Create a Dramatic B&W Landscape

In this tutorial I show you my process for creating dramatic black and white landscape images.

Time taken – about 15 minutes.

There’s something about black and white landscapes that I love. Rich blacks, bright whites, and everything in between. But there’s more to creating a great B&W image than simply converting a color image to B&W! So, here’s how I process my landscapes to create black and white drama.

Watch the video for step-by-step instructions.

Read about the process

If you prefer to read rather than watch, here is the process…

Starting Image

How to create a stunning, dramatic black and white landscape in Lightroom

Basic Settings

The first step is to switch your editing to B&W ’Treatment’. You do this by clicking the words ‘Black & White’ that sit underneath the word ‘Basic’ in the panel. you will see the ‘Profile’ switches from Color to Monochrome.

The image it creates is perfectly acceptable, but lacks drama..


So, we want to create a firm base on which to build our dramatic landscape.

At the top of your panel you will see the HISTOGRAM. This should show a pretty full distribution covering, from the far left to the far right. 

If it does not, then we need to tweak the HIGHLIGHTS, SHADOWS, WHITES and BLACKS.
Start with the EXPOSURE and CONTRAST, and move the sliders to try to even out the histogram.

Then move to HIGHLIGHTS and SHADOWS, and move slowly to the left or right and watch the histogram. You will see it fill out or reduce. We are looking for a pretty even distribution. HIGHLIGHTS alters the right of the histogram and SHADOWS the left.

Play around with both until the histogram is pretty even (Tip – you will not achieve perfection so don’t spend hours on it!).

Next, switch to the WHITES.

Hold down the OPTION key on a Mac, ALT on Windows, and slowly adjust the WHITE slider. You will see the image goes black and as you move the slider, white patches slowly appear. Tweak this until just a few white patches are visible.

Now do exactly the same, but for the BLACK. This time the image goes completely white, and black patches slowly appear.

B&W Panel

Now we have a balanced base from which to work, we move on to our B&W panel.

When you switched the Treatment from Color to Black and White, the standard HSL panel changed to ‘B&W’. Open this panel to reveal a number of sliders to play with.

Now the process should be carried out for the key landscape masses – sky, trees/foliage, mountains, water, etc. If your image has say, blue sky and blue water, then it is a balancing act between the two in order to get something you like.

For this image, we start with the sky.

Take the AQUA down to -100 (Slider all the way to the left). Then do the same for the BLUE. The sky goes pretty black! So now slowly pull the BLUE slider to the right and stop when the sky looks something like the ‘drama’ you want to achieve. Don’t worry about the bumps and ridges you may see, we’ll deal with these in a minute.

Now for the trees, we do the same but with the GREEN and YELLOW sliders.
And for the mountains, the ORANGE and RED.

This just leaves the PURPLE and MAGENTA. When I slide these I can see slight variations in the mountains, but this may affect other parts of your specific image, depending on its composition. It’s the same process though, just slide them down and then bring them back up to suit your eye.

Detail

Now to smooth out the lumps and bumps in the image a little.

Go to the Detail panel and under Noise Reduction, pull the COLOR, DETAIL and SMOOTHNESS sliders all the way to the right.

Effects

I like to add a hint of dark VIGNETTE for a little more drama.  In this case, I set AMOUNT to -20, MIDPOINT 0, ROUNDNESS +22, FEATHER 65 AND HIGHLIGHTS 85.

Finishing Off

Now at this stage, our image looks pretty good, right. But here’s a couple of things we can do to push it even more.

Add RADIAL FILTERS. 

I want to accentuate a couple of areas on the mountain, just to give it an almost 3D effect. To do this I choose the RADIAL FILTER option, the circle tool above the Basic panel. Click this tool once and check INVERT at the bottom, and a FEATHER of 100.

Then click anywhere on the image and drag out an ellipse. It doesn’t matter where you do this on the image because we can move it later. When you let go of your mouse you will see an ellipse with a centre circle.
Grab the centre circle and move it to the mountains. Then grab each of the ellipse resize squares and squash or expand it to fit the area you want to highlight.

With the ellipse still selected, go to the adjustment panel and tweak the EXPOSURE, SHADOWS, WHITES and SHARPNESS. Depending on your image, you may want to play with the other settings too, such as BLACKS and CLARITY, etc.

Repeat this whole process for any other areas you want to highlight. If you want to use similar settings across your radial filters, you can right-click one and DUPLICATE, then drag it to where you want to place it.
When you are done, close the filter adjustment panel and you will see a slider appears. you can tweak this for each individual radial filter.

And finally, bind it all together

The last thing I like to do is to bind everything together using split toning. So close your radial filters by clicking on the tool circle again, and open up the Split Toning panel.

Now, this is very much down to personal choice, but I like the look of a HIGHLIGHTS HUE of 100 and SATURATION 10, SHADOWS HUE of 300 and SATURATION 10, and a BALANCE of +25.

VOILA

You can, of course, play with some of the other settings to see what you can come up with. For example, if you adjust the PRESENCE, CLARITY slider downwards, it gives a dream-like effect to the whole image.

The more you play, the more you learn!

And don’t forget, if you save the settings as a preset, the radial filters will also be saved, so on your next image, you may or not need them or need to adjust/move them!

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