Make punchy mono portraits

Discover how to create punchy black-and-white portraits in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom

There are lots of ways to convert your images to monochrome, but the most effective offer more than just a one-click solution. The best colours to lighten the skin and drop the greens slightly to darken the out-of-focus trees. This allows us to increase the contrast between the subject and the background, which helps to make her stand out.

Photoshop’s Camera Raw plugin and Lightroom’s Develop Module both offer tools within the powerful HSL/Grayscale panel that make it easy to control colour brightness when converting to black and white. What’s more, they have one of the most powerful tonal tools – Curves. When we initially convert to mono, the image will often look a little flat, but we can use curves to add punch to our black-and-white images. Monochrome images will also often benefit from selective adjustments to dodge, burn or add local contrast to certain parts of the image. This is easily done with Camera Raw’s array of selective adjustment tools.

methods give us tonal control over colours. This might sound strange. After all, we’re getting rid of the colour aren’t we? But we can still use the colour information to fine-tune the black-and-white conversion. With our image here, for example, we can lift the orange.

1Open in Camera Raw

Open in Camera Raw Navigate to the bw_before.dng file in Adobe Bridge, then right-click it and choose Open in Camera Raw. Click the HSL/ Grayscale Panel (the fourth icon from the left on the right side of the interface) then check Convert to Grayscale.

2Lift the skin

We can use the eight sliders to control the brightness of colour ranges in the image. Experiment with each slider to see the effect they have. Lifting oranges usually looks good on beauty images like this as it gives the skin a clean, bright look. Set Oranges +32.

3Darken the trees

As well as adjusting the sliders, we can also change the brightness of colours by dragging up or down over parts of the image. Grab the Targeted Adjustment tool, then drag down over the trees in the background to darken the greens.

4Increase the contrast

Go to the Tone Curve panel and click the Point tab. Drag the top right part

of the diagonal curve line upwards to lighten the image, then click the lower left of the line and drag down to make an S-shape curve that adds contrast to the image.

5Darken the corner

Grab the Graduated Filter tool and drag from the left corner towards the centre of the image. In the settings on the right, set Exposure -0.35 to burn in the corner and Clarity +15 to increase the midtone contrast and enhance the texture.

6Boost areas selectively

Grab the Adjustment Brush and paint along the tree on the right. Set Exposure +0.25, Shadows +25, Clarity +25 to lift the texture in the tree. Click New, paint over the iris and eye whites, then set Exposure +0.30, Contrast +70, Clarity +28.

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