The Magic of Monochrome: Tips for Creative Architecture for Black and White Shots (Part 2)
Written by Matthew Tofield | October 30, 2023
This is part two of a two-part series on capturing and editing long-exposure black and white architectural photographs. You can watch part one from last week here.
Creating an image through editing is a personal journey, and every photographer will approach the process differently. Here I have listed a series of steps that provide a framework for transforming your raw photo into an attractive black and white photo. You’ll need Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to continue.
First, import the raw file into Lightroom. Use the Tone Control Auto function with the White Balance adjustments under the Library section to achieve the desired color and lighting balance.
Next, go to the Development tab. Under Lens Correction, select “Remove Chromatic Aberration” and “Enable Profile Corrections” to correct irregularities naturally caused by the lens. You can also use the Transform tool to flatten, rotate, and modify aspect ratios. Use the auto button or custom settings to get your preferred result.
In the Details section, use the Sharpen tool and the Noise Reduction function to enhance the image, eliminate noise and enhance clarity. Doing this in Lightroom, rather than Photoshop, ensures that image quality is maintained in RAW.
Finally for Lightroom, go to the Basic tab. There are a lot of tools here, and how you edit depends on your artistic vision. A few pointers – adjustments of highlights, shadows, black and white will help reveal the architectural complexities.
The Texture and Clarity slider can also highlight detail in building features, and the Dehaze slider can be used to fine-tune skies. Additionally, use a stain removal tool to remove any unwanted blemishes.
Finally, if you don’t want to transfer your image editing to Photoshop, you can perform a simple conversion to black and white in the Develop section. In the basic editing panel, use the Saturation bar to remove all colors, then scroll down to HSL/Color in the editing panel, playing with individual colors under the Luminance heading to fine-tune your shot.
If you’re keen to explore what Photoshop can do, first, in Photoshop, duplicate the original layer to protect it, use the Clone or Heal tool, and remove any defects or unwanted objects (such as trees, cables, construction marks, etc.).
Next, separate the sky and building components into distinct layers. My favorite technique involves duplicating the original layer again (equivalent to three layers in total), adding a Layer Mask to the top layer, and then using the Polygonal Lasso Tool to outline the sky. Finally, I use a black brush in the mask layer to remove the sky.
This allows attention and editing options to be focused on the building and sky design separately.
Using new adjustment options in Photoshop, transform both texture and sky layers into a black-and-white fringe. The editing options can be found on the right in the Panels group, between the Properties and Libraries tab (if running the latest version of PS). Then, under Adjustment presets, click More and select the best black and white preset feature for your photo.
Choose a desaturated option that provides strong contrast for black and white sections.
Enhance the effect of each layer by applying a Curves adjustment layer. (Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves) Lowering a point near the bottom-left intersection darkens the shadows, while raising the line at the top of the right intersection brightens the highlights.
The key is to customize the shadows more closely to the sky background to deepen its tone. This creates a visual effect of the black and white sections, making the design stand out.
To intensify shadows or highlights, use the Clone tool. You have the option of using Photoshop’s built-in clone tool, or you can create a custom clone layer for more precise control.
First, create a new copy layer (Layer>New>Layer), change the mode to Overlay, and click Fill with a neutral overlay color (50% gray).
Using a soft brush set to low opacity, about 10%, and adjusted to your preferred size, apply black to darken and white to lighten, then strategically brush over sections as needed.
For a finishing touch, consider applying a shading effect. This will subtly direct the viewers’ attention to the central focal point – the architecture. You can do this by creating a new adjustment layer and choosing Gradient Fill (Layer>New Fill Layer>Gradient).
Next, save the layer with the desired name, and configure the gradient to go from black to transparent. To do this, click on the color style next to the word Gradient, click on the small rectangle (stops) above the color line on the left side and make sure the opacity is 100%.
Then click on the small rectangle above the color line on the right and make sure the Opacity is 0%. If the small rectangle (below the line, left) is not black, double-click it and change the color in the color picker to black. Do the same for the small rectangle below the line, on the right, but in white.
For Pattern, choose Radial, and then select Inverse (in cases where the central area will be rounded).
Finally, using a large, soft brush at 100% opacity, paint into the mask layer to gradually remove the gradient, creating a gentle darkening along the corners and edges of the image – and you’re done!
What I love about this style of photography is that the possibilities are endless, limited only by your creativity.
I hope this article gives you ideas of your own to try and explore your camera, equipment, settings, editing, and ultimately embrace your creative inspiration. ❂