An Advanced 7-Step Way to Edit B&W Photos in Lightroom

Black and white images can tell entirely different stories than color. By removing all of the colors, the tones carry the weight of the story. There’s a lot of gray area (pun intended) when it comes to black and white images as there’s no right or wrong way to take them. In this article and video, I’ll be walking through a new way to edit black and white images in Adobe Lightroom.

I did a simple conversion and tweaked the basic adjustments. Notice the lack of pop, especially in the water where the action is happening. Next, let’s look at the final version of what we’ll be editing today.

Notice the details in the sky and water as well as the depth of the tones. It makes for a much more dramatic black and white image and the steps are actually quite simple. Before we dive into it, be sure to download the exercise file here and follow along with me as I edit!

Editing Steps

  1. Separate the Colors
  2. Color Calibration
  3. Convert to Black & White
  4. Basic Adjustments
  5. HSL / B&W Mixer
  6. Amplify Presence
  7. Local Adjustments

Step #1: Separate the Colors

My first adjustment is in the color temperature. I tweaked it until there was a clear difference between the warmth in the rocks and the cool tones in the water. Notice that at the extremes in the example above, all the colors blend together. This makes it difficult to adjust the luminosity of each color later on.

Step #2: Color Calibration

Next, I boosted the saturation and calibrated the color a touch. This isolates each color range even further.

Step #3: Convert to Black & White

Then, convert to black and white by pressing “V.” Next, I lowered the exposure.

Step #4: Basic Adjustments

Using the basic adjustments, I set the highlights and brought back the details in the shadows. Here are the final settings from this panel.

Step #5: HSL / B&W Mixer

Remember when we separated the colors? This is where we’ll be adjusting each individual channel. I deepened the reds and oranges and darkened the blues in the sky and water.

Step #6: Amplify Presence

To amplify the presence, I added clarity and de-haze. Boosting de-haze is especially effective at making details pop. After some more tweaks, here are the final updated settings.

Step #7: Local Adjustments

I used Profile Correction from Visual Flow’s Retouching Toolkit to straighten out any lens distortion. I then leveled the horizon and added a subtle Post-Crop Vignette.

Next, I added a radial filter around the wave to draw the eyes toward that part of the photo. I bumped up the whites to add some more contrast in the waves.

Included in the Visual Flow Retouching Toolkit is a Sky-Cloud-Ocean Brush for enhancing the sky. Make sure to feather the mask off of the waves.

Then, I used the Dodge Whites brush to bring out the bright areas in the water. This brush isolates just the highlights and doesn’t affect the darker tones.

Lastly, I added a graduated filter to burn the bottom of the image. This further draws attention to the top where the wave is crashing. Here is the final black and white edit compared to where we first started.


I hope you enjoyed this video/article on a new way to edit black and white images in Lightroom. Take your camera out and give this technique a shot on your next landscape! Black and white images are all about precise tone control, especially from separating the colors and being able to adjust it in the mixer. This allows us to achieve dramatic effects that we wouldn’t be able to otherwise using black and white editing techniques.

P.S. For a comprehensive editing tutorial, check out the Mastering Lightroom Course over in the SLR Lounge Premium Library. Also, be sure to check out Visual Flow’s Retouching Toolkit to get access to all the intuitive tools like we used here.

About the author: Pye Jirsa is a wedding photographer based in Southern California and the co-founder of SLR Lounge. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Jirsa’s work on Instagram.