5 Reasons to Develop Black and White Photos in Lightroom Classic

by Andrew S. Gibson
Black and white in Lightroom Classic

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Photoshop, Affinity Photo, Silver Efex Pro, Luminar, Exposure, DxO FilmPack, ON1 Photo Raw. The list of applications you could use to develop your black and white photos seems to get longer every year.

With so many companies competing for your attention it can be hard to know which application to use to develop your black and white photos. Then there’s the fear of missing out factor. Could your photos be missing some kind of edge gained by using an application or plugin you don’t have? What do the pros know that you don’t?

I’ve used many applications for black and white photography. That’s partly because it’s my job (I write about them) and partly because of curiosity.

My conclusion is this – that the best approach is to keep things simple. Learn one application in depth so you understand its strengths and weaknesses. Then use other applications and plugins to supplement that.

And the application that I recommend you use to develop your black and white photos? That’s easy – Lightroom Classic. Or Lightroom 6 if you haven’t upgraded to Lightroom Classic yet, the reasons still apply.

If you’re not a Lightroom Classic user then I haven’t forgotten you. Next month I’m going to publish a follow up tutorial that looks at the best alternatives for black and white photographers.

Now let’s look at some of the reasons why Lightroom Classic is so good for black and white photography.

1. You can use Lightroom Classic to organize your black and white photos as well as develop them

Cast your mind back to the days before Lightroom Classic. Most photographers used Photoshop to develop their black and white photo photos. It was the number one option and most of the other applications we can use now didn’t exist then.

One of Photoshop’s weaknesses it that it doesn’t have any tools for organizing your photos (although Adobe Bridge helps). It’s up to the photographer to organize his photos by using a well thought out folder structure.

That’s one of the reasons why Adobe created Lightroom Classic and why it’s become so popular.

You still need a sensible folder structure for saving photos. But Lightroom Classic opens far more possibilities for organizing and categorizing your images. It does this using Collections and Collection Sets – virtual folders that can be set up any way you like.

For example, let’s say you go outside today and make some black and white photos.

You can only save those photos in one folder. But you can add them to as many Lightroom Classic Collections as you want.

That gives you lots of options. You can make Collections that contain:

  • The best photos you make each year.
  • Photos for your portfolio.
  • Photos to use in photo books.
  • Photos to post to Instagram and other websites.
  • Photos organized into themes and projects.
  • Photos organized by subject.
  • Photos organized by client or job (for professional photographers).

The possibilities are endless. Collections allow you to organize your photos in the way that suits you best.

Lightroom Classic does this better than any other application. The screenshot below shows how I’ve used Collections to organize photos to upload to Instagram.

Black and white photos in Lightroom Classic

2. Lightroom Classic saves you hard drive space

Most of you will be aware that the best file format for using in Photoshop, once you’ve converted it from Raw, is a 16 bit TIFF or PSD. They give the software the maximum amount of information to work with.

The problem is that these files are huge. As an example, the TIFF files from a 21 megapixel camera are 120MB each. Many photographers work with files that are bigger than that.

Photo collections grow over the years. If you have tens of thousands of images it’s not practical to convert them to the TIFF format. Only if you want to spend a lot of money on hard drives.

There has to be a better way, and there is.

Lightroom Classic uses a parametric editing system. This means that it saves the developing you do on your files as text commands in its database (the Catalog). Text takes up a few kilobytes of space, compared to hundreds of megabytes for TIFF and PSD files. In the long run this saves you many terabytes of storage space.

Your original Raw files remain untouched. This is true non-destructive editing. You can go back to any of your files and re-develop them in any way at any time.

Another advantage is that you can make more than one version of the same image without having to worry about storing the files.

If you decide to make two versions of the same image in Photoshop, you double the amount of hard drive space required to save them.

In Lightroom Classic the extra photo only takes up a few extra kilobytes in the Catalog. You can make as many interpretations of the same image as you want without using lots of hard drive space.

Black and white photos in Lightroom Classic

3. Lightroom Classic can merge HDR black and white photos and panoramas

If you have Lightroom Classic (or Lightroom 6) you can create HDR images or panoramas by merging photos. This isn’t possible in earlier versions of Lightroom.

There are two clever things about the Lightroom Classic system I like.

  • Lightroom Classic creates Raw HDR images and panoramas. You can use every tool in Lightroom Classic’s Develop module with your HDR images and panoramas, like Raw files straight out of your camera. That includes White Balance adjustments, Camera profiles and applying Develop Presets.
  • Lightroom Classic creates natural looking HDR images. Lightroom Classic’s algorithms avoid the overcooked look that other applications can give.

Here’s a HDR photo that I made in Lightroom Classic.

HDR black and white photo

4. Lightroom Classic is great at local adjustments

If you want to create impressive black and white photos you need local adjustments. And Lightroom Classic makes applying local adjustments easy.

You can use Adjustment Brushes and Graduated and Radial filters anywhere in the photo. You can even combine a filter with a brush to create masks of any size and shape. And yes, in Lightroom Classic (but not Lightroom 6) you can also use luminosity masks.

The screenshot below shows an example. I placed a Graduated filter over the top half of the photo to make the sky darker. Then I erased the bit that covered the rocks so they weren’t affected by it.

Black and white photos in Lightroom Classic

5. Lightroom Classic sits at the heart of your workflow

Lightroom Classic handles every aspect of the photographer’s workflow. It’s a digital asset management and workflow tool as well as Raw converter and image developer.

Earlier I wrote that Lightroom Classic is brilliant for converting photos to black and white. That’s true, but it’s also true that there are plugins that do some things better than Lightroom Classic.

For example, you may like to use Silver Efex Pro. Its Structure tools give you control over the amount of texture and detail in your black and white photos.

Or you may want to use Topaz Black & White Effects to emulate old chemical processes such as cyanotype, van dyke brown and platinum printing.

Or you could use Exposure X for all the creative effects it gives you.

Black and white photos in AlienSkin Exposure

With Lightroom Classic you can export photos to plugins or to Photoshop whenever you like. It updates the photo and adds it to your Catalog when you’re finished.

Bear in mind that Lightroom Classic converts your Raw files to the TIFF format before it sends them to a plugin. This negates the space advantage of using Lightroom Classic.

Because of that I recommend that you learn to do as much in Lightroom Classic as possible. Only use plugins for effects you can’t create in Lightroom Classic.


I’m a big fan of Lightroom Classic for all the reasons listed here and more. But what about you? Which applications do you like to use to develop your black and white photo photos and why? Let us know in the comments.

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