Techniques and Tools
In part 1 of this series, we gave an overview of the basics of creating monochrome images in Lightroom. Today we are going to delve a bit deeper into a few techniques you can use to create magnificent monochromes and more. So without further adieu, let us jump right in.
Toning and Duotones
First off, let’s look at using Lightroom’s Split Toning feature to bring some color back into our images. This is incredibly easy, and can add some feeling to you black and white image. I’m sure you have seen and used the split toning function before, but it really shines when applied over a monochrome image.
Keep in mind that the colors do not have to be contrasting to make an interesting image. Two complimentary colors can accomplish a wonderful effect as well.
In the Develop Module, scroll the Right Toolbar down until you come to the Split Toning panel:
You can see that it offers a few options. First click on the color box to select a foreground color. Get it in the ballpark of the color you want applied:
After it’s selected it will apply a color cast over the image, applied mostly to the highlights. Adjust the Hue and Saturation of the Highlight Toning until you like the results.
Next, apply the same Hue and Saturation to the Shadow Toning:
You have created a single color tone for your image. But you can go further with even more desirable effect by choosing two different colors.
Start with the Highlight Tone again, select a color and adjust the Hue and Saturation again. Now for the shadows, select a contrasting color and adjust the Hue and Saturation to taste:
So now we have created a nice contrast of colors in our otherwise monochrome image, but it may seem unbalanced. That’s where the Balance slider comes into play:
As you pull the slider to the left, you increase the amount of toning applied to the shadows, whilst reducing the toning of the highlights. Push the slider to the right, the inverse occurs. Adjust this slider until you like the results. You have completed your duotone image:
Keep in mind that the colors do not have to be contrasting to make an interesting image. Two complimentary colors can accomplish a wonderful effect as well. You can also apply two, slightly different tones to the Highlight and Shadow, creating an image that has great depth whilst still looking as if it is a simple toned monochrome.
I almost never make a toned image by setting the Highlight and Shadow to the same value, I usually have at least the saturation altered; with less Saturation in the Highlights and more in the Shadow. Experiment and you will find a toning technique that best suits your personal vision.
Selective color is one of the monochrome techniques that is most used in photography today. There are two ways to do this; one can be done exclusively in Lightroom while the other will require Photoshop. First we will explore the rather simple Lightroom only method.
Start this image out in color, and select the Local Adjustment Brush tool:
Set its mode to Saturation and bring the Saturation of the brush down to -100. Select an appropriate brush size for the desaturation of the parts of the image you wish to convert to monochrome:
Enable Auto Mask, bring feathering down to 0, Flow to 100 and Density to 100:
Now start filling in the areas of the image you wish to remove the color from:
Auto Mask should do a fairly good job of preventing you from desaturating your subject, but can cause other colors to linger as well. If this occurs, simply let go of the mouse button, align the brush tip centered on the offending colors and start filling in again.
This process will render good results, but with the aid of Photoshop you can do much better.
To do the Photoshop method, first make a virtual copy of the image you want to process. Take one copy and convert to monochrome with the Grayscale Mixer, tune it as if it were going to stay monochrome. With the other, adjust the color of the subject you want to focus on until it is how you like it.
Once both are complete, Control-Click the two images in the film strip. When both are selected, right-click on the selected images to bring up the contextual menu and select Edit In:
In the sub-menu, choose the last option, Open as Layers in Photoshop:
Lightroom will proceed to launch Photoshop and load the two images up as separate layers in the same image.
Once in Photoshop make sure that the monochrome layer is on top of the color layer. You should only see a monochrome image:
Now you need to remove the parts of the monochrome layer that cover your subject. There is a multitude of ways to do this, but I am going to choose the most straight-forward method and use the eraser tool to remove the top layer:
Remember that if there is one way to do something in Photoshop, there are probably a hundred other ways, many of which are better than this method. So go ahead and you the Eraser as a Brush with 100% Opacity and 100% Flow. You can adjust them as needed:
This method provides you with much more control over the monochrome conversion, but if you are happy with a desaturated monochrome, stick with Lightroom and use the first method:
I use the Photoshop method exclusively and it is one of the few image manipulations that I rely on Photoshop for.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but white balance can have a major impact on your images. This is a simple adjustment that can make a world of difference in your image. It functions as a variable color filter for your monochrome conversions.
To get a feel for how the Temperature and Tint sliders affect you image, apply them to your image while it is still in color. As you see the different color casts you create think of how that will be converted by the monochrome process:
A red cast applied with white balance will create a very dark image when you convert to monochrome and reduce the Red slider in the Grayscale mixer:
Once you have a feel for how it effects color, set the slider back to normal and convert your image.
