How To Make Better Black & White Photos With Local Adjustments

How To Make Better Black & White Photos With Local Adjustments


Editor's note: This month only...grab my new ebook Mastering Lightroom Classic: Book Four – Black & White for just $8! Learn how to create stunning black and white photos in Lightroom Classic today. Thanks for reading! Andrew.

Lightroom Classic has three local adjustment tools – the Graduated filter, Radial filter and Adjustment Brush. Once you get in the habit of using them you’ll see that most black and white photos look better with local adjustments.

The best way to demonstrate this is with examples, so I’ve put together several case studies. The ideas here work with older versions of Lightroom like Lightroom 5 and Lightroom 6. In fact, they’ll work in nearly any software. The principles are the same, the only thing that changes is the tools.

Most of the adjustments in these examples are simple and didn’t take long to do. Using local adjustments isn’t complicated and only takes a few minutes once you’re confident with the process. The difference it makes to your photos means it’s worth the extra effort.

Case study 1: Castro de Cabo Blanco, Asturias, Spain

This is a long exposure landscape (I used a neutral density filter to get a shutter speed of 210 seconds). The long exposure gives a soft sea and sky, and I wanted to keep those qualities. I also wanted to add Clarity and Texture to get the best out of the rocks in the foreground. Here’s the photo without local adjustments.

Black and white landscape

1. I started by applying a Graduated filter to the sky and moving the Contrast slider left to reduce the contrast and soften the sky further. This is the mask created by the Graduated filter.

Local adjustment in Lightroom Classic

Then I used the Adjustment Brush to make a mask over the rocks in the foreground.

Local adjustment in Lightroom Classic

I increased Texture and Clarity, and moved the Shadows slider right to compensate for the way that increasing Clarity increases contrast. This is the result.

Black and white landscape

Use the slider to see a direct comparison between the before and after versions of this photo.

Case study 2: Eoin’s hands

Eoin is a glass blower who I photographed several years ago. While I was making photos of him at work I realized that his hands say a good deal about his work and his character. When we had finished I asked him to show me his hands so I could make a photo showing his tattoos. 

Black and white photo of hands

I used a wide aperture (f2.8) to defocus the background. I wanted to apply Clarity and Texture to his hands to make them stand out more, and leave the background untouched. 

Here’s the mask I made with the Adjustment Brush.

Local adjustment in Lightroom Classic

I increased Clarity and Texture (and Shadows a little) to bring out the textures in his skin.

Then I used the Radial Filter to create the mask below, and moved the Exposure slider left to make the edges of the photo darker. This helps makes his hands stand out against the background. This is the mask.

Local adjustment in Lightroom Classic

I could have used Post-crop vignetting for this, but using a Radial filter is more precise as the mask shows exactly which part of the photo the local adjustment changes.

Here’s the result.

Black and white photo of hands

Use the slider to see the difference between the before and after versions.

Case study 3: Cementerio de Recoleta, Buenos Aires, Argentina

I made the photo below in the famous Recoleta cemetery in Buenos Aires. The photo is a little flat, and I wanted to increase the brightness of the angel statue to make it stand out. This is the photo without local adjustments.

Black and white photo of statue

I made a mask covering the statue.

Local adjustment in Lightroom Classic

I moved the Highlights slider right to make the statue lighter. Using the Highlights slider works well because it’s a more subtle adjustment than using the Exposure slider. I also increased Texture and Clarity slightly.

I felt the left-side of the photo was too light, so I added a Graduated filter to the left side of the photo. This is the mask.

Local adjustment in Lightroom Classic

I moved the Highlights and Exposure sliders left to make this part of the frame darker. I noticed that one part of the building behind the statue was brighter thanks to the way the light was falling on it. So I used the Adjustment Brush to make this mask.

Local adjustment in Lightroom Classic

I moved the Highlights and Exposure sliders left to make that part of the building darker. This is the final result.

Black and white photo of statue

Use the slider to see the difference the local adjustments made.

Case study 4: Local man, India

We stopped off for some chai tea somewhere between towns in Rajasthan India. There was a small row of shops and behind them, a temple. The man in the photo below offered to pose for us. This is the photo without local adjustments.

Black and white travel portrait

I deliberately made the photo a little dark in Lightroom Classic because that’s how I wanted a dark background. I knew it would be easy to use a local adjustment to make the man brighter. I used the Adjustment Brush to make a mask. 

Local adjustment in Lightroom Classic

I increased Exposure to make the man lighter, and Texture and Clarity to help him “pop” from the background. This is the result.

Black and white travel portrait

Use the slider to see a comparison.

Hopefully these examples help you see how you can use local adjustments to make a big difference to your black and white photos. It isn’t difficult and there are no complex techniques to master. The main skill you need is the ability to look at a photo and see which local adjustments you can make to get the best result.

Don’t forget to check out my newest ebook Mastering Lightroom Classic: Book Four – Black & White, where you’ll learn more about using techniques like these to make better black and white photos.


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About Andrew S. Gibson

Andrew S. Gibson is a writer, publisher, traveler, workshop leader and photographer based in the UK. He started writing about photography while traveling in Bolivia, and has been published in many prestigious photography magazines including EOS magazine, where he worked as a Writer and Technical Editor for two years. He is inspired by meeting new people, seeing new places and having new experiences. Check out his photography ebooks here.

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