Photoshop + Lightroom = Killer B&W

One of my favorite things about working on the Photoshop team is that we get to build a product people actually want to use when they leave work.  That means that lots of the engineers, QE folks, marketroids, and others are avid photographers, and the halls of the floor are lined with their work.

Recently, every time I’ve walked by the office of Kelly Castro from the Lightroom team, I’ve noticed really striking black & white portraits on his monitors.  Knowing that my friend & fellow Photoshop PM Bryan O’Neil Hughes had recently co-authored a great book covering B&W in Photoshop and Lightroom, I suggested he touch base with Kelly to learn more about the way he combines the two products.  Here’s his report. –J.

[Update: Note that Kelly added some more details via the comments.]

Blue-Collar Black & White

As a Product Manager for the Photoshop team and a Product Evangelist for the Lightroom team, I spend a great deal of time thinking and talking about the relationship between the two applications. My greatest inspiration comes from the time I spend with our users, when I see what they create with their talent, time and the complimentary feature-set of these two amazing products.

Knowing my love for Black & White imagery, Nack pointed me towards some astonishing in-house talent, right here on W10. Yesterday I enjoyed an hour with Kelly Castro who gave me a glimpse into his very unique workflow. I’m not going to tell you everything about how Kelly gets his shots to jump off the screen, but I will showcase a few very cool steps. If you’re like me, the shots will inspire you far more than my words can.

Kelly starts off with controlled lighting and though he has access to a studio, he prefers the ink-black backdrop of night and a common garage. If that wasn’t enough to pique the gear-head side of my brain, Kelly gets the first photons of his unique lighting effect from the neighborhood auto parts store (that’s all I’m saying). Although Kelly takes inspiration from Avedon and Nigel Parry, his approach is all his own; I was reminded often that time upfront is fundamental to Kelly’s work.

As a Quality Engineer on the Lightroom team, Kelly knows how to take full advantage of Lightroom’s power. Lightroom houses his collection, helps him rank and sort his shots, takes his images from Color to Monochrome…and further. A fan of Virtual Copies, Kelly starts there before cropping (like me a fan of the “O” toggle between crop views), then, using his own preset conversion he massages the details; “I tend to overuse the Clarity slider” Kelly betrayed, “but it works for these”. With such strong contrast in his images, I asked Kelly how he keeps an eye on clipping – he toggles the disclosure triangles on the histogram from time to time, but admits that he works more from his own eye. Within just a few seconds, I could see how his portraits took on an entirely new look. Before jumping seamlessly to Photoshop for more granular edits, Kelly used Lightroom’s spot removal tool for sensor dust and small skin flaws.

Kelly has been using Photoshop since version 3.0 and it shows; his activity there is an expert blur of duped layers, blend modes (Kelly favors Overlay and Softlight), opacity shifts and quick paint strokes to dodge and burn facial details between layers. One trick that I had read about but never seen was the addition of a new layer and the application of a radial gradient (white to clear) on the subject’s eyes – after a quick touchup of the gradient on the eyelids, Kelly switched to the Overlay blend mode and the eyes just POPPED!

Kelly’s initial images looked tack sharp to me, but when he added the popular high-pass sharpening method to his stunning monochrome, suddenly the original seemed soft in comparison. As he sped through his workflow, I kept thinking the image couldn’t get much better – but then with each new layer he took it to an entirely new level. I go the feeling that like a lot of artists, Kelly is probably never completely finished.

As we continue to develop Lightroom and Photoshop side-by-side, I take great comfort in seeing how the two applications complement one another. Kelly is the type of user that really pushes the capabilities of both – I’m glad he’s helping us improve the quality, experience and workflow of our professional products.

— Bryan O’Neil Hughes

13 thoughts on “Photoshop + Lightroom = Killer B&W

  1. Awesome! Thanks for posting this, John. Kelly’s work is individual and fabulous and it’s a great start to my holiday weekend to be checking it out 🙂
    [Cool–glad you dig it, Phil. –J.]

  2. Indeed! I’ve added his work to my; and that says something!
    Quick remark on the side: Such an internal glimp into the process what’s created the work is in my case just as valuable as sheer beauty. I like his work better, knowing it required such elaborate skill.

  3. Wow!!! Those are some seriously cool portraits. Thanks for the blog posting. Makes me want to dust off my SLR. Peace.

  4. The photos are absolutely stunning. Any chance you could share a bit more detail re. the treatment of the eyes?
    [Kelly says that he’ll try to jump in this weekend and add some detail. –J.]
    .. and btw, thank you for this and the whole blog in general..
    [Cool, thanks for saying so. –J.]
    Best regards,

  5. I agree with Jarek — great stuff, but left us wanted a little more!
    I, too, would be interested in what the gradient-on-the-eyes technique is.

  6. John, thank you for adding another facet to your blog. This article and Kelly Castro’s Flickr album is great stuff. I also wasn’t aware of this new book on B&W in PS and LR. Your blog is a treasure trove of valuable information!
    Best regards,

  7. As for your comment: “favorite things about working on the Photoshop team is that we get to build a product people actually want to use when they leave work.”
    And some of us get paid to use PS, how fun is that? That’s what I tell my students.

  8. John & Bryan – thanks for the cool write up. Here are the steps for the “eye trick”, written in the style of a bug report (sorry, it’s just ingrained at this point) : )
    – Open a portrait image in Photoshop
    – Choose Window > Layers (F7)
    – Command + = (zoom in on the eyes)
    – Shift + Command + N (new layer)
    – Press X (switch foreground color to white)
    – Press G (gradient tool)
    – Open Gradient Picker in the Tool Options Bar and select “Foreground to Transparent”
    – Select “Radial Gradient” in the Tool Options Bar
    – Mode: Normal / Opacity: 100% / Reverse: unchecked / Dither & Transparency: checked
    – Place your cursor over one of the subject’s eyes
    – Click in the center of the pupil and drag to the edge of the iris
    – Repeat for second eye
    – In the Layers palette, set the blending mode to “Overlay”
    – Adjust the layer opacity to taste
    – Command + E (flatten layers)
    – Command + S (save)
    A portrait with more impact.
    There ya have it. See ya Monday.
    – Kelly
    [Awesome–thanks, Kelly. –J.]

  9. Let me start by saying I’m not a professional photographer. Can someone please advise how I can stop Lightroom from converting my RAW B&W images into colour. I took the pics with my Canon EOS 400D. Many thanks.
    Howard Kerr
    Cape Town
    South Africa
    [Your raw images aren’t B&W, regardless of whatever setting you applied in the camera. You can tell LR to apply a develop preset on import, so you just need to save some B&W settings you like, then select them while importing.
    In the future it would be great if LR/ACR could read info about the picture styles assigned in the camera. With settings generated by the new DNG Profile Editor, it should be possible to match those looks quite closely. I don’t know whether the manufacturers write the info in a way that LR/ACR can read, however. –J.]

  10. Just finished a brilliant lightroom course at silicon beach training I love it – will be using it instead of photoshop for all my wedding photography from now on.
    The best thing is adjusting the curves on highlights and shadows independantly, and shifting the histogram. Brilliant, not to mention the storage savings using virtual photo and the quick exports.

  11. Hey guys , i really enjoyed the whole set of photos they are just stunning however i am more interested to know what sort of light does he normally use and what is the work flow like between lightroom and photoshop to get this sort of effect a quick tutorial would be just fab . your help will be greatly appreciated .
    Hany Ragab

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