Natural light portrait converted to black & white with UltraBlack Lightroom Develop Presets

Create Better B&W Portraits With UltraBlack Lightroom Develop Presets

Lightroom is a powerful Raw converter that works extremely well for black and white conversions. But it doesn’t do everything, which is why there are plug-ins (such as Silver Efex Pro 2, part of the Nik Collection, or Topaz B&W effects) you can download or buy to enhance your black and white photos even further.

The disadvantage of plug-ins, wonderful as many of them are, is that they break the Lightroom workflow. In order to export a Raw file to a plug-in you need to convert it to another file format first. 16 bit TIFF is the normal choice because it gives the plug-in as much information as possible to work with. The only problem is that TIFF files are enormous and can soon eat into your hard drive space.

That’s where Develop Presets come in. Develop Presets work entirely within Lightroom, using the tools available in the Develop module. This has several advantages:

  • You can create Virtual Copies to try out new Develop Presets and compare the results. This multiplies the space advantage exponentially, as you would have to create a new 16 bit TIFF file every time if you were to try this in a plug-in.
  • You can work directly with your Raw files, saving hard drive space and making backing up your photo files easier.
  • You can look at the settings used by the Develop Preset to see how the creator has utilized the tools within the Develop module. You will learn new things about Lightroom and be able to apply them to other photos as well.
  • You can use the Develop Preset as a starting point, then make adjustments from there to tweak the settings. The Develop Preset is a shortcut that takes you to the point where you can give the photo the individual attention it needs.

Let’s be clear, there will always be things that plug-ins can do that Develop Presets can’t. The main benefit of plug-ins is that they give you far more tools for enhancing contrast and texture than are available in Lightroom. Texture is an important element of many black and white photos, and plug-ins help you make the most of it.

UltraBlack Lightroom Develop Presets

But the benefits of Develop Presets mean that they are certainly worth considering as part of your Lightroom workflow. Today I’d like to take a look at the UltraBlack presets from Creative Presets to see how useful they are. There are 30 presets in the Collection, each one giving you a different black and white conversion.

One of the difficulties of Develop Presets is that, unlike software, there is no way to provide a 30 day trial to see if they are suitable for you. So a bit of detective work is required. If you look around the Creative Presets website you will come across the Freebies page, which gives you the opportunity to download some Develop Presets to try. As you look around the website you’ll also notice that there is a heavy emphasis on portrait and fashion photography, so it follows that their presets will work best with these subjects.

You should also understand that there are two types of Develop Preset systems.

  • Modular presets. These are designed to help you process Raw files quickly and consistently without having to touch the tools in the right-hand panels. The Black & White Develop Presets from Craft & Vision are an excellent example.
  • Single click presets. These are presets that you apply with a single click. The only way that you can tweak the settings yourself is by going into the right-hand panels and doing it yourself. These usually come in sets of 20 to 40 presets. In practice, a handful of these presets will produce better results than the others, depending on the characteristics of the photo you apply to them to.

The UltraBlack presets from Creative Presets are single click presets.

There are 30 Develop Presets in the UltraBlack collection, but rather than show you them all I’m going to show you the original color photo and my four favorite presets.

Natural light portrait

Natural light portrait processed with UltraBlack Lightroom Develop Presets

Natural light portrait processed with UltraBlack Lightroom Develop Presets

Natural light portrait processed with UltraBlack Lightroom Develop Presets

Natural light portrait processed with UltraBlack Lightroom Develop Presets

Now let’s look at the straight black and white conversion, created by setting Treatment to Black & White in the Basic panel (you can use the V keyboard shortcut to do this quickly).

Natural light portrait converted to black & white in Lightroom

You can see the model’s skin is glowing. This is because of the light. She was standing in the shade when I made the portrait, and the area in front of her was lit by the sun. It acted like a giant reflector, bouncing the light into the shade.

The black and white versions created by using the presets have far more skin texture. Let’s take a look at a couple of them to see what we can learn from the settings used.