After you complete you basic conversion, start moving those sliders around until you like the image:
You can use the White Balance tools to enhance detail, eliminate extraneous detail, darken and lighten your conversion:
The more you play with white balance in monochrome images, the more you will get a feel for how it will alter your image and will become an invaluable tool for monochrome work.
One downfall of monochrome conversions in Lightroom is the lack of a tool to introduce artificial grain. You can always go to Photoshop and create grain, but it would really be great for Lightroom to have the option.
All is not lost though. If you know you intend to make a shot into a monochrome image before you take it, and you know you want it to have a pronounced ‘grain’, increase your camera’s ISO setting. As you take it higher the sensor will create more noise, which you can use to simulate grain.
Don’t go all out and set your worst ISO for noise, set it in the middle. ISO 800-1600 on newer cameras will have enough noise to let you enhance it in Lightroom, while having low enough noise to still have a good image.
Once shot, and converted to monochrome in Lightroom, you will want to increase the Exposure in the Basic Tab a bit:
This will enhance the noise a bit to begin with. You can tone it back down with contrast if you need to. Now scroll down to the Detail Tab.
First set both Color and Luminance Noise Reduction to 0 and then apply the sharpening tools until you get the noise to where it looks appealing:
You have now done as much as you can to produce a ‘grain’ in Lightroom. It’s not perfect or even desirable, but if you don’t have good plug-ins for Lightroom such as Nik’s Silver Efex Pro, it is about as good a grain as you are going to get.
X-Equals Monochrome Toolkit
Finally, I have a present for everyone. Over the past year of creating film emulations over at LifeInDigitalFilm, I have spent a lot of time designing monochrome tools to simulate a bit of the printing experience. When I started writing this series of articles, I got those tools back out and started refining them to create a set of presets than work together to produce images that simulate the effect of tradition wet prints from a black and white darkroom.
This toolkit includes 27 presets to help you in your quest for magnificent monochromes and each preset is designed to be stacked together to create your desired effect. There are a few groups of presets in the file and they can be applied in any order.
First we have the x=film presets. These five presets are designed to simulate generic styles of film:
- x=film+infra-red: Creates an image that simulates the response of Infra-Red films.
- x=film+ortho: Creates an image simulating Orthochromatic film which is sensitive to only green and blue light, also the first style of black and white film to be mass produced.
- x=film+pan: Creates an effect much like that of most modern B&W films. Panchromatic films are sensitive to the entire visible light spectrum.
- x=film+ortho-pan: Simulates Orthopanchromatic film. Much like Pan film, but less sensitivity to the reds in an image.
- x=film+pan-super: Simulates Superpanchromatic films that have an extended red response.
Then we have eight x=filter presets that simulate the effect of different colored filters on black and white film. Their names are self-explanatory:
Next we have the seven x=paper presets that simulate the different grades of contrast possible with Variable Contrast (VC) photo paper:
- x=paper+VC-00: Creates a very low contrast image that is very soft
- x=paper+VC-0: Another very low contrast setting and is less soft than 00
- x=paper+VC-1: Low contrast and soft
- x=paper+VC-2: Creates a balanced image with medium contrast and tone
- x=paper+VC-3: Create a higher contrast image that is slightly sharp
- x=paper+VC-4: Creates a high contrast image that is sharp
- x=paper+VC-5: Creates a very high-contrast image that is extremely sharp
Then there is one x=print preset x=print+lith which simulates the effect of a lithographic print shot on B&W film printed on Lith paper. This preset creates images with low contrast and low detail.
Finally we have six x=toning presets that simulate different, traditional toning techniques:
- x=toning+copper: Creates a rich orange toning
- x=toning+cyanotype: Creates a light blue toning
- x=toning+palladium: Creates a slight metallic toning trending toward brown
- x=toning+selenium: Creates a metallic toning trending toward blue
- x=toning+sepia: Creates a subtle brown toning, but you probably knew that
- x=toning+uranium: Creates a light reddish-brown toning
These presets are designed to be used two or more at a time. First apply an x=film or x=filter preset to your image to create the base monochrome conversion.
Then apply an x=paper or x=print preset to apply the tone curve, contrast and clarity. Finally if you wish to tone your image apply an x=toning preset.
These presets are designed to give you a quick creative boost to your monochrome workflow. They were created through observation, not fancy analysis of color, so they are not 100% accurate – but what digital version of an analog medium ever truly is?
Hopefully the techniques I covered will help you develop your monochrome skills further and the X-equals Monochrome Toolkit will help you create beautiful images quickly.
If nothing else, the toolkit presets can let you test out various monochrome looks on your image before you decide which way to go.
They should provide you with an excellent starting point for any image. If you have any questions or issues, feel free to leave a comment below. I will help out in any way I can.
Michael W. Gray – LifeInDigitalFilm