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

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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Some Older Comments

  • kumar varun May 9, 2012 04:33 pm

    Wow.. amazing yet simple..

  • Sudeep Mukherjee January 18, 2011 05:03 am

    Probably one of the best tutorials! Beats Silver Efex Pro. Was fiddling around with SEP but it was darkening parts of the picture to totally black. Your tutorial worked the first time and I have brilliant results!


  • Dinuraj November 25, 2009 04:19 am

    Thanks for this article. I tried it and it worked great for me. Please see

  • patel keyur February 13, 2009 09:36 pm

    it's nice. i like it

  • Emil February 11, 2009 06:16 pm

    I think the grayscale mix is very useful sometimes.
    It just allows you to modify the luminance of each color. You can also use the picker so you don't have to choose the colors manually.


  • Bernhardt February 11, 2009 06:17 am

    I just began on lighroom yet and of course impatient for every tutorial! I usually begin with the curve by pulling it down but it may be a bit too strong so using different sliders gives the possibility to be more subtil.
    As the settings in photoshop appeal quickly to some spectacular results I have to stay reasonnable with my enthusiasm. Thanks a lot!

  • Pat February 9, 2009 10:21 pm

    Doesn't increasing the exposure and fill light just undo what was done by moving everything to the darker tones by increasing the blacks so much?

    Just wonder how this effects noise as well because I've used several presets in the past that can create a huge amount of noise in an otherwise clean image.

    If the exposure is correct there should be a good spread of tones from very dark to light depending on the scene and adding an S-curve usually does the trick IMHO. I personally prefer Photoshop for more advanced editing due to the additional control it gives.

    Inner Beauty Photography

  • Jonathan Zahra February 9, 2009 03:38 am

    Thanks for a great tutorial! I only have a few photos which I think look great in black and white, and I'm not sure I like the high contrast look for those particular photos, but boosting the blacks to the 70-80s range to start with definitely makes things pop more!

  • Brian Auer February 8, 2009 03:46 pm

    Great tutorial! I created a preset in ACR and ran a few photos to test it out. The method definitely calls for some tweaks depending on the photo and subject matter, but it's a great guideline for getting these high contrast b/w photos.

  • Raymond Chan February 8, 2009 04:12 am

    The value of the sliders (contrast/black/etc) is really dependent on the image itself, so the end result is really up to the author's preference. Experiment and have fun, people!

  • Reznor February 8, 2009 02:43 am

    Hmm, wasn't familiar with this technique. I just convert to grayscale and customize the result by dragging in the picture to make certain colors brighter or darker. This way I have complete control over the result. When finished, I might apply an S-curve or just set the curve to strong contrast and that's it. Works for me. Maybe others prefer your method. Never to old to learn something new ;-)