David Johnston

How to Decide if a Photo Should Be Black and White

David Johnston
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Duration:   9  mins

Have you ever captured a memorable image and wondered what it would look like in black and white? Through post-production editing, you convert your image into monochrome only to discover it falls flat as a standalone photo. In this premium video lesson, Outdoor Photography Guide’s David Johnston takes you into his editing suite and answers the question: When should you switch a photograph into black and white?

David begins with his Death Valley image of cracked mud piles with a decayed wooden stick at the center. But the overall color is a gray wash, resulting in a “flat” appearance with little dimension. In Lightroom, he adds depth by increasing the contrast, then works the highlights, shadows, blacks, and whites sliders. He sees improvement, but the main subject, the wooden stick, is still washed out. David brings up the masking tools and brushes the stick, then adds exposure to brighten the subject. Next, he decreases the exposure on the background. The result? Depth has been added, but drama is lacking.

Solution? Conversion to Black & White in Lightroom. Still, the image needs editing adjustments. Using various tools, he darkens the photograph, then increases the clarity to add texture. In the Black & White Mix section, he adjusts various colors, the goal to highlight the sharp shadow edges. To bring out the main subject, he adds a gradient, brightens the stick, and darkens the background. He finishes the editing with a vignette.

The advantage of editing in black and white is you can push the extremes of the tool sliders to add depth and drama. Often, the best way to determine whether you should convert a color image to black and white is to determine the contrast. If your color image appears flat, try experimenting in black and white. In this premium video, Outdoor Photography Guide’s pro David Johnston gives you a step-by-step guide to convert a color image into black and white.

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