The Tone Curve Panel Controls Contrast Best

Contrast & Curves

It’s time to get your contrast under control with tone curves.

A large part of photography is judging the various tones that make up an image and deciding where they should be placed in the final presentation of the print. Both in the image display of our cameras and in Adobe Lightroom, we see this tonal distribution visually represented in the histogram.  The simple name for this tonal distribution is “contrast” and as photographers, we are constantly trying to control it.  Reading the histogram and controlling the placement of tones within the image is one of the most important skills a photographer can master.

aspen trees as a contrast example for lightroom curves

We  actively adjust image contrast both when we shoot and in post processing. When we shoot, we do this by judging and manipulating the quantity, quality and direction of light. A softer, more diffuse, less directional light creates less contrast.  Conversely, harder, more directional light creates brighter highlights and leaves darker shadows which equals more contrast.  This is then shown to use on the camera and in Lightroom by way of the histogram.  I constantly hear people say that a good exposure is described on the histogram when there is an even distribution of tones all the way across the graph (like in the image  below), and while this statement is true for the image above and the histogram below, the advice is actually very poor advice.  In reality, a good exposure on the histogram looks like the image it is describing.

well exposed histogram

On a grand scale, fog is the prefect light modifier for reducing contrast.  If only we could command the elements and bring it in whenever we needed it.  Fog has the effect of bouncing light everywhere and filling in all the shadows, thus everything becomes almost equal in value.  No real shadows and no real highlights.  We very rarely need this intense effect, but we do use soft boxes and fill reflectors all the time to help fill in the shadows and even out the difference between the shadows and the highlights.  Pay attention to the histogram describing this image.  When your photograph has no shadows, the histogram should display nothing on the left side of the graph.  A proper exposure will avoid allowing the data to clip on the left (shadows) or the right (highlights) of the histogram, but the graph in between the either edge should be an accurate description of the tones you are seeing in the scene.

swedish soldiers in fog

In photography, the further apart the shadows and the highlights are on the histogram, the higher the contrast will be in the image.  In life, we create contrast by making friends with strange people, or having peculiar pets.  The more peculiar and different the greater the contrast.  I had two dogs growing up, one was a tiny little Cockapoo, the other was a big Golden Lab, who was also the fattest dog in Norther Arizona (he has an award to prove it)!  Just watching them run down the road together was entertaining.  As with Shroder and Uggums (my dogs), the further apart we are in looks or temperament from our companions, the more drastic the contrast will be in our lives, which results in more drama.  This is not to say contrast and drama make the best images.  Low contrast images, like the image above, create a sense of quiet which has equal value.

In the end, our choices in image contrast change the feeling our images produce.  Because of this, post-production really matters and contrast is a critical portion of that.  We use the contrast slider and the tone curve to make these final contrast adjustments. The contrast slider is the simple way to change the contrast in an image, but it is also the least subtle.  It is like using an axe to cut your sandwich.  You will definitely cut the sandwich in two, but you will also cut the plate and most likely the table as well.  If you want to maximize your control over the contrast in your image you need to master the use of the Tone Curve panel.  Take a look at the image below and notice that the contrast slider is left at zero.  The major contrast work is achieved in the tone curves area of Lightroom, both in the Parametric and the Point Curve areas of the Tone Curves Panel.  You can see that there are five different curves at work in this one image.  The lower contrast in the image helps to soften the model’s already soft look.  When you are creating a tone curve for the first time, keep in mind that you should only really need to do this once.  If you like the effect you have created, make a preset for that tone curve to make it simple and efficient to apply your complicated curve in the future.

lightroom curve panels

I have created a short video on Using the Tone Curve Panel in Lightroom to get you started into exploring this powerful tool in Lightroom.  After watching the video, I encourage you to spend some time playing with your images in Lightroom using the Tone Curve pane in the Develop Module, and to get you started, make sure you download the free Tone Curve based presets I have created for you.

