(Notice: The sub-title means what it says. Everything described here can be done with other applications using other techniques, but that’s not the point: this article is about staying in Lightroom to the extent it delivers the results I wish to achieve, which for most photos runs from camera to print without saving a rendered file. So this is not an article about using Lightroom versus anything else.)
My “go to” reference for just about everything Lightroom is Martin Evening’s book “The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic CC Book (© 2018)”. There’s darn little it doesn’t cover, and it’s a masterpiece of clarity and fine presentation. I was particularly interested in Martin’s view of Lightroom’s Black and White (B&W) capabilities, as there are good applications and good books dedicated to this one subject alone. Martin’s view (page 355): is clear “….the Develop module tools provide the best environment I can think of to gain the most creative control possible from your color to black-and-white conversions.” Martin presents three conversion techniques in Chapter 5, with very useful comments on their relative usefulness.
My interest here is about a derivative approach, which is to create B&W photos with dashes of colour, or colour photos with dashes of B&W. So a real interest in Martin’s Chapter 5 is to see which of the colour to B&W conversion techniques Martin describes are most amenable to creating these mixtures. He mentions three basic conversion options, very parsed down here, being:
(1) Click the B&W button in the HSL/Color/B&W panel (Figure 1).
We retain access to most controls, except that Vibrance and Saturation are not available. The HSL colour sliders turn to a “Black and White Mix” panel, and the sliders are used for adjusting the brightness of individual colour groups for influencing the tonality of the B&W rendition.
(2) Shift the Saturation slider all the way leftward (Figure 2). We retain tone controls but lose all effectiveness of the HSL controls.
(3) HSL B&W method: In the HSL panel, for each individual colour, shift its Saturation slider to -100 (Figure 3).
Vibrance and Saturation in the Basic Panel remain available, and the Luminance sliders in the HSL panel remain usable for adjusting the tone of specific colour groups. This approach keeps the most editing tools available.
Methods (2) and (3) are useful for creating my mixtures, always done with masking using either the Adjustment Brush or the Graduated filter.
I learned an effective masking approach to making B&W/colour mixtures from Jeff Schewe: open the Adjustment Brush tool, uncheck Auto, set Feather to zero, make the brush large and paint the whole image. Then move the Saturation slider within the Adjustment Brush tool menu to -100, which removes all colour, and introduce whatever tone edits are of interest (Figure 4).
Then erase the mask where one wants the colour to show through. The first example below uses this approach.
The starting point after a bit of cropping (Figure 5):
OK, what’s the big deal here – it’s a tram in Berlin. Well, there’s a back-story to this photo that has two components – a bit of local history, a bit of colour and they come together. First, the local history: from 1945 to 1989 Berlin was a divided city with different governance. The West ripped up the tram tracks while the East kept theirs. So today, if you want to know, in general, whether you are in what was once the West or the East, the presence or absence of tram tracks is an indicator. But there is an exception: Bernauer Strasse (Figure 6).
This street was one of the borders between East and West where sat the Berlin Wall that scarred the city and retarded major aspects of its development from 1961 to 1989. Bernauer Strasse was a famous section of the wall, noted for daring escape attempts and numerous deaths, because unlike most of the inner and outer wall, which sat entirely within East Berlin, here the outer wall encompassed the East-side houses bordering on the street, but the street itself was in the West. However, the tram line remained. This area has been so well integrated and reconstructed that if you ignored the history you could think of it being any ordinary modern cityscape. But the deep overcast weather and the somber history so expertly displayed here were moody and conducive to photography with meaning.
As I gazed at the buildings and memorials around me, I saw a colourful bright-spot in this whole scenario, symbolizing the evolution of time and urban improvement: the latest model, ultra-modern yellow tram coming down Bernauer Strasse. Yellow is a very striking colour and it is the predominant colour of the Berlin public transport system – above ground and underground. So I wanted to photograph this symbol of rejuvenation and modernity against the grayness of the back-story it emerged from. Could I portray in a photo the stark contrast between the old and the new? What better way than to emphasize it with a B&W/colour mixture. That was my intent from the moment I made the capture. Back home I had to implement that vision, which I did in Lightroom.
