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How to Make High Contrast Black & Whites in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2

In this post DPS reader Mike Littlehale shares some tips on creating high contrast black and white images in Photoshop.

For those of you who still appreciate a high contrast black & white photo, taking advantage of Lightroom 2’s developing features can give you results much better than any auto converter can. If you have let Lightroom convert your photos to black & white, you know that most of the time it doesn’t do it justice. Using this method, you can create a black & white that will bring you back to the old days in the darkroom.

If you want to see the difference once you are done, try making a virtual copy of the photo you intend to convert to B&W and use one of Lightroom’s auto-converters to really see the difference. Just take it to the Develop module and click Greyscale on the HSL/Color/Greyscale panel. Now switch back to your original photo and lets get started.

The first thing you are going to want to do in the Develop module is click Greyscale at the top of the Basic panel, near Treatment (I know I’ve been bashing Lightroom’s auto-converters, but this is just a base). Sticking with the Basic panel, move the Blacks slider over to the right, in the 70s-90s range. Obviously it’s going to be really dark, but we have a few more adjustments to make. This slider will probably end up in the 70s range, but it all depends on your photo.


Now we are going to move to the Fill Light slider and boost it into the 30s. Play around with it and make sure it doesn’t blow out any areas. Your photo will still be dark, so move the exposure up and you’ll start to see your final result come in. Depending on your photo (if you have the sky in your photo, for example) you can boost up the Recovery slider (this darkens the sky a bit). Just counter your adjustments with the exposure to keep the balance that you want. For my photo, I ended up with these settings:


Exposure: +1.17

Recovery: 66

Fill Light: 31

Blacks: 73

Boost the Clarity slider around up to the 50s-60s range (again depending on what you like) to give it more contrast. I ignored the Brightness and Contrast sliders for now, adjusting the Brightness may be needed for some photos that are still too dark. By using this slider, you adjust the midtones. I usually skip the Contrast slider because it gives you less control, we’ll use the Tone Curve panel for our contrast instead.

If the photo that you are editing is RAW, try moving the Point Curve setting to Strong Contrast, because RAW photos are Medium Contrast by default (if your working with a JPEG, contrast was already added, so keep it at Medium Contrast). That should be enough, but if you want to go even further, you can use the Highlights, Lights, Darks, and, Shadows sliders. Here are the settings I used for my photo:


Highlights: +38

Lights: +2

Darks: -2

Shadows: +15

At this point you should have a very good quality, high contrast Black & White. Remember this technique is very photo specific, so the settings I used for this example photograph may not work exactly for your photo. For the most part they will be in the same area, but just tweaking around with the settings will yield the results you want.

Now the fun part. Select your new B&W as well as the first virtual copy you made in the beginning. Compare them side by side and hopefully you’ll have a new way to make your photos black & white!



Give it a go and let us know how your results have been.

Mike Littlehale is a student from Vermont. He is currently studying journalism at Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts. See more of his work on Flickr.

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