Using Tone Curves in Adobe Lightroom

Which tones you emphasize or de-emphasize can vary widely depending on the mood you want to create and where we want the viewer to focus.  I may use dramatic lighting or soft lighting depending on the story I am telling — bright and happy, or dark and moody. However I light my subject, or set my exposure at the camera, I have only told half the story. The other half of the story is told when I open the image in Adobe Lightroom and make adjustments to the image.  That is, as Ansel Adams said, the performance of the score (the capture being the musical score).  We captured the sequence of the notes in our camera, but the way we play them out in post-processing provides infinite possibilities for performance.  Mastering all of your tools (or instruments) is the first step to gaining complete control over your photographic voice.

Post Script:  The contrast control in the tone curves panel is not only the superior place to tweak your contrast, but it is also a better place to create split tones and even cross processing effects.  The power in the tone curve is quite intense.  For this reason I use the tone curve in a lot of my Lightroom Presets.  Let me get you started by giving you a small set of three great Classic Black and White Lightroom Presets that use the tone curve as the basis for their effect.

Cover image for free classic black and white lightroom presets

Are you a high contrast or low contrast shooter? Do you like big drama, or subtle dreamy tones? How do you achieve your signature look with contrast? I’d love to hear from you.

Classic Black and White Presets

Classic Black and White Preset:

My first experience in photography, probably the moment I fell in love with it, was when my sister taught me how to develop a black and white print in the glow of the red lamps.  I watched a blank piece of paper slowly drop below the developer and waited, not knowing what to expect.  Suddenly, splotches of black began to grow across the face of the paper, like someone had spilled ink and it was running slowly across the face of the print.  But the inky spill gave way in areas to a relief of white where the lamp of the enlarger had not exposed the paper and I began to see an image appear.  Honestly, I don’t recall what the first image was that I saw printed.  I am sure it was a meaningless high-school yearbook photo, but the experience is forever burned (exposed and fixed) in my memory.  In honor of those experiences in the black and white darkroom, I have created three Adobe Lightroom classic black and white presets for you to enjoy.  They won’t give you the magical experience I had in the darkroom, but they will give you the beautiful tones I was able to create after years of study and practice.

Of course, unlike in the darkroom, with digital images, we start with a color image.  The images I am using here is the original color RAW image directly from Lightroom.  What you will see in each subsequent image is a one click application of one of the three black and white lightroom.

Black and White Curves Lightroom presets example image - original color version

 

Classic Black and White Preset:

One thing that was lost in the digital world of high contrast, smooth, textureless images and poppy colors and has only been brought back by digital nostalgia, was the beauty of seeing all the zones in a black and white print on fiber paper.  If you don’t know what I am talking about, Ansel Adams (I sure hope the name rings a bell) developed a method for seeing and printing identifiable zones from pure black to pure white (Zones 0-10).  High contrast prints on glossy or pearl paper could never really exhibit all of those zones because they would invariably skip a zone here or there and head directly from black to light grey or white.  This was something my film students would get a bad grade for doing, and now almost every photographer on the planet does daily because they are in love with the contrast knob in Lightroom and they print only to glossy or pearl papers.  Well, I have created a Black and White Lightroom Preset for you that will take you back to the Classic Black and White era, and if you have a proper exposure, you will feel the the beauty of a full tonal range black and white print on beautiful fiber paper, even if you are using a pearl surface paper.

Black and White Curves Lightroom presets example image - classic black and white

 

 

Ultra Contrast Black and White Preset:

And for those of you who still want your contrast, you can get your fix with a truly high contrast black and white preset that comes from a place of subtlety and beauty rather than the brutish, blunt force of the contrast slider.  That’s right, there are other places that provide much better contrast than the slider that bares the name!  The tone curve is where contrast was born, the contrast knob is just a cheap imitation!  Well, give it a whirl and see what you think.  I’ve also added some rich and toothy grain to complete the look that you might get when you push your B&W film (which is where you would see such contrast emerging).  I like to think of it as a bit of a TMAX grain.  It always felt a bit like sandpaper.  Very beautiful sandpaper.

