I love black and white fine art photos of landscapes and animals. I am big Ansel Adams and David Yarrow fan. The thing I love about these photos is the inherent vividness, deep shadows and blown out highlights. The histogram is a lovely bowl that ranges from extreme left to extreme right of the graph indicating that there . The lack of colors is never a handicap for me. On the contrary it is something that removes the distraction in the form of colors and focuses on the textures, the tonal range and the subject matter of the composition.
There are more than one ways to achieve that high contrast effect in your landscape images. But the primary requirement is that you shoot in RAW and in color. Yes! You need color so that you can convert them into several tones of gray. The flexibility is never quite the same if the original image is black and white to begin with or is not a RAW capture or worse both!
The first step involves doing the mandatory adjustments. I checked the Enable Profile Corrections and Remove Chromatic Aberrations. This takes care of any lens distortions and chromatic aberrations in the final image. Next step is to crop the image. But instead of cropping, which is something that prefer not to do, because I love to do meticulous composition, I used the Straighten Tool under Cropping to ensure that the image is aligned perfectly. By the way, this was a hand-held shot.
The next step is to switch over to Black & White in the Basic panel. The image will immediately be converted into a black and white one. But that is not something we are happy with. We will further work on this to make it appear more like what we want.
Drag the Temperature slider to the right. Just about enough so that the clouds appear to have a bit of texture. You can adjust this later depending on how the image is taking shape. I would next pull down the exposure by about a stop and a third. Contrast can be pushed to the right. 30 is a nice round figure. Pull down the highlights all the way to the left.
Shadows can be boosted up and this means you are basically opening up the shadows. I would personally like to open them up a wee bit. Not too much. That way my histogram would be touching both the left and right edges of the graph, like in this case. I leave the Whites where they are, but pull down blacks a bit to the left. Again -30 is a nice round number.
Puling the Clarity slider ensures some degree of sharpness. I leave it at +55. The reason I insisted that you shoot in color was so that you can post-process in Black & white and when doing so you can tweak the individual color channels. The reason is shooting in RAW leaves the color channels available to you. This will be apparent now. I dragged the yellow channel to the right to open it up a bit.
The final ask is to tweak the sharpening and use a feature that is a recent addition to Lightroom and Photoshop - Dehaze. Sharpening clearly defines the edges and produces a crisper image. However, you have to be extra careful when working with the sharpness slider. Dehaze increases the contrast of an image. Dragging it too much to the right will create an image that is unreal. This is to my liking. The effect is topped up with a post-crop vignetting of about negative 20. I leave the midpoint and Feather unchanged at 50.
There is this little nice preset named BW 1 in our Premium BW Vol. I package, this preset is a fast, hassle free way to achieve similar results, albeit in a slightly different set of steps. The beauty of Lightroom and Photoshop is that you can arrive at the exact same results working from different directions. You don’t always have to follow the exact same steps. That gives you an incredible amount of creative freedom to achieve your desired result working in a direction you prefer.
Another thing to keep in mind is that presets don’t always work the way you envision they would. This is because the image you may be working on is poles apart from the image you see the effect being applied to. It is thus, in your best interest to ensure that the preset you choose would work for your image.
If all these seems too complicated for you, you can simply download the D&S Premium BW Vol. I collection. This is the result I got with the preset.
This is a part of a premium collection and gives almost the same effect that I manually did with just a single click. What more, you also get an additional 30 presets in the same pack.