When you make a picture with a digital camera, even if the camera is set to black and white, it records the picture in color and then converts it to black and white (unless you use Leica’s M camera, which only shoots in monochrome). And even if you shoot with black and white film, the colors in the scene affect the results in black and white.

By altering the color, the black and white results will be much better.

That means that you can alter your original color photo to get different results in black and white. Let me show you an example with this quartet.

Color first

Because color makes a big difference, it’s important to start with great color. Here, I made adjustments to the white balance and tones in Luminar 4 so my photo looks great to start with.

Lacking contrast in black and white

I like to make a new layer in Luminar for the black and white conversion because I work on things more empirically. So start by making a new layer.

In the B&W Conversion tool, use the red and yellow sliders to brighten those tones to make the skin tones stand out. I usually also darken the blues and greens for better contrast, but this picture doesn’t have any other colors. As a result, the area at the top of the picture behind the violinist’s head is bland and kinda like a halo. She’s good, but not that good ;)

Ruin the color

You can add a color wash to increase the contrast in black and white. Disable the B&W Conversion and go to the Photo Filter in the Professional tab. Turn the Amount to about 50, crank up the Saturation and set the Hue to a nice cyan-like color. Your picture should look like something off Instagram, circa 2016.

But the color contrast is only needed on the edges, so use the brush to erase the color from the subjects. You can use this method to create a vignette is a different manner, too. This red mask shows where I’ve left the cyan applied; everywhere else it’s been erased.

New layer, B&W again

The Photo Filter is visible even when the B&W Conversion is activated, so add a new layer for the B&W. Now use the color sliders to adjust the contrast. Up the warms tones and drag the cool colors to the left. There’s now more contrast behind the angelic violinist, and it reduced the impact of that rain gutter on the right.

AI Structure and Split Toning

Finish the look by using AI Structure. The artificial intelligence is trained to recognize people and it doesn’t add structure to their faces and skin, which would be too much detail. In this case, it finishes off the details on the edges really well. Lastly, add a little warmth with the Split Toning tool. There are presets, but I like to make my own.

Keep it in the toolbox

Black and white photos are all about contrast. When you start with the right color contrasts, you’ll have more options when you convert the picture to black and white. Washing the whole photo with a color and selectively removing it is one good way to increase your options. Keep it in your pocket for those times when the scene doesn’t quite have what your subject deserves.

Portrait Tips come out each week, and you can see them all right here.

Don’t have Luminar 4 yet? Check out our Luminar 4 Photofocus Bundle, complete with Looks, video training, extra skies and more!