How to Use Black and White Profiles in Lightroom Classic

by Andrew S. Gibson
Black & white profiles in Lightroom Classic

The addition of creative black and white profiles is one of the biggest differences between Lightroom Classic and older versions of Lightroom (Lightroom 6 etc).

They also happen to be one of its most overlooked features, as well as one of the most useful for black and white photographers.

Why are black and white profiles so easy to ignore?

Lightroom Classic automatically applies a default black and white profile (Adobe Monochrome in most cases) to your photo when you set Treatment to Black & White (below).

Black and white profiles in Lightroom Classic

The other black and white profiles are easy to overlook because they’re located in the Profile Browser. You can only see them when you open it by clicking the icon marked below.

Black and white profiles in Lightroom Classic

Click B&W at the top to show black and white profiles.

Black and white profiles in Lightroom Classic

Underneath you’ll see:

  • The default Adobe Monochrome profile (1)
  • Camera Matching profiles (2), if available for your camera. Use these if you want to emulate the black and white profiles on your camera.
  • Creative Black and White profiles (3). Additional profiles provided by Adobe.
Black and white profiles in Lightroom Classic

Why are black and white profiles important?

Black and white profiles are important because they set the photo’s contrast and tonal values. Each profile is different. Picking the right one makes it easier to get the look you want in your black and white photo.

How are black and white profiles different from Develop Presets?

Develop Presets work by adjusting the settings in the Develop module, like White Balance, Exposure, Contrast and Clarity.

Profiles are different. Lightroom Classic applies them to your photos without adjusting any of the Develop module sliders or settings.

That means you can apply a profile, then make further adjustments (using the color sliders in the B&W panel, for example) to get the photo looking how you want it.

Another benefit of profiles is that you can adjust the strength of Creative Profiles on a scale from zero to 200, with 100 being the default. It gives you a great deal of control over the result.

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Practical examples

Now it’s time to have a look at some practical examples. As you look at them bear in mind that a profile tells Lightroom Classic how to convert the colors in your photos to black and white, and how much contrast to add. 

The differences between profiles are also easier to see when you use Lightroom Classic yourself than they are in these screenshots.

Flowers

Look closely at the four photos below. The only difference between them is the black and white profile used. To get a feel for the difference look at the plant pot, which is a different shade of gray in each version. The contrast of each image is also different.

Black and white profiles in Lightroom Classic

Of the four, I decided that I liked the effect of the B&W 09 profile best. This is the final result after working on it in the Develop module.

Black and white photo of dried flowers

Old buildings

Here’s another example. When you look at the photos you’ll see big differences in the contrast and the tone of the sky.

Black and white profiles in Lightroom Classic

At first glance the B&W 06 profile looks interesting because it makes the sky so dark. But what happens when you look closely? Here’s a close-up (100%) comparison of the B&W 06 and B&W 03 profiles.

Black and white profiles in Lightroom Classic

Look closely and you’ll see that there are dark halos along the edge of the roof tiles in the version with the B&W 06 profile. They’ve appeared because the profile makes the sky too dark. You’d get a similar effect if you moved the Blue slider in the B&W panel all the way left.

I went with the B&W 03 profile instead. Here’s the result after I developed it in the Develop module.

Black and white street photo

Chinese writing

In the final example, you can see how applying different black and white profiles has affected the tonality and contrast of the photo.

Black and white profiles in Lightroom Classic

I chose the B&W 12 profile to work with. This is the result.

Black and white travel photo

Profiles and workflow

If up until now you’ve ignored Lightroom Classic’s black and white profiles, then it’s time to start using them. My suggested workflow for converting a color photo to black and white is this:

  • Set a neutral color balance (setting White Balance to Auto in the Basic panel works for most photos).
  • Set Treatment to B&W. This applies the default black and white profile for your photo (Adobe Monochrome in most cases).
  • Go to the Profile Browser and experiment with the black and white profiles to see which one you like best.
  • Once you’ve made up your mind, close the Profile Browser then work through the rest of the Develop module controls in your normal order.
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