What’s the easiest way to convert to black and white in Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC? And how can you gain extra control over the conversion process so you can create beautiful black and white photos?
In this article, I explain everything you need to know about Lightroom black and white conversions, including:
- A simple, one-click method for quick conversions
- How to tweak your converted images using the B&W panel for pro-level results
- How to batch-convert dozens (or hundreds) of images in seconds
Ready to become a B&W master? Then let’s do this!
How to convert to black and white in Lightroom: the basics
In this section, I offer a quick method of converting your color photos to B&W in both Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC:
Lightroom Classic B&W conversion
Lightroom Classic makes black and white conversions incredibly easy.
Start by opening your file in the Develop module.
Then simply click the Black & White option on the right-hand side, just above the Profile menu:
Your image will turn black and white, and – that’s it! – you’re done. This basic conversion process does a decent job, though I recommend you apply additional edits if you want the best possible results (as I explain below).
Lightroom CC B&W conversion
Black and white conversions in Lightroom CC are similarly simple.
Select a photo, then open the Edit panel.
Tap B&W, and your image will instantly convert. Again, for the best results, you should do further editing, which I explain in the next section.
How to convert to black and white in Lightroom: advanced options
Once you have a black and white image, you’ll need to carefully apply adjustments to really make your file shine.
Exposure and contrast edits
I’d recommend starting in your program’s basic editing panel; here, you can play around with the exposure, the contrast, the highlights, the shadows, and so on. (Note: These Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC edits are essentially identical, so my instructions apply regardless of your software.)
Black and white images often benefit from a major contrast boost, so try increasing the Contrast slider until the different composition elements really pop. You might also try adding some Clarity to enhance the overall crispness – this is especially useful when working with architectural and street images, though you should generally avoid the Clarity slider when editing portraits – and if you want an extreme result, try cranking up the Dehaze slider.
I’d also recommend setting the overall Exposure slider so that your file includes plenty of detail. And move the Blacks, Whites, Shadows, and Highlights sliders back and forth until you get an effect you like. (A common edit is to reduce the Highlights and Blacks while boosting the Shadows and Whites, but it’s really up to you and will vary from image to image!)
At that point, you can call it a day – or you can continue down to the B&W panel (Lightroom CC calls this the B&W Mixer), which lets you do further fine-tuning.
The B&W panel
The B&W panel, also known as the B&W Mixer panel, is located below the basic editing options:
Using the Mixer, you can increase and decrease the brightness of specific colors in an image. By boosting the Orange slider, for instance, you brighten up areas of the black and white image that were previously orange; by dropping the Red slider, you darken down areas of the image that were previously red; and so on. This is pretty powerful, because it offers a ton of flexibility for adjusting image tones.
Now, I’d recommend two simple approaches here:
The first approach – and the most fun – is to simply move the sliders back and forth, one at a time, until you like the result. This is a great way to work as a beginner, and it can be useful for serious photographers, too.
The second approach is to identify areas of the image that should stand out, such as a portrait subject, a tree in the foreground, or a person walking through a street scene. Determine the corresponding color sliders, then brighten up those colors. (You might also darken down the background colors while you’re at it.)
So if you were editing an image of a yellow flower on a green background, you might boost the Yellow slider while decreasing the Green slider. Make sense?
Pro tip: If you want even finer control when working with color channels, you can use the targeted adjustment eyedropper (located next to the color sliders):
Select the dropper, then hover over the portion of your image you want to lighten or darken. If you drag upward, the relevant color channels will lighten – and if you drag downward, the relevant color channels will darken.
You can even see this reflected in the sliders, which you can further modify in the Mixer panel.
Keep in mind, however, that you shouldn’t push the sliders too far. Black and white images can generally handle pretty significant adjustments, but if you add major color shifts, you may introduce unwanted artifacts and halos into your files, like this:
The effect may be subtle, but it does matter, so I recommend you avoid it whenever possible. It’s a bigger problem with JPEGs than RAWs, but it can happen to both types of files. Always keep an eye out for issues, and always be prepared to dial back your edits as required.
How to convert multiple files to black and white
If you’ve taken several (or several hundred) photos you want to convert to black and white, then you have the option to batch-process the files.
Start by converting one file to black and white – you can make exposure, contrast, or even Mixer adjustments, too – then select Edit>Copy.
If you’re working in Lightroom Classic, you’ll see a Copy Settings window, where you’ll need to select all the edits you’d like to apply to your photos. If you only wish to do a simple black-and-white conversion, just check the Treatment & Profile option; if you wish to copy over contrast or B&W Mixer adjustments, check those boxes, too.
If you’re working in Lightroom CC, however, all adjustments from the first image will be copied automatically.
Hold the Ctrl/Cmd key on your keyboard and select the images you’d like to convert.
Finally, choose Edit>Paste, and all the images will convert to B&W!
How to convert to black and white in Lightroom: final words
Now that you’ve finished this article, you’re ready to quickly and effectively convert your files to black and white.
So head over to Lightroom. And do some high-quality editing!
What type of images do you plan to convert to black and white? Which adjustments will you make? Share your thoughts in the comments below!