I have been using Adobe Lightroom since it became available as a public beta for Windows. It is a great front-end for Photoshop and much of the work can be done in Lightroom. I like that, the interface is more intuitive and controls more visible. One of the steps I started doing in Lightroom when it appeared on my desktop was B&W conversion, but I soon discovered that its built-in tool for this purpose was not to my liking. So, I tried to mimic what I had been doing in Photoshop: Use a Hue & Saturation adjustment layer to desaturate and a Selective Color adjustment layer under that to control the values in each of the channels. Of course, this method has some other details that I am skipping here as it is not about doing this in Photoshop. You can find more about this elsewhere in this blog.
When I first saw the Grayscale option in Lightroom with all the channel luminosities under my control I was quite excited. But then I realized some of the other controls disappeared, like “Vibrance” and “Saturation”. Now, you may say “if the image is converted to B&W what purpose can these adjustments serve?” But, that’s not all that made me seek other ways because noise became an issue in straight Grayscale conversions. So, I thought there must be a way of simulating the method I used in Photoshop in Lightroom as well. This post is about the conversion method I started using with some examples.
Here is the outline:
- Select the image to convert
- Open the HSL panel if it is not open
- Select HSL, then All option at the end
- Reduce the saturation sliders to zero
- Adjust the Luminance sliders to taste
After choosing the image to convert to B&W open the HSL panel on the right and click on “All” to show all the Hue, Saturation, and Luminance channels. Bring all the channels under “Saturation” down to zero and you will have a B&W image. At this point, you can use the channels under the “Luminance” block to adjust the tones to your tastes. It may sound like we are reinventing the wheel here, but to compare the differences between this method and the LR Grayscale conversion, make a virtual copy of the image you are using and after resetting it to its original color mode, click on the “Grayscale” on the HSL panel. It may appear the same, but now scroll up and adjust the saturation and vibrance. You cannot, right? That’s one control you will enjoy using if you follow my approach. Those two sliders will allow you to dial in the strength of your Luminance adjustments globally using Saturation, or semi-locally using the intelligent Vibrance sliders.
Additionally, and perhaps even more importantly, the method I describe here will yield lower noise on the final B&W image. I have converted a photograph taken in Salt Lake City to B&W to illustrate the point.
If you want to try it yourself, drop me a note and I will send you the original color image. You can do the conversion yourself. I do not know the innards of Lightroom to tell you why it is happening this way, or why Adobe chose a method that yields so much potential noise. But, would you like explanations or better B&W conversions?
I’d go for the latter, I’m a photographer, not a programmer.