How to Create Fine Art B&W Photography in Lightroom
How to Create Fine Art B&W Photography in Lightroom
I’m sure you will have seen many examples of fine art black and white photography in the past. The ones where the sky is black, and the buildings are in deep shadow other than for a shaft of light picking out details. If you’ve ever wondered how to create this type of image, or how to do it quickly, then this tutorial is for you.
What this tutorial won’t do is explain the painstaking and complex masking techniques that many fine art photographers use. Instead, I’ll share a much easier method using only Adobe Lightroom. Best of all, you can use this technique with regular images shot during the day.
Here’s the starting image for the tutorial.
The first step is to turn the sky black in the image.
Step 1: Turn the Sky Black
To turn the sky to black, we first need to select it using the Lightroom Masking Tools.
With the image open in the Lightroom Develop Module, click the Masking tools icon below the histogram. This will display a list of tools you can use to create selections in the image. Click the Sky option to choose that.
When you click the Sky option, Lightroom automatically selects the sky in the image. It then opens the Masks panel, adding the sky selection as a new Mask as shown below.
The area of red in the image is an overlay showing what’s been selected. When you apply an adjustment to the Mask the red overlay will vanish, allowing you to see the adjustments.
Now that you have selected the sky, move the Exposure slider for the Mask to the far left. This will darken the sky, but it probably won’t turn it completely black. An easy way to fix this problem is by duplicating the Mask you just created.
To duplicate the mask, position your mouse pointer over the mask in the Masks panel. You will then see an icon showing three dots appear to the right side. Click the icon to display a popup menu where you can choose the “Duplicate” option.
This should now create a duplicate of the first selection, including the Exposure adjustment you applied. If the Exposure adjustment hasn’t been applied, just move the slider to the far left and the sky will turn black.
Step 2: Convert the Image to Black & White
We can now convert the image to black and white using Lightroom. Personally, I like to make the conversion to black and white after turning the sky black. I’ve had times when keeping the image in colour seemed to produce a better selection of the sky.
To convert the image to black and white, click the Edit icon below the Histogram using your mouse pointer. You can see this indicated in the following screenshot.
When the editing controls are displayed, click the black and white link to the top right of the Basic panel. This converts the entire image to black and white.
You may also like to adjust the colour response sliders in the B & W panel, although this isn’t essential. These are the adjustments that allow you to control how light or dark a colour is when converted to black and white.
Step 3: Darken the Building
The reason that we are doing this separate to the sky is that we wanted the sky to be black, but we want the building to retain visible detail, albeit very dark.
Selecting the building is easy as it’s the inverse of the Sky selection we’ve been using. An easy way to create the selection is by duplicating and inverting an existing sky mask. As before, move your mouse pointer over the mask in the Masks panel. When you see the three dots appear to the right, click them to display the menu. Then in the popup menu select the “Duplicate and Invert Mask” option.
You should now see the duplicated mask in the Masks Panel and a red overlay will appear on the building. Now you can move the Exposure slider to the left to darken the building.
When darkening the building, you will want to make it very dark so that the histogram for the image is compressed on the far left. If you look at the screenshot above, you can see that the building is extremely dark, but you can still make it out.
Step 4: Adding Light to the Photo
With all the preparation out of the way, we have the fun part of the process. This is where we add light back into the photo using a Radial Gradient selection, although you can also use the Brush tool if you are careful.
To add a new Radial Gradient to the image, select the “Create New Mask” option at the top of the Masks panel. Then in the popup menu click the Radial Gradient option. You can now click on the point in the image where you want to add the gradient. Then whilst holding down the mouse button drag with the mouse.
After drawing the gradient, resize and position it using the controls. You can see an example in the following screenshot.
Once you have the Radial Gradient in place, increase the Exposure slider to lighten the area. This produces an effect that looks like light hitting the building as seen below.
It can also help the appearance of the light to increase the Contrast and Clarity sliders.
Now you can repeat the process to add further patches of light to the image.
Here is the finished image showing the different lighting effects, all produced using the lightroom masks.
To see the complete processing of this image, watch the following video.
Subscribe to my YouTube Channel
You can also watch this video on my YouTube channel. I publish a new video every week, often based on subscribers’ requests and feedback. Subscribe to my YouTube channel now and be sure not to miss future videos.
Mastering Selections & Masks in Lightroom Classic CC 2023
Helping photographers harness the power of Lightroom V12 Masks & Selections.
30 day, money back guarantee if not entirely happy
Adding light in this way works well with black and white photos to create a distinctive fine art look. But it can also work with colour images as I demonstrate in this tutorial to turn day into night.
The techniques in this tutorial require you know the different tools and features of Lightroom Masking. If you feel that you’re not fully up to speed with these, check out my book Mastering Selections and Masks in Lightroom CC. It explains all the tools, how to combine them, and includes several useful full-length examples you can follow.
More Lightroom Tutorials
You’ll find more high quality, free tutorials on my Adobe Lightroom Tutorials page.
Get your FREE copy of "6 Steps to Shooting Brilliant Landscape Photography" by subscribing for free to Lenscraft in Focus.
Follow the advice in this deceptively simple book to significantly improve your landscape photography. Organised into 6 simple lessons, this valuable and detailed guide provides information that’s often overlooked. In fact, lesson 3 is so obvious that most photographers ignore it completely.
If you want to improve your Landscape Photography fast, follow this book.
How to Get Your Book
- Enter your details using the form on the right. I will then send you an email to confirm you’ve entered your email correctly.
- Follow the instruction in my confirmation email.
- After that, I’ll send you a link to download your free book (PDF, ePub and Kindle formats. The email might also include discounts for my other courses and books so be sure to read it carefully.
My Promise to You: I will never share or SPAM your email.