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Convert your coloured landscapes to mono

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Category: Adobe Photoshop

How to turn a coloured landscape mono - Robin Whalley shows you how to convert your boring landscapes into monochrome masterpieces.

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Words and images by Robin Whalley from Lenscraft.

The UK has a wonderfully diverse landscape for photography but unfortunately our weather doesn’t always cooperate. I recently took a 2 hour early morning drive to Whitby with a friend only to be confronted by a grey sunrise and gloomy skies. While the light was appalling for colour photography I see potential in some of the strong shapes for black and white. What follows is the post processing I applied in Lightroom to transform one of my shots into the monochrome image I had visualised.

Here you can see one of the images I shot with my LX5 set to aperture priority, f/5.6 and ISO80. I had the White Balance was set to Auto and the image was recorded as a RAW file. I also used a 0.6ND grad filter to ensure the sky didn’t blow out in areas of highlight although the scene contrast was so low thee wasn’t too much of a danger of this. The other benefit from the (cheap) grad I used is that I knew it produced a magenta colour cast, and whilst no use for colour images, can be great for monochrome as you will see.



Step 1: Open image

When I opened the image in Lightroom this is the histogram I saw from the RAW file. There’s no clipping at either end of the histogram and the camera has exposed the scene to a nice midtone. This is a good starting point for the monochrome conversion and a point from which I can visualise my finished work.


Step 2: Improve histogram

My first step is to improve the histogram so that it extends a little more evenly across the entire tonal range and also brighten the image up a little. I did this by using the Exposure, Brightness and Contrast sliders as well as the Tone Curve. You can see the settings and results in the image below. Notice how these changes have affected the colour and saturation of the image even though I haven’t changed the Saturation or Vibrance sliders.
Improve the histogram

Step 3: Add a vignette

Next I want to add a vignette around the image to draw the eye into the centre and away from the edges. This is very easy in Lightroom but you can also achieve the same effect in Photoshop using masks. Notice from the settings I used that I also increased the Highlights slider. I find this a nice feature in Lightroom as it prevents the highlights from darkening, blending the vignette more naturally into the image.

Add a vignette

Step 4: Create grain

Grain is also very easy to add in Lightroom and something that I feel will enhance the look of this image. In my minds eye I can see a high contrast image with a strong vignette, an emphasis on the lighthouse and surrounding water as well as grain that will help give the this a traditional film feel. I zoom in to 100% on an area of the image that I feel is important and then use the sliders to add the level and size of grain that suits my vision.

Add grain

Step 5: Convert to Black & White

When I am satisfied with the general look of the colour image I convert to Black and White using the B&W sliders. I increase the Red, Orange, Yellow and Green sliders to lighten these colours and reduce Aqua, Blue and Purple sliders to darken the sky. Remember I said the colour cast from the ND grad would come in useful; well finally I pushed the Magenta slider to the far right as this lightened the cloud in the top right of the image.

Convert to black & white

Step 6: Dodge and Burn

I feel quite happy with my basic conversion at this stage but feel it would benefit from the Lightroom dodge and burn tools to perform targeted adjustments. My idea is to lighten the lighthouse, pier and surrounding water further and to darken the sky and piers reflection. In the image below you can see the settings I used to darken some areas of the image, with the adjusted areas shown as a red mask.

Darken some areas of the image, with the adjusted areas shown as a red mask.

Step 7: Lighten

I then create a second brush and painted the areas I want to lighten. Once I was happy I exported my image and opened it in Photoshop. Despite the flexibility of Lightroom I still like to perform final adjustments in Photoshop as I find I am able to judge and fine tune adjustments more accurately.

Lighten the image

Step 8: Photohop adjustments

Once in Photoshop I can see the image still needs more contrast so I add a Curves layer and adjust this as shown below.

Curves in Photoshop

My final step is a bit of fine tuning using the Dodge and Burn Tools. I use the dodge brush set to midtones to lighten the pier a little further as well as the areas of light on the water. The Burn tool is then used, again with Midtones to darken the shadow of the pier in the water.

As you can see the final image is a substantial improvement on the starting image:

Image converted to black & white


Words and images by Robin Whalley from Lenscraft.

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