I can see which colors are where and which grayscale slider I need to use to adjust that color. In the image above I have also introduced a small amount of vignetting to drive the viewers attention to the center of the image. This collection of tools along with the grayscale mixer makes for a powerful combination.

I normally create a Virtual Copy (right click on image > Create Virtual Copy) of my image before converting to black and white so that I have both a color and a grayscale version of the image. When you export grayscale images out of Lightroom and open them up in Photoshop you will notice that they come in with an RGB profile. I normally convert them to Grayscale in Photoshop so they take up less space on my hard drives.

That's it for this week. Black and white photography isn't dead yet!

Adios, Michael Clark


2007-06-04 01:18:33
"Black and white photography isn't dead yet", true. I know it's just a word, but isn't it horrible that Adobe should call it "grayscale"? On a more positive note, the split toning feature also lifts LR'a black and white capability well beyond Aperture.
Ed Winquest
2007-11-23 22:38:59
Thanks for your insight on grayscale in Lightroom. I have been told by the lab that prints our black & whites not to convert our images to grayscale (in Photoshop CS-3) but to desaturate them because it leaves the RGB profile they need for their printers They said their printers wont see grayscale! But in your artical I see that lightroom exports the image with the RGB profile which seems to be the same as desaturation in Photoshop CS-3 is this correct?

Hope you can shed some insight


Michael Clark
2007-11-24 08:21:20
Ed -

Hello. I don't have any experience with printers needing a desaturated RGB file instead of a grayscale file so I don't know the answer to your question. Lightroom does not offer a grayscale export option so I do not know exactly what is going on in terms of how the grayscale conversion is made. I would assume it is a grayscale image that is exported in a RGB color space. Sorry I don't know more...