Notes on My Black and White Street Workflow

For a variety of reasons, extended summer vacations, sudden unscheduled trips to the UK etc., I haven’t been doing as much street photography as usual. So, it was good to get the camera out earlier this week on my first trip to the city centre in several weeks.

The break seems to have been worthwhile as I was certainly seeing more opportunities during my short walk and I seem to have managed to capture a higher proportion of ‘keepers’ than usual. 

After discussing my results elsewhere with some others, I thought it might be useful to write a short article about my processing workflow in Lightroom. I’m not one for recording lengthy videos and this technique is so simple, I can probably get away with a step by step description in good old fashioned text.

I start my process in the Library module. Before I even start to review a set of images, I will select them all and apply my basic B&W-Street preset. This is a very simple preset that converts to B&W, and bumps up the Contrast, Highlights and Clarity by +15, +45 and +30 respectively and drops the Shadows by -20. Using this preset levels the playing field and leaves me with a set of nice, reasonably contrasty images for selection.

Now I can review individual images and decide which compositions work and warrant some more development work. If it’s a large batch of images, I’ll flag the interesting ones and then filter by flagged before hitting ‘d’ to enter Develop mode.

Once I have an image in Develop mode, then I typically only fine tune three or four sliders.

- First, I’ll tune the ‘Highlights’ slider. (Tip, with this, and all of the basic sliders, you can hold down the Opt/Alt key while adjusting to see the clipping points). I try to slide the Highlights slider far enough to the right so that there is a tiny area of the image where highlights are clipped. Seriously, a tiny area, just a few white dots is enough.
- If, the image is underexposed and I can’t achieve the desired result, I may edjust the ‘Exposure’ slider a little to brighten things up.
- Next, I tune the ‘Blacks’ slider downwards (remember to hold Opt/Alt for a clipping preview). Once again, my target is to get a little bit of clipping in the blacks. Usually the images can stand a little bit more clipping at this end than with highlights, but still I wouldn’t clip more than about 5% of the image, usually much less.
- Finally (I said it was simple), I’ll tweak the ‘Shadows’ slider to improve the mid tones which could have become too dark as a result of adjusting the ‘Blacks’ slider.

It’s only at this point, if I’m still happy with the image, that I might consider cropping or straightening to tweak the composition. I’m not totally averse to cropping an image to improve composition, but I do try to keep the cropped area as large as possible. In fact, I’m nore likely than not to constrain my crops to 1x1 ratio and just adjust by sliding my crop window left or right in the full frame to select the appropriate composition.

So there you have it. It’s quick and easy. You might disagree with me allowing clipping, that’s fine, you can still follow the same workflow and stop just short of the clipping points if you wish.

Good luck.

On my other site…