Black and white in Lightroom

Black and white in Lightroom



Most of us know we can convert and image to black and white in Lightroom by simply pressing the letter V. However, for the exact same image, your version of Lightroom might give a very different result to my version of Lightroom. The explanation is that there are two settings available for black and white conversions in Lightroom.

I’ll show you what these are, how to configure the one you want to use and how to quickly switch between them.


With a color image on the screen in Lightroom’s Develop module, press the letter V to convert it to black and white.

Open the B&W panel – it’s called Greyscale in Lightroom 2 – and check out the color sliders.


Depending on the preferences that you have set, the sliders might all be set to zero or they might show a black and white adjustment tailored to the image itself which Lightroom calls Auto mix.

The auto mix adjustment applies an auto exposure adjustment to the image as well as a conversion that maximizes the distribution of the grey tones in the image. This is customized for the image so every image will be given a custom adjustment much as you will get if you click the Auto Tone button in the Basic panel. Notice the subtle differences in the histograms in each of the adjustments here.


Whether or not you see this Auto mix applied to a black and white image is controlled by your Lightroom preferences. To see these, choose Edit > Preferences (or Lightroom > Preferences on the Mac), select the Presets tab and there’s an option there which reads “Apply auto tone mix when first converting to black and white”.

If this is checked you will get the auto tone mix applied to the image, if not, you will see a black and white adjustment where each color is given the same adjustment value of zero.


Regardless of which setting is in place you can switch between the two in the B&W panel.

If an Auto mix has been applied, hold the Alt key (Option on the Mac) and you will see an option Reset Black and White Mix. Click this and all the sliders will be set back to zero.


On the other hand, if your sliders are all set at zero, click Auto to apply the auto mix adjustment to the black and white image.


You can further adjust the black and white regardless of whether you have an auto mix applied automatically to it or not by adjusting the sliders.

You can also select the Target Adjustment Tool and drag on an area of the image to adjust whether it is light or dark. Dragging downwards will darken it, dragging upwards will lighten it.

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Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at

Some Older Comments

  • Catherine May 8, 2011 02:45 am

    Question: My book printer says the pictures are not in B&W -- that they are actually in CMYK -- I must have them in B&W for this project -- how do I set the preferences to do B&W and not CMYK. All 500+ photos (jpg's) were converted using LR3 (HSL / COLOR / B & W) with a lot of tweaking applied. The photos were then imported into InDesign CS4 -- maybe that is where I need to make a change?

    Appreciate a fast answer if possible as I am on a ridiculous deadline. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU

    On the side, I just found your site and look forward to receiving and contributing in the future.

  • Rhett McCarthy February 17, 2011 08:34 am

    Thank you very much for this great info.. it would be put to great use!!!

  • Andrew February 17, 2011 02:45 am

    I will have to try these tips in my next B&W challenge. here is what I got this time:

  • Rick February 7, 2011 04:50 am

    @Sara: It's never wrong to go for a preset and then tweak as needed. I have my few favorite presets in LR that I routinely go to, then start adjusting contrast, exposure, etc...

  • Maryann January 29, 2011 12:48 am

    Another Lightroom secret revealed! Thanks Helen!
    Robert, Sara, Martin; There are probably as many ways to approach adjustments as there are Lightroom users. A presentation of all the options could probably fill many blogs ;-)

  • Martin C January 28, 2011 07:10 am

    You can also use the split toneing adjustments to tweak but as said a good in depth look at all the B+W options would be good

  • Sara Hazeldine January 28, 2011 04:18 am

    There are loads of b&w presets in LR - is it wrong to use one of them and then just tweak as preferred?!
    I always feel a bit of a cheat using presets, but I have a few favourites.
    And this is a genuine question, I'm not pouring scorn on doing it from scratch - but what are the advantages?

  • Helen Bradley January 28, 2011 03:44 am

    @robert & @kiran thanks for this..

    @jeff I agree too that an article on fine-tuning black and white in LR would be a good idea, I'll add it to my "to post" list. As always, with these posts however, there's a need to keep them to a manageable length and covering everything all at once is just way too much for a blog post - great for a book, but difficult to justify in a blog format.


  • robert January 28, 2011 02:33 am

    @Jeff - agree that there needs to be a good article on Black and White and possibly dedicated to using lightroom to achieve this but I think this is a good starter for getting blck and white thru lightroom.

    I know from myself that I used to just desaturate the color and then play with the temprature and tone curve but was never fully satisfied with the outcome. I only recently(in the past month) found the black and white option up top(somehow never saw it) and love the automix that it applies. I never knew i could change those settings and this article helped me better understand it.

    Thanks Helen!

  • DiMaria January 28, 2011 01:39 am

    Very helpful article. Thanks for the information.

  • Jeff Byrnes January 27, 2011 08:20 pm

    I think this article should be tied into something much more dynamic in terms of black and white photography. There are important things being lacked in this article that a much broader description of black and white photography would cover.

  • Kiran January 27, 2011 03:10 pm

    Amazing info, thanks for sharing :)