How to Use Masks Creatively with Black and White Photos

by Andrew S. Gibson
How to Use Masks Creatively with Black and White Photos


Editor's note: This month only – buy my new ebook 100 Composition Assignments for just $9! Click the link to learn more or buy. Thanks for reading, Andrew.



With its new masking tools Lightroom Classic mean has evolved into a great application for black and white photography. The masking tools, combined with black and white profiles, open up lots of creative possibilities when it comes to developing your black and white photos. In this article I’ve got a couple of examples to share with you that show some useful techniques you can use.

The black and white conversion process

Converting photos to black and white in Lightroom Classic is a four step process.

1. Select a black and white profile.

2. Make global adjustments, mainly using Basic panel sliders.

3. Make B&W panel adjustments, if needed

4. Make local adjustments using the masking tools.

Let’s see how this works in practice with the examples.

Black and white masks example 1

I made this photo on a trip that took me, along with the others in our group, on a four day journey from the town of Tupiza (in south-west Bolivia) to the Salar de Uyuni. The first night we stayed in a village called San Antonio de Lipez, at an altitude of 4200 meters above sea level. It was cold and the temperatures dipped well below freezing overnight. This photo shows one of the houses in the village.

Black and white masks in Lightroom Classic

Profile: I selected the B&W 03 profile as it gave the foreground the smooth tonal qualities that I like. The sky is too bright, but that can be fixed.

Black and white masks in Lightroom Classic

Global adjustments: I moved the Highlights slider in the Basic panel left to darken the sky. 

B&W panel adjustments: Then I went to the B&W panel and used the Targeted Adjustment Tool to darken the sky. This is the result so far.

Black and white masks in Lightroom Classic

Local adjustments: I started with Select Subject, which created this mask:

Black and white masks in Lightroom Classic

Then I moved the Clarity slider right to bring out the textures in the house.

Black and white masks in Lightroom Classic

Then I used Select Objects to mask the bright hills on the horizon. I like the way they caught the sun, but they’re too bright. Using the mask lets me adjust their brightness without affecting other parts of the photo.

Black and white masks in Lightroom Classic

Then I moved the Exposure slider left to make them darker.

Black and white masks in Lightroom Classic

Next I used Select Sky to create this mask:

Black and white masks in Lightroom Classic

And moved the Exposure slider left to darken the sky.

Black and white masks in Lightroom Classic

Then I decided I wanted to make the house a bit brighter, so I returned to the Subject mask and moved the Exposure slider right. Next I went to Post-Crop Vignetting in the Effects panel and set Amount to -5 to darken the edges of the frame subtly.

Black and white masks in Lightroom Classic

Then I thought I’d like to brighten the front of the house more. I created a new mask using Select Objects.

Black and white masks in Lightroom Classic

Then added more Clarity which brightened the selection as well as helping emphasize the texture of the bricks even more.

This is the final result.

Black and white masks in Lightroom Classic

Black and white masks example 2

I made the photo below on the same trip to South America, in a remote mountain village in north-west Argentina. The photo captures several things I like about the region – the giant cactus, adobe buildings, the deep blue sky and the arid climate. 

Black and white masks in Lightroom Classic

This is a photo that works in both color and black and white, so let’s see how it can be improved with a black and white conversion.

Profile: I selected the B&W 03 profile again, this time setting the Amount slider in the Profile Browser to 62 as the full effect was too strong.

Black and white masks in Lightroom Classic

Global adjustments: The wall behind the cactus is too bright, so I moved the Highlights slider left to darken it. This darkened the rest of the photo, but I can take care of this with local adjustments.

Black and white masks in Lightroom Classic

B&W panel adjustments: I went to the B&W panel and used the Targeted Adjustment Tool to darken the sky. This has the effect of making the cactus stand out against it more.

Black and white masks in Lightroom Classic

Local adjustments: Next I went to the Masks panel and created a Select Sky mask. I clicked on the three dot icon next to the mask and selected Invert from the menu. That created the mask below, in which everything except for the sky is selected.

Black and white masks in Lightroom Classic

I moved the Contrast and Highlights sliders left to reduce the contrast of the main part of the scene without affecting the sky. Then I moved the Clarity slider right (just a little to 17 as the photo already has lots of contrast) to bring out the textures.

Black and white masks in Lightroom Classic

Next I wanted to mask the Cactus. I tried Select Subject first, which gave this mask.

Black and white masks in Lightroom Classic

That’s not what I wanted so I deleted the mask and tried Select Objects, which gave me this.

Black and white masks in Lightroom Classic

Not bad, but it did include some of the wall behind the cactus. So I clicked the Subtract button, choose Brush and erased the part of the mask I didn’t want, with Auto Mask checked for accurate edges. This is the mask after that adjustment.

Black and white masks in Lightroom Classic

I moved the Temp slider right, which adjusted the colors underlying the cactus and had the effect of making it brighter. I also added some Clarity to help it stand out from the rest of the frame. This is the result.

Black and white masks in Lightroom Classic

More AI masking tips

These examples show you different ways of getting creative with AI masks. You can use them to select almost any part of the frame, and then make a local adjustment. It helps if you start to look at your photos  and mentally divide them up into different sections, such as subject, sky, everything that isn’t the sky, and background. In the examples here you’ve seen how even something as simple as a wall can be masked and adjusted to enhance the photo.

Sometimes you’ll try something and it won’t work out, like in the example with the cactus and Select Objects. When this happens to you remember you can use the Add and Subtract buttons to modify any mask with minimal effort.

The key thing is to be creative and experiment. What can you do with your own black and white photos? How can you make them better by selecting the best B&W profile and making local adjustments? Playing with Lightroom Classic’s masking tools is a lot of fun, so give it a try.




Beautiful Black & White In Lightroom Classic

You can learn more about the role of profiles and masking in making beautiful black and white photos in Lightroom Classic in my ebook Beautiful Black & White In Lightroom Classic.




100 Composition Assignments



Introducing Lightroom Classic ebookThanks for reading. You can get more great articles and tips about Lightroom Classic and photography in my popular Mastering Photography email newsletter. Join today and I’ll send you my ebook Introducing Lightroom Classic and 47 PhotoTips cards. Over 30,000 photographers subscribe. Enter your email now and join us.






Beautiful Black & White Photos in Lightroom Classic ebook

More great Lightroom Classic tips, tricks and tutorials!

1 comment

Jack March 28, 2023 - 11:12 pm

WOWW Thanks Andrew….what a useful and easy to understand tutorial.Love the tonal contrast and the depth it gives to the images. Will be using this a lot….much appreciated.

Reply

Leave a Comment