Here’s an easy way to create dramatic, highly-stylized, highly-detailed, black and white versions of your photos. To create this effect, I use Lightroom and Photoshop along with the Color Efex Pro plugin from the free Google Nix collection.

Note that there are several ways to achieve similar effects using Photoshop or other software tools. But, I especially like the results I get when I throw Colour Efex Pro into the mix, so I’m outlining that workflow here.

What You’ll Need

  • Adobe Lightroom
  • Color Efex Pro (it’s free)
  • Adobe Photoshop (Optional)

If you have Photoshop but not Lightroom, you can just use Photoshop for steps one through three.

Step One:

Open Lightroom and choose a photo that you’d like to convert. This technique seems to work well with rather “busy” images that have a lot of detail and objects in them.

Right-click and create a virtual copy to work with so that your original colour version stays unaltered.

Step Two:

Open the virtual copy in the Develop module and do some basic adjustments. Sharpen the image if required. The sharper the better. Ramp up the clarity and contrast sliders. Don’t be delicate. Just go for it!

Black and White Conversion

Step Three:

Right click and choose “Edit in Color Efex Pro” to load the image into the Color Efex Pro interface.

Step Four:

Apply the Detail Extractor filter at the high level. Depending on the image you are using, you might also want to apply other Color Efex Pro filters while you’re there. Pro Contrast and Brilliance/Warmth can work well here.

When you’re done, click Save to reload the image back into Lightroom.

At this point, your image may look pretty horrible but hang in there.

Black and White Conversion

Step Five:

Open the image in the Develop module and click the “B&W” tab in the colour adjustments panel to convert to black and white. Alternatively, just lower the saturation slider to zero or use a black and white preset.

Adjust the sliders in the B&W tab to get the look you want. Play with the Contrast, Temp, Tint, and other sliders to tweak the image further.

By now, you’ve hopefully created a cool, arty, black and white image that is more interesting than the original image.

Black and White Conversion


Do note, however, that this technique will not work well for all images. Sometimes, the results are less than pleasing. If that happens, try some different images.

Step Six (optional):

In some cases, the dramatic look of your black and white images can be enhanced further by opening the image in Photoshop and applying the Oil Paint filter (Filter/Stylize/Oil Paint). You’ll probably want to adjust the filter so that the effect is quite subtle.

The procedure I’ve outlined here is just a guide to help you get started. You can, of course, add other filters and adjustments to create an image that is truly unique and looks good to you.

Good luck and have fun!

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