Mono Conversion

Looking through my Lightroom library, this image of the river Brathay looking towards the Langdale Pikes in the Lake District looked to have potential as a black & white image. In this article I’ll go through the steps I used to make the conversion using Adobe Photoshop CS5.5.

An Internet search will reveal that there are endless ways to make a monochrome conversion. I prefer to make as many of the adjustments as possible within Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) so I’m working with the full tonal range contained with my Raw file. It’s also worth noting that ACR has additional sliders controlling orange and purple tones, which are missing in Photoshop’s Black & White conversion tool.

By setting all the colour Saturation sliders to zero you can fine-tune the image tones using any of the colour affecting sliders such as White Balance as well as the usual luminosity controls. The downside is that, once you move from ACR to Photoshop, you can’t change your mind about the settings, so you’ll have to reopen the Raw file. However all your adjustments in ACR are remembered so you don’t have to start from scratch.

Check the histogram

The Raw file opens in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). Clicking the triangles at the top of the Histogram displays any areas of clipping. I have some highlight clipping in the sky. I added +0.5 stop exposure and this has added to the clipping so I’ve used the Recovery slider to bring the blown areas back.

Fine-tune the crop

I felt that there was too much grass at the bottom right so I used the Crop tool to reduce this. Then moving to the HSL/Grayscale panel I reduced the Saturation of all the colours to -100 giving me a monochrome image. I used a combination of colour adjustments to improve the contrast.

Target Tonal Changes

I adjusted the Luminance using ACR’s Targeted Adjustment tool (T). Mousing over the tone you want to adjust while holding down the left button targets the relevant sliders. Moving the mouse up and down sets the tone. By targeting different tones you can easily adjust contrast to suit your taste.

Adjust the curve

Moving to the Tone Curve and again using the Targeted Adjustment tool, this time moving my mouse affects the Tone curve. Moving between Shadows and Highlights concentrates the changes to that part of the curve. I kept making slight adjustments until I got the effect I wanted then clicked Open Image to move to Photoshop.

Changing Small Areas

Next I wanted to improve some individual areas. The mountains in the distance need some work so I selected this area using the Lasso tool. Clicking Select>Modify>Feather with a value of 10 pixels softened the transition. Adding a Curves adjustment layer uses the selection as a mask and I can edit just this area.

Final Step

The mask needs tidying. Using the ‘\’ key to display the mask in red and the Brush tool with a soft paintbrush I brushed around the mountain tops so edits won’t affect the sky. I added a shallow S curve to increase contrast. I repeated this procedure for each area I wanted to adjust until I achieved my finished image.

Taken from the May 2012 issue of Advanced Photographer magazine