For this photo, I used the Schewe approach, first masking and desaturating the whole photo (Figure 7).
Because the photo is only desaturated, any colour can be re-saturated by erasing the mask over that colour, in this case resulting in the restoration of Yellow (Figure 8).
I decided to also restore a bit of related colour detail to round-out the colour composition (Figure 9).
You can see this is line M10 headed for the main railway station, and I also brought back the colour of the tram lights. One thing you’ll notice about this detail is how clean the masking is. There are no edge artifacts. Over the years since Lightroom introduced masking, its performance has improved dramatically (perhaps so has the dexterity of the user, but I’ll give most of the credit to the capability of the application!). This confirms yet again that Lightroom improves under the hood from version to version, so there is a benefit to remaining up-to-date.
But I’m not finished yet. The photo needed some punching up in some places and more moodiness in others. With the photo in this state, I can operate many controls both in the main editing panels and in the Adjustment Brush panel. There’s more control over colour in the Basic and HSL panels, so I boosted Yellow vibrancy and saturation a bit there. Then I reverted to the mask and used the tone controls in the Adjustment Brush panel to tweak the B&W conversion, essentially adding some clarity, highlight contrast and mood, with a number of adjustments (Figure 10).
Just a note on what happens where with this procedure: Controls within the Adjustment Brush panel only affect the masked portion that remained in B&W. Controls used in the standard Lightroom panels (local adjustment tools off) affect the whole photo. In particular, having made a B&W conversion this way, increasing saturation of a colour group in the HSL panel can cause those colours to reappear in B&W portion, so care is needed.
I was finished once I had the desired contrast between the bright yellow tram and the street around it. Now, I’m not suggesting this is a photo to hang in the living room. It’s not that kind of image or exercise. For me, it conveys a memory and an effective contrast of feeling, so it has a place in my collection.
A more involved treatment is that accorded this photo of the Oberbaum Bruecke (Figure 11). This is a famous bridge in Berlin that connects the former districts of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain – formerly separated by the Berlin Wall, now one district. Cars cross on the lower level and the U-Bahn on the upper level. The bridge dates from 1895 and underwent many changes over the momentous history of the City. It stands today as a landmark that has been photographed probably hundreds of thousands of times, and while I too was determined to photograph it, I didn’t want just another postcard style photo of the kind you see here (Figure 11).
Figure 11 reflects the useful idea of starting a B&W conversion with a photo that has been already edited for colour and tone while in its original colour state. You’ll notice how the yellow subway train stands out and gives this rather heavy structure on a dull day some “upbeat and sunshine”. I figured that the combination of the water and the distinctive architecture of the bridge would lend itself well to treatment in B&W, but I wanted to keep that Yellow subway train intact.
As there is only a small amount of Yellow apart from the train, I figured that treatment #3 (HSL desaturation) should work well, supplemented by a bit of manual brushing where residual bits of Yellow other than for the train aren’t wanted. One of the really nice things about option #3 for my purposes is that detailed masking is not needed. I didn’t want to have to paint a detailed mask of the train if I could avoid it. So based on option #3, I desaturated each of the channels in the HSL panel completely, except for the Yellow channel which I boosted to +100 (Figure 12). This version became the starting point of the B&W/colour blend.
There were several issues with the Figure 12 rendition: (1) the Yellow of the train was weak, (2) there were residual elements of colour elsewhere in the photo that had to be eliminated, and (3) the sky was weak. Not to worry, Lightroom has enough in its toolkit to address all of it and more. So take them in turn:
(1) The Yellow train: the main fix was adding some contrast and saturation in the basic panel (Figure 13). This fixed the train but aggravated problem (2), but we’ll get there. By the way, the Curve adjustment also begins to address the problem (3).
(2) Unwanted yellow: this is particularly noticeable for the brick colour on the Universal Music building (left side), but there are traces of yellowish moss on the bridge foundations as well (Figure 14), and traces of a yellow component elsewhere in the photo.
The main fix was to use the Adjustment Brush with Saturation set to -100 and simply brush over all those areas containing colour. It wasn’t necessary to be very particular about these mini masks because everything around them was also desaturated (Figure 15).