Black and White Curves Lightroom presets example image - ultra contrast black and white

Toned Black and White Preset:

Finally a bit of warm toned black and white for those who can’t stay away from color.  Now in the olden days of film, we bought warm tone paper, or cool tone paper.  Or we dropped our silver prints in a bath of sepia, or selenium toner.  This was very different then adding a wash of color over the top of our prints.  True print toning doesn’t stain the paper, it stains the silver (the dark parts of the print), which means that the paper stays white while the shadows change colors and do so a rate somewhat proportional to the amount of silver that is congregating together to make a deeper shadow.  The easiest way to accomplish a toned print in Lightroom is to add color to the shadows in the Tone Panel.  But I have taken you into a deeper, more robust realm… the tone curve.  Oh, yes, it seems I am in there a lot.  It is a very powerful tool.  Here I can change the response of each color channel to respond to the tone curve independently.  This give me complete control over the colors and allows me to create subtle toners that create depth and contrast in my toned black and white prints.  And I give you a taste of a warm toned preset from my upcoming collection of toned black and whites.  Don’t just use it.  Study it and play with it.  Get to know the Tone Curve panel in Lightroom.

Black and White Curves Lightroom presets example image - classic sepia toned black and white

Learn More About Lightroom Tone Curves:

Each of these presets are heavily based in the Tone Curve pane in the Lightroom Develop module.  To learn more about using the Tone Curve, make sure to watch this free video about using Lightroom’s Tone Curve pane.

Cover image for free classic black and white lightroom presets

Sign up now for three free Classic Black and White Presets

Lightroom CC: A Short List of Great Features

Adobe Lightroom CC

It’s official! Lightroom has joined Adobe Creative Cloud. To this point, Photoshop, Indesign, Premier, Illustrator, and others have been a part of the Creative Cloud and enjoyed the constant and simple updates and the inter app connectivity of the cloud. But Lightroom has always felt like the outcast from the group.

Today, though, it’s official; with Adobe’s release of Lightroom CC today, Lightroom is now a legitimate part of the family, and that means the future is very bright for Lightroom.

With the designation CC, comes more frequent and automated updates to the program, which will be a welcome change. It also means we can expect greater inter app connectivity in the future. Some apps are already taking advantage of the Lightroom Mobile sharing, like Adobe Slate, which can draw from any of Lightroom’s mobile shared images. I think the CC designation was long over due, so I am glad Lightroom has finally gained its spot on the Creative Cloud.

Of course there are a number of new features and capabilities in the new Lightroom CC, which Matt Kloskowski and I will be reviewing on CreativeLive.

Here is a list of the most notable new features and upgrades to Lightroom CC:

Speed

Import, export and general computing speed has been increased by allowing Lightroom access to the graphics processor with GPU Acceleration. This is not a toy kind of feature that people get to play with, so I suspect it won’t get the face time it deserves. It is no small feature and will improve the entire experience of using Lightroom.

Import Directly to a Collection

A simple little feature like this one, makes a lot of difference in simple speed of organization.

Auto Size Standard Previews

Previews based on the size and need of your monitor.

Small Adjustments in the Quick Develop Panel

The quick develop buttons have finally been given a dose of subtlety.

True RAW HDR and Panorama Editing

This one is revolutionary! No more going to Photoshop to merge TIF versions of your RAW images and round tripping back to Lightroom. Lightroom CC will now merge your RAW images into Panoramic and HDR images and maintain the images for true RAW manipulation. This will open up new worlds of possibility for photographers everywhere. It means I will actually start to use HDR and Panoramic techniques in my work.

Movable Brush Pins

I have been waiting for this one for a long time, and it is finally here. Brush pins can now be moved, which allows for far greater synchronization of the local adjustments between images.

Refinement of the Local Adjustment Tools

Now, with the introduction of a modification brush tool inside the radial and gradient filter tools, working on images feels a lot more masking in photoshop. Now I can make broad strokes with the gradient and radial filters and then erase back the areas that have over stepped their bounds.

lightroom cc announcement

The People View in the Library Module

This is one of my favorite features. Lightroom CC has facial recognition built in!  Imagine the ramifications of this for event photographers who need to identify the people in their images for more accurate and faster image tagging.  Suddenly massive amounts of key-wording is something that can be done literally in ones’ sleep.

lightroom cc announcement

Slideshow Enhancements

The slideshow module also gained a few new features, including the Ken Burns effect and synchronizing slides to the music.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. Matt Kloskowski and I will be reviewing these and more features today on creativelive.com and I will be going into incredible depth on these tools and more during my new CreativeLive course, Lightroom Crash Course, featuring Lightroom CC.  During this course we will not only show you what is new in Lightroom CC and how to use it, but also how how it fits into the overall post-production workflow.