The first was created using the UltraBlack 3 preset. It has strong contrast with blocked up shadows and some skin texture.

Natural light portrait processed with UltraBlack Lightroom Develop Presets

So, where does the skin texture come from, considering that the model’s skin was so bright in the original? The answer lies in the HSL/Color/B&W panel, where we can see that the Orange and Yellow sliders, which correspond to skin tones, have negative values.

HSL/Color/B&W panel in Lightroom

You can take this further by clicking on the Targeted Adjustment Tool (marked below), moving the mouse over the model’s skin, holding the left mouse button down and moving the mouse downwards. The Targeted Adjustment Tool analyzes the colors below the black and white image and adjusts them accordingly to make the skin tones darker. Here, it has reduced the values of the Orange and Yellow sliders even further.

HSL/Color/B&W panel in Lightroom

And this is the result:

Natural light portrait converted to black & white with UltraBlack Lightroom Develop Presets

The other panel of interest is the Tone Curve panel. The steep S curve shape indicates that the Tone Curve massively increases the photo’s contrast.

Lightroom Tone Curve panel

Want less contrast? Grab the bottom half of the Tone Curve, move it up so the curve is less steep and watch the shadow detail come back.

Lightroom Tone Curve panel

Here’s the result of this simple tweak.

Natural light portrait converted to black & white with UltraBlack Lightroom Develop Presets

Here’s another example, this time created by applying the UltraBlack 6 preset.

Natural light portrait processed with UltraBlack Lightroom Develop Presets

The photo has a matte appearance, meaning there is no true black point, as if it has been printed on matte paper. The highlights are also very dark. This is reflected in the histogram, where you can see the graph doesn’t reach all the way to the edges.

Lightroom histogram

We can see how this effect was achieved by looking at the Basic and Tone Curve panels. In the Basic panel, the Highlights, Whites and Blacks sliders all have negative values, which makes all those tones darker, pushing the histogram to the left.

Lightroom Basic panel

Then in the Tone Curve we see this strange shape. What does it mean? The dip on the right indicates that the light tones have been made darker. The rise on the on the left means there are no true black tones, giving the matte effect I spoke of earlier. Now you know how to create this effect yourself, simply by analyzing a preset.

Lightroom Tone Curve panel

Here is another portrait processed with the UltraBlack Develop Presets.

Natural light portrait converted to black & white with UltraBlack Lightroom Develop Presets

Natural light portrait converted to black & white with UltraBlack Lightroom Develop Presets

This quick look at the UltraBlack presets should show you how you can use Develop Presets as a shortcut in processing. The benefit of buying presets made by somebody else is that you get to take advantage of their expertise. Once you start analyzing how the presets work, and using that knowledge yourself, your confidence with Lightroom will grow.

It can also change your approach to processing. For example, after working with the UltraBlack presets on the first portrait above, I wondered how the color version would look if I reduced the exposure to reveal more skin texture. I also reduced the color temperature to cool the image down, reduced Vibrance to lessen the color intensity and lifted the left side of the Tone Curve to introduce a slight matte look.

Here’s the result.

Natural light portrait

Natural light portrait with further processing in Lightroom

Note: Creative Presets kindly provided the presets for me to review. As always, the views in this article are my own and I only write about products that I am happy to recommend to my readers.

Further reading

The next steps

If you’d like to learn more about Lightroom I suggest you sign up to our Introducing Lightroom Classic free email course. We’ll send five free Lightroom Classic lessons straight to your inbox! And while you’re here, don’t forget to check out our Mastering Lightroom Classic ebook bundle  (see below).

The Mastering Lightroom Classic ebook bundle

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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.


  1. Well, you sold me! Those presets look gorgeous, and they’re affordable, too. They have a Black Friday sale on, so I got the UltraBlack and the Wedding Pro presets for the price of one. Great value. Thanks for your review. I look forward to following your site.

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