This fixed most of the problem; however, it wasn’t 100% effective, in particular on the Universal Music Building (Figure 16); the reason may be that the desaturation tool in the Adjustment Brush panel was not designed to completely extinguish over-saturation of a colour in the main HSL panel.
The final fix for this problem was to re-open the Adjustment Brush localized desaturation exercise and shift the Temp slider to 100% Blue (Figure 17). This effectively counteracted all the residual yellow, because additional Blue extinguishes Yellow (Figure 16A).
(3) Strengthening the sky: I don’t know how many folks are aware, but the Dehaze tool is really powerful for a whole lot more than de-hazing. One example, it’s great for strengthening weak skies that do have some potential. So the approach here is simply to mask the sky using a broad, non-feathered Adjustment Brush with Auto on, then applying the amount of Dehaze that brings out the clouds just as much as one wants (Figures 18). It’s important to operate this slider slowly and carefully because the effect is powerful.
Finally, I thought this photo would be more appropriate Sepia toned (to give it an old-time appearance consistent with the dating of the bridge), without turning the deeper shadow tones muddy, so I applied Split Toning, more in the light areas than the dark, and I smoothed the sky by increasing noise reduction and decreasing sharpening, within the Adjustment Brush Panel (Figure 19).
I printed it on Ilford Gold Fibre Silk and Canon Premium Fine Art Smooth, both successful renditions; for this photo, I have a slight preference for the matte rendition (Premium Fine Art Smooth – one of the very finest matte papers on the market). All said and done, I like the contrast of the modern subway on the old bridge, and I haven’t seen a postcard like it – in Berlin or on the Internet.
Both of the above photos exhibited approaches to B&W/colour mixture where B&W is the dominant theme. So I’ll turn to a photo having only a modest contribution of B&W done with a judiciously targeted Graduated Filter (Figure 21).
This is at Potsdamer Platz, ISO 2500, 28mm f/4.5, 1/90th, hand-held. Its state in Figure 21 is after perspective correction, cropping, sharpening and slight noise mitigation (that Sony sensor is really pretty clean well into high ISO values).
The one thing about it I didn’t like too much was the muddy-looking colours on the street at the bottom. So it occurred to me that by converting this portion of the photo to B&W, I’d remove those colours and replace them with the atmosphere of an old-time B&W movie street scene while leaving the interesting colour material above intact. I also judged such a blend would work well in this photo because much of the material in colour is close to resembling B&W.
The specific technique was to create a desaturated gradient over the area to become B&W. An issue doing this is controlling the coverage of the Graduated filter, as in its initial position it can be broader than desired (Figure 22).
Two moves were needed: (1) tilting it to suit the desired area of coverage, and (2) preventing the gradient from desaturating areas not meant to be desaturated. Item (1) is well-known: just drag the gradient around its center-point by clicking and dragging the center line till the angle of coverage is as wanted. Item (2) is less well-known: you place the hand on one of the outer edge lines of the graduated filter, press and hold the ALT/OPTION key, while you click and drag the borderline to place it as closely as appropriate to the center line (Figure 23).
Then leave-go and drag the whole set of lines into the final desired position. The effect of the gradient trails off very rapidly, as desired, beyond the center line (Figure 24).
This approach is suitable where a steep landing of a graduated filter adjustment is wanted. After a further adjustment of the filter’s coverage and some added tonal adjustment in the graduated B&W area to improve deep-shade detail (add Exposure, Clarity, Noise mitigation, reduce Highlights), the final state of the B&W portion is achieved (Figure 25).
The final photo is shown in Figure 26.
Finally, I just wanted to share with you a very simple, conventional reason for using a B&W mixture that’s quite easy to implement in Lightroom: a situation where the colour of the background interferes with the impact of colour in the foreground. Solution: convert the background to B&W. The location is still Potsdamer Platz, at Legoland (Figure 27).
The construction of this giraffe is really impressive, and in particular, I was keen to capture a close-up of its head (Figure 28).
But I didn’t like how the greenish windows distracted from the impact of the yellow Lego head, and the head itself still needed a bit of punching up. So I converted the background to B&W, then applied additional overall Vibrance and Clarity adjustments to produce the final version: a vibrant B&W mixture (Figure 29).