I am truly excited about the release of Lightroom CC with its list of new features and all that the CC designation offers now portends for the future of Lightroom.  Lightroom’s future looks bright.

Importing iPhoto and Aperture Libraries into Lightroom

Office Hours LR Aperture Import from Jared Platt on Vimeo. Finally, there is a way to take your entire iPhoto or Aperture library and import it into Lightroom.  This video will show you how to accomplish this task.  Now you can take all those photos that have been held hostage by Apple’s ridiculously bad photo software and get them into a system that makes sense.  You will need to download the latest version of Lightroom 5 and Adobe’s Aperture Importer plugin for Lightroom, which I show you how to do on this video.

FREE Webinar for Non-Professional Photo Enthusiasts

JaredPlatt_Facebook_815x315

 

I teach professional photographers around the world the best post-production methods to help them get their job done.  But there are so many more photo enthusiasts in the world, who need help organizing, editing and sharing their images and these courses are sometimes a little too pro-centered.  So I have developed an online workshop for you all!  Here it is…

Starting Wednesday, June 25 through Friday, June 27, I will be teaching a webinar on photo organization, editing and sharing for non-professional photo enthusiasts.  If you are a mom, dad, photo student, nature lover, or anyone who has a camera and needs help navigating the organizational nightmare of saving photos on the computer, this is a great opportunity for you.  The webinar is FREE.  Just go to www.creativelive.com (look on the CRAFT channel) and sign up for LIGHTROOM FOR SCRAPBOOKERS.  You can watch for free starting on Wednesday at 9AM Pacific Time.  You can watch this on your computer, your iPad or even your phone.  The course is FREE when you watch it LIVE.  You can purchase anytime access to the course for only $59.

Don’t worry, if you are not a scrapbooker, that’s OK because we are talking about photo organization, editing photos and sharing them.  It’s not all about scrapbooking.  It is all about photos and just happens to be the right fit for people like scrapbookers who want help wight heir photos.  So join me on creativeLIVE, no matter who you are and get a super easy, basic, nuts and bolts look at a workflow for personal photography in Lightroom.

 

Adobe Lightroom 5 is Here: My Favorite New Features

 

Adobe Lightroom 5 is here, and it is full of important new features that will increase your post production speed as well as just make you happy while working on your photos!

The most important feature added to Lightroom 5 is the Smart Previews, which makes working on RAW images possible without a connection to the original RAW images.  It also makes working with my post-production house Shoot dot Edit even faster.  There are so many reasons to use smart previews, and you can even print small images or post blog images from the smart previews while your original RAW images are sitting on a drive at home, unconnected…  It is fantastic!

I am going to be sharing my favorite new features for the next few weeks.  Make sure you tune in and follow The Lightroom Podcast to see all of the great new features in Lightroom and how I use them.  Follow me on twitter @jaredplatt to get regular announcements each time I post a new video.  Enjoy.

Need to speed up your post-production?  Spend a week with me in Budapest for the most personalized photography workflow workshop ever.  Learn more at www.budapestmasterclass.com

 

CreativeLIVE Workshop June 14-16 – Be there LIVE

Lightroom Workflow Workshop with Jared Platt at CreativeLIVE

I am doing a FREE online workshop at the studios of CreativeLIVE in Seattle Washington on June 14-16, 2012.  You can register to watch live online for free.  If you would like to be a part of the studio audience in Seattle, you need to submit your video application by midnight tonight.  Nothing fancy, just a video telling us why you should be selected to go.  Details for submissions are listed HERE.  I look forward to seeing you all online and in the studio on June 14-16.

Merry Christmas from The Platt Family

Family Portrait and Christmas Card Photographs (1)

Merry Christmas from Platt Photography and the Platt family.

Here is the 2011 Christmas card photo shoot.  My wife, Danielle is always coming up with great ideas for our Christmas cards.  Each year, after Christmas, she starts working on the next year’s photo concept.  This years was particularly difficult as we had to find all the clothing and the props.  Some of it is completely authentic period clothing and some of it was either rented or even made for the photo shoot.

