I admit it’s not much of a lighthouse, but it’s always fascinated me. Besides, I think that a photographer’s job is to find the magic in the ordinary, not just the extraordinary.
This shot is not so much about the rather run-down lighthouse, but the shapes and the composition. It was shot with an ultra-wide 8-25mm zoom on an Olympus PEN E-P7 from very close up to exaggerate all the interlocking diagonals in the steel walkway, the upper gantry and the concrete base of the lighthouse.
However, my start shot, taken in the middle of the day under clear skies, was never really going to work as a color image – well, maybe with an intensified blue sky and the lighthouse brightened to a brilliant white, but that can be an experiment for another day.
This time around, I decided this shot was going to work best in black and white. I used Lightroom Classic to edit it, and there were four tools that provided the key to the finished effect:
1) Choosing a black and white profile
Profiles are one of the best-kept secrets of Lightroom. Everyone knows how presets work, but profiles are different. They ‘pre-adjust’ or ‘remap’ the tones and colors in your picture ahead of any actual editing adjustments. Lightroom comes with a very good selection of its own, but I use profiles from Lutify.me – they are actually 3D LUTs (lookup tables), and can be used in any photo editor that supports LUTs. Lightroom Classic doesn’t, so Lutify.me produces specially converted ‘profiles’ instead which Lightroom can import.
The LUT I’ve chosen is called ‘Belium’ and it’s from Lutify.me’s Black and White category. It gives bright, contrasty images with a darkening effect for blue skies, a little like using a yellow filter in black and white.
I’m sure you could get the same effect or very similar using one of Lightroom’s own profiles or various combinations of editing settings – I just like to use these LUTs instead because they get me to the look I want a lot more quickly.
Settings: Profiles > Belium
2) Split toning (now called Color Grading) in Lightroom
Split toning is all the rage, where you add one color tint to the shadows and another to the highlights. I’m not a big fan because I think it mostly looks a bit muddy, and for black and white I like to stick to a single color.
The advantage of split toning is that you can apply a tone to the shadows only, and this to my mind gives a richer, cleaner effect.
Adobe has complicated things slightly by swapping its Split Toning panel for a Color Grading panel, now with three independent controls for shadow, midtone and highlight color. It’s more effective for ‘grading’ color images now, to be fair, and you can still use it to tone the shadows (even the midtones as well) in black and white.
For this shot I’ve added a color tone to the shadows only, with a modest shift towards yellow/orange. You hardly see it actually, but it does add intensity to the darker tones.
Settings: Shadows only, H:28 S:21 L:0
3) Post Crop Vignette
If you’re trying to create a rich, high contrast look, then a Post Crop Vignette can be a big help. It deepens the tonal range of the picture and often helps with the composition by subtly framing your subject.
I’ve gone for a simple adjustment here, moving the Amount slider only. I generally try to choose a low-medium strength vignette where it’s not obvious to the naked eye unless you compare before and after versions.
Settings: Amount -28
• See more articles on Vignettes
4) Adding a radial filter to lighten the center
I use this technique quite a lot to give the main subject a little extra brilliance. You just drag out a radial filter over the central area and then invert the gradient with the checkbox so that you’re adjusting what’s inside the filter not what’s on the outside.
Here, I’ve increased the Exposure and Contrast values and added a little Clarity to really give the lighthouse some brilliance and ‘punch’. Black and white is all about light and shade (obvs) and very often you need to exaggerate the contrast to really bring a monochromatic image to life.
I haven’t made any attempt to refine the mask or use color range/luminance masking. Very often I find that careful positioning and sizing and perhaps an adjustment to the Feather setting is enough to make the masked adjustment blend in well enough.
Radial Filter settings: Exposure 0.54, Contrast 54, Clarity 47
• See more articles on Radial Filter adjustments
Getting the same effect in other programs
This was all done in Lightroom Classic, but you could get the same effect in any half decent photo editor. Capture One has near-identical editing tools so the process would be the same, and it would be little different in DxO PhotoLab, Exposure X or ON1 Photo RAW. For programs that don’t support LUTs or profiles, you would just use the existing mono conversion options for the first step.
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