There are two different aspects to developing a black and white landscape photo in Lightroom. One is craft, where you use Lightroom’s sliders and tools to convert a color landscape to black and white, push sliders around and apply local adjustments. Craft skills are easy to learn.
The other is visualization.
To understand what visualization is let me ask you what elevates the work of the best black and white landscape photographers above the rest?
There are many factors, not least hard work and dedication. But there’s an important stage between capturing the photo and developing it that not many photographers seem to talk about.
This is visualization – understanding what you want to do to the photo and why.
It’s the ability to look at a freshly converted black and white photo and understand what needs to happen in Lightroom (or Photoshop or Silver Efex Pro or whatever software you prefer to use) to turn it into something truly special.
Visualization and emotion
A good place to start is to think about the reason you took the photo in the first place. What emotional qualities do you want to express? For example, if you take a photo during a storm, then you probably want to show the drama of black clouds over the landscape.
Once you know what emotion you want to add to the photo you can think about what steps required to achieve it.
Let me give you a few examples.
Guadamia Cliffs, Asturias, Spain
I made this landscape photo on a quiet, still evening in early summer. The sky was cloudy and the air was warm. It was a peaceful location, and I used a neutral density filter to get a long shutter speed of 125 seconds and smooth out the water.
This is the photo, converted to black and white but with no further adjustments – my starting point in Lightroom.
My aim was to keep the tranquil feel of the scene while adding contrast and making the photo more interesting to look at. This is what I wanted to do to achieve that:
• Add contrast to compensate for the flat light.
• Bring out the textures of the cliffs to emphasize the contrast with the smooth sea.
• Make the sky darker.
Once I had made these decisions it was a simple matter to go into Lightroom and do it. Here’s the result:
An advantage of this type of thinking is that it help stop you over-processing photos. It gives you an end point to work towards.
Of course, if you reach that point and see a way to improve the photo, then feel free to explore other possibilities. But it’s useful to have goals in mind, and know when you’ve achieved them. You’ll get much better results than the photographer who pushes sliders around without purpose.
Here’s another example:
Tupiza is a remote town 3000 meters above sea level in the Bolivian Andes. It’s a quiet, peaceful place. The town is dry and dusty and surrounded by beautiful rock formations.
The rain comes in the summer. I stood on a lookout platform as a storm approached. Lightning flashed. The clouds were dark, full of rain. I waited as long as I could then ran before the deluge hit. Because of this experience I wanted to create a sense of impending drama and excitement in the final photo.
Here’s the original image as it came out of the camera, with a simple black and white conversion.
To express the mood of the storm I needed to make the following adjustments:
• Increase contrast.
• Make the sky and the mountains darker.
• Make the strip of light between the dark clouds and the mountains brighter to emphasize the darkness of the rest of the scene.
• Crop the photo to remove the buildings at the bottom and create a panorama, making the telegraph pole into a focal point.
Again, these are simple adjustments to make. Here’s what the photo looked like after I developed it in Lightroom:
Island Bay, New Zealand
In the final example, I started with quite a bright photo after using the expose to the right technique (ETTR) to create a good quality Raw file to work with in Lightroom.
I wanted to create an image with a mysterious feel that captured the atmosphere of this beautiful place at dusk (when the photo was taken) and the brooding presence of the island on the horizon.
To do that I needed to do the following in Lightroom.
• Make the entire image darker.
• Increase contrast across the image.
• Darken the sky.
• Bring out the textures of the rocks so that they lead the eye through the frame to the island.
This is the result after I made those adjustments:
Visualization is the ability to look at a landscape and see the final photo in your mind. Successful visualization helps every part of your creative process work in harmony. Everything flows. The light and composition come together to reach your goal. When you open the photo in Lightroom you already know what you want to achieve and how you will do it. Every part of the process is connected.
Editors Note: If you want to learn more about the visualization and processing of Black & White Images in Adobe Lightroom, I can recommend Andrew’s eBook The Lightroom Landscape.