All of this started when my mother produced my grand-father’s kindergarten outfit from the early 1900’s.  Then, Danielle was able to find a dress from about 1890 on ebay.  She found some cute clothes for my daughter off the modern rack that had the same feel and then my eldest son and I rented various costume pieces and my mother sewed a few things we could not find.  I also needed a period camera.  The 4×5 camera I own is too new (circa 1940), so I put out an APB for wooden field camera and my friend Keith Pitts came through.  It is an old thing and in need of much work, but looks great.  Danielle also found an old wooden tripod, but there was no plate to connect the camera to the tripod, so we had to put the camera on a modern tripod and then lash the wood tripod to the outside of the modern tripod.  Then with a little photoshop work, I was able to remove the modern tripod where it was showing through.

You will note that all of the photos are cropped to an 8×10 aspect ratio.  I wanted to keep the authenticity of the shots even down to the aspect ratio common for the time period (i.e. 4×5 or 8×10) owing to the use of large format negatives, glass plates or tin types.  I suppose I get a little persnickety about the details, but I wanted it to feel very authentic.

Here is a photo of my grandfather wearing the outfit my youngest son is now wearing in our photos.  Earl is the one on the left.

My kids were thrilled with this photo shoot.  I told the boys, you are not supposed to smile on any of these photos.  “Really?  Awesome!”  They loved it.

Family Portrait and Christmas Card Photographs (2)

This is one of my favorites from the entire photo shoot.  It was just a grab during the planning of the photo, but I love it, love it!

Family Portrait and Christmas Card Photographs (3)

Jackson was really getting into the role.  I explained to my kids that in old photos no one smiled because they couldn’t hold a smile long enough for the long shutter speed and that they were always uncomfortable because they had to hold still and they sometimes even had a brace on their neck to keep them perfectly still for the photograph.  So he did his best.  Indiana (my daughter) on the other hand just did whatever she wanted.

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I think this photograph is a perfect representation of Britton’s relationship with Indiana in comparison to the photo above.  Britton has taken it upon himself to be Indie’s protector and caring older brother.  He puts Indie first at all times and she is completely confident with her big brother as her backup.

Family Portrait and Christmas Card Photographs (5)

This is another one of my favorites.  Of course, the serious looks are perfect for the time period and not completely indicative of my wife and oldest son, but there is something very truthful about this photograph.  You know, I always comment on how “true” images are of people that I photograph, but it is always with limited information about the people and who they are, so I am making educated guesses about their relationships and personalities (which I seem to get right most of the time), but when I photograph my own family, I get to see these shots and the “truths” contained in them with complete confidence that I am reading them correctly.  There is something very proud in their relationship, a seriousness to it, complete with expectations and determination to succeed.  Not that they are not playful with each other, but there is an element of seriousness in their relationship not as prevalent in her relationship with the other children that makes this photograph ring true.

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And Indie continues to smile.  She was just happy to be there.

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Now, if there is one other photograph that rings “true” in this collection it is this one.  This is a very good indication of my relationship with my daughter.  She loves me very much and I am smitten with that little angel.  She has taken to telling me two things on an hourly basis. “I love you” followed by, “I miss you daddy.”  This, of course, melts my heart.  I am not sure she understands what that means, but she seems to understand that it means that she wants to be around me.  She was sick last night and called for me, and I spent a few hours up with her throughout the night, and although she was sick and I was tired, we both thoroughly enjoyed the time together.  So, that is what is happening here in this photograph.  She is breaking away from the family group because I am over by the camera and she wants to be near me, not in a crying and southed only by daddy kind of way, but in a genuine excited to be in my arms, kind of way.

My brother Rex Platt (my chief second shooter) is taking all of the photos that I am in, by the way.  Thanks to Rex for all his help on this photo shoot.  He is a great photographer and an even greater friend.

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This boy just makes me smile every time I look at him.

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And I love this photograph.  That little muff was made by my mother.  It was hard to get Indie to put her hands in it, but as it got colder in the evening, it was much easier to get her to see the wisdom in using it.

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My mother also made his nickers.  Thanks mom.  Good job!

