You tend to think of Lightroom as an image cataloguing program with some image-editing tools thrown in, but actually Lightroom 5 can do many of the jobs that Photoshop can. It’s especially good at building effects from a series of different adjustments – and you can then save these effects as a preset you can apply to other images with a single click.
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Black and white is my favourite medium, and I’m going to use Lightroom to create a traditional high-contrast, grainy look. There are a number of steps, but you don’t have to follow all of them – you can just try out a couple if you want. This is just to show what’s possible, and it’s up to you how you want to use and combine these options.
My starting image is a disused country church just a few miles from where I live. The colour version is nice enough in its own way, but I want something stronger and more powerful.
01 Live ‘channel mixing’
You can convert a colour image to black and white using the B & W panel, but this just changes the appearance of the picture – the original colour data is still there. And while Lightroom does have sliders for adjusting the strength of each colour to modify the tones in the picture (just like Photoshop’s channel mixer and black and white tool), there is a simpler, more direct and more intuitive way. There’s a small gadget in the top left corner of the panel – click this to make it active.
02 Adjusting the tones
Now choose an area you want to darken – let’s pick an area of blue sky. If you click and drag downwards, you darken the colour you’ve clicked on. The sky now takes on a darker, more intense tone which contrasts better with the clouds, but the rest of the picture is unchanged. You can lighten areas too – I’ve also clicked and dragged upwards on an area of grass in the foreground to make the grass lighter in the image as a whole.
03 Boost the Clarity
Digital black and white images often lack what I’d call ‘bite’, but I can fix that in an instant with Lightroom’s Clarity slider, which is at the bottom of the Basic panel. I’ve pushed it right up to its maximum of 100%.
04 Add some Grain
Lightroom 5’s Grain effect is actually very authentic-looking, unlike past ‘grain’ filters in other programs. Push the slider up slowly until you get just the grain effect your looking for.
05 The Radial Gradient tool
This is new in Lightroom 5, and it’s a way of adding a more controllable vignette effect. Vignettes work very well in black and white because they increase the depth and contrast in the image and, if you get them right, they help ‘frame’ the image and concentrate the viewer’s eyes on your focal point without being glaringly obvious.
You use the tool to drag out an elliptical central area in your image – you can drag the central pin to move the gradient or drag the corner handles to reshape it. The Radial Gradient tool has its own adjustment sliders which you can see on the right. These change the appearance of the areas outside the elliptical shape – here, I’ve simply reduced the Exposure slider.
06 Create a new Preset
After just a few short steps my adjustments are just how I want them. Now I want to save them as a new User Preset so that I can apply them to other images in the future. To do this, you open the tools panel on the left side of the screen, select the Presets panel and click the ‘+’ button in the top right corner.
07 Choose your settings
Now you choose the settings from the current image that you want to store in the Preset. I’ve checked every single box, right down to the settings for the Radial Gradient tool (but not Auto Tone or Auto Black & White mix at the top). I’ve called it ‘Grainy Black and White’.
08 Using your Preset
Just to show how this works, I’ve opened another colour shot from the same session. To apply a saved Preset, open the Presets panel as before and move the mouse down the list to the one you’ve saved. You don’t even need to click – Lightroom will show a preview of the effect on your image at the top of the panel.
09 The finished image
I’m quite pleased with this. If you were working in Photoshop you’d need to do some fairly heavy manual editing to get a result like this, with the prospect of having to do it all over again for every new image you wanted to treat in the same way. But in Lightroom it’s a five-minute job to create and save the initial effect, and you can then apply it to future images in more like five seconds.
Lightroom might not have Photoshop’s in-depth image-editing options, but for speed, efficiency and repeatability, in my opinion it blows it out of the water.