5 Steps To Convert RAW Files To B&W

Take a good image in all kinds of directions.

Sure, shooting RAW can help you improve a goofed-up image. But it really shines when you get the exposure right. Using the Adobe Camera RAW processor that comes with Photoshop, you can take a good image in all kinds of new directions. And because of the RAW file's inherent flexibility when it comes to white balance, you can get an incredible range of results when converting to black-and-white. Then, once you get a monochrome you like, you can even split-tone your photo for extra depth and beauty, all before you even enter Photoshop itself. Here's how to do both.

Unfortunately for Elements users, its version of ACR doesn't let you do this to go b&w. But since Photoshop's ACR and Lightroom share the same RAW engine, you can try these techniques in Lightroom instead. The interface just looks slightly different.

1. Open your file in Photoshop's RAW converter. Now's the time to crop, if that's part of your plan. And if you aren't starting with a good exposure, fix it now.

2. Go to the HSL/Grayscale TAB and check the Convert to Grayscale box. Your first result will most likely look flat and boring, but we'll deal with that in a minute. If you like the Auto settings that the program determines, use those as your base. If not, click on the word Default to set the sliders to zero.

3. Start moving the color sliders. Begin with the most predominant color-in this case, green. Move it to the left, and all the green tones get darker. Move it to the right, and they get brighter. Then move the sliders for the less predominant colors. These leaves have yellowgreen highlights, so moving the yellow slider to the right brightens them relative to the greener midtones and adds some depth. The flowers are made up of red, orange, and magenta tones. Move those sliders to brighten them so they contrast with the leaves.

4. Since the b&w still looks blah, go back to the Basic tab to add definition and contrast. Start by moving the white balance sliders. You've already set the relative weight you want to assign to each tone, so moving these sliders produces dramatic shifts in contrast. Then fine-tune the contrast and brightness until your picture looks the way you want it to. Since this image was so monochromatic from the start, take advantage of the Clarity slider to add more contrast in the midtones.

5. Now add the Color. Click on the Split Toning tab, and address the highlights first. To make the highlights a bit warmer, move the hue highlights slider to an orange or red. Then move the saturation slider slightly rightward to see your color. Keep it below 10 to avoid making it garish. Since the highlights are warm, cool down the shadows. Pick a blue tone and add some saturation to it. The trick is to keep the splittoning subtle enough that your b&w looks especially rich, though a viewer might not quite know why.

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