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I think I could have enjoyed being a photographer in 1890, I am, after all a technical kind of guy and good in the darkroom, but I don’t miss the film days in the least.  I shot these photos and an hour later I was sitting in a yogurt shop eating frozen yogurt, looking at the JPG copies of the shoot on my iPad with NIK’s Snapseed App adjusting them and making some preliminary crops and treatments, etc.  Then I went home and loaded the RAW images into Lightroom and made the first round picks and started adjusting them.  Minutes later, I was showing the images to my wife and making plans for the final Christmas card and this blog post, which will be released on Christmas Eve.  This kind of turn around was unheard of anytime in the 20th century.  So I don’t miss film one little bit even though I have extreme respect the medium.

About Snapseed by NIK.  This is the best photo software on the iPad or iPhone.  It does EVERYTHING I need to do to a photo on my iPhone or iPad.  I used to have 30 different photo apps to do what I needed to get done, but now, when I am working on a photo on my handheld devices, Snapseed is all I use.  You have to get this app if you work on your photos at all.

Family Portrait and Christmas Card Photographs (13)

And while I am on the subject of NIK Software, I also have to mention the fact that every photo in this series went through NIK’s Silver Effects Pro 2 (a Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture Plugin).  Silver Effects Pro 2 is indispensable when you are serious about a film look.  In this case, as much as I like Lightroom’s grain structure, I needed the photos to have a very realistic and accurate grain structure to match the historical feel of the photos.  And when I need REAL FILM GRAIN, I exclusively turn to Silver Effects Pro 2.  It is the gold standard for grain and film effects in digital imaging.  I will have to post a tutorial on using NIK Silver Effects Pro 2, it is a great bit of software.  I have included a screen shot below; it looks and feels a lot like Lightroom.  I am shouting for a few obvious enhancements that need to be made and if I am successful, it will be absolutely perfect!

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I suppose I am a photographer, truly.  I know that sounds strange to say, but when I call someone a photographer, it does not mean they own a camera and make money with it.  A photographer is a different breed of human.  We live to document and capture with “meticulous exactitude”, the world around us.  We don’t separate work from play.  Photography is life, we don’t live unless we record life.  I say this because I am so in love with this photo session because it was an opportunity for me to do something creative, fun and meaningful to me and my family and it was hard work, and it was fun and I cherish the moments we spent creating it and I cherish even more the moments I have spent looking at and thinking about the images and what they mean.  People look at art (paintings and sculptures etc) and ask, “what does it mean,” but they don’t do that with most photographs, when in actuality, every photo has as much or more meaning than a concocted piece of art, because photographs have the added element of reality embedded in them.  Even the randomly captured images have a deep meaning in them, stories, emotions, feelings, joys, sorrows, etc…  I have been spending a lot of time with these photos this Christmas because I am proud of the execution and in love with the meanings they project.

I hope you get to spend a little time with a few photographs this Christmas and get the chance to ponder what they are saying to you.

Merry Christmas, from my family to yours and from my photographs to you.

Family Portrait and Christmas Card Photographs (14)

Photographs by Jared Platt and Rex Platt, Platt Photography

Location: Gilbert, Arizona

Lightroom Podcast: Use the Right Click in Lightroom

Use The Right Click in Lightroom from Jared Platt on Vimeo.

So many questions can be answered by simply right clicking in Lightroom. If you want to do something to anything in Lightroom, try right clicking it and see what you get. This is just a short list of things that the right click can do and by no means exhaustive. Just right click everything in Lightroom, even the little triangles at the edge of the screen, or the individual section headings on the left and right panels. Spend 20 minutes just right clicking. It will answer so many questions that you will no longer have to ask me about. As much as I like being needed… I’d rather have you exploring and discovering things for yourself.

And if you are on a mac, you do have a right click, you just need a mouse with a right click button. Or hold down the control key and click. (This is the point at which all PC users may laugh at the mac users. Your one chance!)

Making Black and White Presets in Lightroom (2 of 2)

Making a Rich Black and White Preset in Lightroom 3 from Jared Platt on Vimeo.

In a previous Lightroom Podcast, I talked about making great black and white images in Lightroom 3. Now, you need to make a great black and white preset in Lightroom, so you will never again have to touch all those sliders. In this follow up video, you will learn to make a intelligently designed preset to add a rich black and white effect to any image at the touch of a button.

See the previous post on making beautiful black and white images in Lightroom 3.

Photography: Platt Photography
Software: Adobe Lightroom