Project Description

This video shows you techniques for converting color images into stunning black and white photographs in Exposure.

Photos: John Barclay


When deciding on a photo to convert from color to black and white, first consider the textures, lines, forms, shadow, tonal contrast, and quality of light in your photo. In the absence of color, these qualities become even more important.

You can always start with Exposure’s fantastic black and white presets to achieve a high quality black and white conversion. In this video however, we’ll focus on achieving a compelling black and white conversion from scratch using Exposure’s editing tools.

You can learn about Exposure’s B&W presets in our Presets Tour video.

Preparing Your Color Image

First you’ll want to make basic edits on your original color image so that it’s correctly exposed and white balanced, and has strong colors and contrast. You’ll also want to do any noise reduction while the image is in color.

We recommend working with a RAW image because it contains the unprocessed sensor data from your camera. This enables you to make dramatic changes to the look of a photo without a loss in image quality.

I’ll use the White Balance selection tool to pick a neutral point in the image to set my white balance.

I’ll open the Histogram for my adjustments to exposure, to see if my adjustments are clipping any values. The image could benefit from being brightened, so I’ll increase the exposure. I’ll increase the contrast as well.

Converting Your Image to Black and White

Now I’m ready to choose the Black & White option in the Basic panel to convert my image to black and white.

This retains all my Basic panel settings and applies the default color sensitivity settings in the Color panel, giving me a good black and white base to start from.

Now the image is in black and white, I can see that a bump in clarity gives the image more impact, especially in the rocks.

When your image is in black and white, Exposure’s Color Panel switches to provide Color Sensitivity controls. This is where you adjust the brightness for each of the color channels.

Default is the default color sensitivity setting. There are also presets that favor red, blue, or green, one for an early vintage orthochromatic look, and more.

Exposure’s Targeted Adjustment tool enables you to brighten or darken specific colors in your entire photo by clicking and dragging a chosen location in the preview window.

Selecting the tool and then clicking on the central mountain enables me to boost the impact of these colors throughout the image. Moving the mouse upwards increases the Oranges and the Yellows sliders, providing more control in how I fine tune the corresponding tones.

I’ll boost the reds to bring out the details in the darker rocks. I’ll reduce Cyans and Blues to darken the sky, which lends more punch to the clouds.

The Tone Curve panel is where you make detailed adjustments to contrast, shadows, midtones, and highlights.

Increasing the Shadows slider and dropping the Midtones slider enables me to recover some detail in the lower rocks without blowing out the sky.

The vignette panel enables you to focus the viewers attention to a location in your image by subtly darkening the areas around it.

Exposure’s vignette tool gives you a lot of control of where you place the vignette in your image. I’ll place my vignette location in the lower right so that it doesn’t darken the mountains in the lower right of my image because they are already quite dark.

The rocks benefit from some sharpening, so in the Focus panel, I’ll apply the Low Radius preset, which applies an moderate amount of sharpening, which I can further adjust if I want to.

Exposure’s grain is an integral part of bringing an organic, analog look to your image, and works great for black and white photography.
 Exposure’s grain tools enable you to control how your grain is applied in the shadows, midtones, and highlights, which is true to how grain works in analog film.

I’ll select the Regular Grain 50% preset and customize it to emphasize the grain in shadows, with a small amount of it in the midtones and highlights.

The IR panel enables you to emulate infrared film, which lends an ethereal look to black and white images, enhancing the contrast between deep blacks and pure whites. Applying Exposure’s IR-High Contrast preset emphasizes the contrast between the white clouds and the darker mountains very nicely. 
I’ll reduce the Color Contrast so that the shadows don’t get too deep.

And that’s it, a successful black and white conversion.