Creating a Black and White High Contrast Portrait Edit in Lightroom

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Introduction

The Following is an excerpt from the SLR Lounge Lightroom Preset System v5 and accompanying workshop from the Lightroom Workshop Collection v5.  The Lightroom Preset System is designed to take you from Ordinary to Extraordinary photos in just a few seconds and clicks within Lightroom 4 and Lightroom 5.

Overview

In this tutorial we’re going to go over how to turn a regular color portrait into a nice high contrast black and white image. For this tutorial we have a portrait of a baby out in a field. The overalls, details in the field, and overall background blur will be complimented by a high contrast black and white edit. The SLR Lounge Lightroom Preset System v5 has presets specifically for high contrast black and white portraits which we are going to apply to this photo. If you don’t have the preset system, we’ll list all of our Develop settings so you can achieve the same look.

Here’s what our photo will look like before and after we’re done with the edit.

beforeafter

Unedited Photo on Left | High Contrast Black and White on Right

Lightroom Preset System v5 Mixology

For those who have the Preset System, you can follow the Mixology Recipe below to get to the same results. If you don’t have the Preset System, please read the article or watch the video below to see exactly how this look was achieved.

Develop Mixology

  • 01-10 BASE – SOFT: 13b. Light Crush – B&W
  • 03-70 ADJUST – VIGNETTING: 71c. Neutral – Zeroed

Written Tutorial

Step 1: Checking The EXIF Data

exifdata

We press “i” to pull up our EXIF data so we can see exactly how this image was shot. This image was shot with a 50mm lens at f/2. We want to keep in mind that the depth of field is shallow, and we may have to add sharpening to this image.

Step 2: Apply Preset

We’re starting with our “01-10 BASE – SOFT: 13b. Light Crush – B&W” preset, and after we lower the Exposure to -0.10 we have a nice high contrast black and white look. Then we apply a “03-70 ADJUST – VIGNETTING: 71c. Neutral – Zeroed” vignette preset so we can get a subtle edge darkening.

In the develop settings the Contrast was raised and the Shadows and Blacks have been dropped. This is giving our nice deep shadows and blacks, and adding to the high contrast look we’re editing for. The Highlights and Whites have also been dropped in order to bring the highlights in the skin closer to the mid tones.

developpanel1

With Settings Zeroed Out

Here’s what our image looks like with a simple black and white conversion (convert by hitting “V”), without the adjustments in Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks, and Tone Curve.

Before High Contrast Settings

With High Contrast Settings

Here’s our image with Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, Blacks, and Tone Curve adjustments applied.

High Contrast Develop Settings

In the image below you can see a huge difference that the adjustments make. The eyes stand out, there’s more details in the hair and grass, and there’s more texture in the clothes.  All these subtle details combined add quality to an otherwise flat black and white image.

beforeandafter

All Settings Zeroed On Left. High Contrast Adjustments on Right

 

In our Sharpening settings our preset applied our standard amount, but the image is still a bit soft because of the shallow depth of field caused by shooting this image at f/2.0. To get a nice sharp portrait we raise the Amount, Radius, and Detail. The preset also adjusted our Noise Reduction settings, giving the subject in our portrait nice soft skin. All of the “SOFT” presets have this standard amount of Noise Reduction applied in order to soften and smooth out skin without going so far to kill fine details.

sharpening settings

Here’s what our image looks like before and after our presets are applied.

Before

lightroom-5-tutorial-high-contrast-b&w-newborn-0001

After

lightroom-5-tutorial-high-contrast-b&w-newborn-0002

Watch the Video Tutorial

If you would like to see exactly how all of the settings and adjustments were applied, please watch the video from the SLRLounge YouTube Channel.

Conclusion and Learn More

We hope you all enjoyed this tutorial. If you are interested in learning more or purchasing the SLR Lounge Lightroom Preset System v5 or the newly released Lightroom Workshop Collection v5, please click any of the links in this article.

Read more from our Post Production category

Post Production Pye I hate speaking of myself in the third person, haha. I am a Partner and professional photographer with Lin and Jirsa Los Angeles Wedding Photography, and the Senior Editor for SLR Lounge Photography Tutorials. I am passionate about photography as an art as well as my part as an educator in the industry. Subscribe to our YouTube Channel and feel free to hit me up with questions anytime on Facebook.

  • Inigo

    Nice post! Most of the time, I don’t give a thought about tweaking the settings whenever I do monochrome conversion of my images. Indeed contrasting gives more depth of details despite the fact that it’s on black and white colors. I can really see that black and white images have their perks as well. I’m so trying your settings in my next endeavors for my B&W photos.
    Photographyclasseslist.com

  • Love the presets…presets are great starting points. Thank you for this informative post.

  • Nice piece…Love coming on here and learning at least one thing every time!

  • Zach

    This isn’t a particularly high contrast piece… is it? I mean, you certainly have the credibility of being the article author but I really don’t think you know what you’re talking about. You certainly did add contrast, but I wouldn’t call it “high” contrast by any standard. Just look at the histogram – it’s all midtones. There’s not any pure black or white in that photo. Shouldn’t you have at least set a white or black point?

    Last week’s post by you (Post Production Pye) had very high contrast shots, but I don’t think this one does.

    Just calling you out to maintain credibility for the authors.

  • Leandro

    I had the same impression.

  • Johan Bauwens

    It’s not high contrast and the colour pic works better for little children

  • Johan Bauwens

    It’s more like a grey picture instead of a black and white picture, let alone ‘high contrast’.

  • a lovely photography tutorial in lightroom!

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