Skip to main content

Landscape Photography

Lesson 27 of 27

Converting to Black and White

Marc Muench

Landscape Photography

Marc Muench

Starting under


Get access to this class +2000 more taught by the world's top experts

  • 24/7 access via desktop, mobile, or TV
  • New classes added every month
  • Download lessons for offline viewing
  • Exclusive content for subscribers

Lesson Info

27. Converting to Black and White
Black and white can create powerful landscape photography -- but the colors don't always transfer over to the right shade of gray. Determine whether or not to convert an image or leave it in color. Then, control the results using Lightroom's tools.

Lesson Info

Converting to Black and White

First of all, I just want to hit a couple that have kind of been from this segment but earlier on. Some of the more popular questions, we had Iowa mom and six other people ask this. When you were talking about setting sharpening settings for your different cameras, how do you know what sharpening settings to use. Is there resource you can look that up somewhere or is it just experimentation? I think it's a combination, yeah experimentation works, but you have to know what to look for. So, we're talking about sharpening and so online though, some photographers will share that based on the camera they're using and I share that all the time with the camera I'm using I think these are not I think these are the best settings for most every scene, not entirely every scene. Because, remember sharpening is looking at all kinds of detail and so if you have less detail in a picture you might not need the same sharpening settings. So it's very image dependent and camera dependent. if you can fi...

nd online a place, a resource where somebody is sharing their settings, their sharpening settings, great and Google that. But look for the halo that comes between an area of something that's very dark and very bright, that's what you're looking for. You want to get that effect of the sharpening without seeing the halo and so you're trying to optimize that at the size that the file is at. Remember the second step is to sharpen it after it's been sized. If you want to make a print that big you have to sharpen it here on the input and then when you stitch it and after you stitch it and after you color correct it, then you have to sharpen it again when it's that size, and that's the key. And that actually leads perfectly into my next question. FLScrubJ and three others all wanted to know, after cropping do you ever resize your images for printing, and if so using what software and what is the maximum percentage that you'll go to. Well, in the commercial world anything's possible because in advertising I've had ten megapixel files, blown up to the size of this wall for billboards and there are very, very sophisticated algorithms that will do that, that used to be very proprietary. Now Photoshop has included a lot of those within their program. So I use Photoshop if I have to enlarge, especially if it's only 100% or 200%. If it's something more, oftentimes I will send it to the printer because the printer who's actually printing that big file, you give them the biggest one you can maybe a 100, 200% enlargement, the printer who's printing that file has the printer software that's going to rasterize that tiff into a bunch of little tiny dots when it prints and they probably have better software to do it than possibly Photoshop, so. Hey, do you have any questions in here? I think there's one kind of, oh, go ahead. About the panoramic stitching. When you do the panoramas, is the 50% overlap that you're talking about does that help prevent that bow tying that excessive bow tying, you know what I'm talking about though? You mean when the file came up before I cropped it? Yeah. No what that is is that's auto. So it's trying to change, that's what happens when you choose Auto. If you choose reposition that won't happen you'll just see the files slightly move based on how your camera moved, and so really. (speaker drown out background noise) What that's from, is if your camera is not level. So if the camera is slightly down and you start doing a pano you're gonna end up lower on the right than where you started on the left and now you're losing data at the top. So that's the biggest problem, that's why you have to get it really level to do those panos. I think the biggest thing that's been requested that we haven't talked about is converting to black and white. So, here's the question, with that 20 minutes or so I know we've got the the thing that we wanted to do to kind of end it out do you think you can cover, you can talk about black and white a little bit? I can. Exactly. That's good, alright. So I think we started in black and white when I told you about composition to take color out so that we could see shapes. So I think it's a good full circle to come back to black and white. I'd say that the biggest issue in converting to black and white is that the conversion is based on the colors that are in the file. And when you change to black and white in a digital file, I'm gonna try and find a better one here. What changes the colors and what changes the output of the black and white, is how that mix is made. So what Lightroom does is it gives you a premade mix of those sliders and so you have the ability to change those to turn it into the black and white that you want. Here we go, alright, so here is the accurate exposure a little bit under, of the dragon. And when I took this picture I realized that or I thought, that it was this nice warm and fuzzy light and that that was the mood that I wanted to capture. But, in the end, like I said, I really was attracted to this dragon that I found inside the wave. So part of the reason I converted this picture to black and white was to emphasize that dragon. I didn't want people to look at the color. So first off, aesthetically to change a picture from color to black and white you really have to have some kind of impact whether it's in the shape but especially the composition. In this case, it's just the fun part of the of the wave and so here I'm gonna go to the black and white picture it converts and you can see the radical change that it's made and you can start seeing some of, hopefully, some of the things I've been talking about the masks. So I'm going to open this one up in the Develop module and show you guys some of the steps that I made. So if I go way back to the beginning and start at ground zero, I convert it to black and white. You can see what happened. I think that the the most important thing you have to realize when you convert to black and white is that you still need to mask and you still need to control all the Regional Dynamics just like you did with a color file. And I also think it's important to note that sometimes I will do that first. I will desaturate a file, edit it completely in black and white and then add the color back a little bit at the end and so that gives me the ability to see all the shapes and all the contrast first. So the first thing I did is crop it and then I had to work on a little bit of cropping to get the right shape of where I wanted the dragon. I think I moved that around a little bit and you can see here now I finally found the right crop and I started adding some brushstrokes and so I'm gonna go back and show you some of those. Now this was a move I made right here after I cropped it. I haven't made any regional moves. Then I came in and made sure I edited this curve so that I could make the whole image with the right amount of contrast in this area here. So, let's take a look at that curve and see what I did. You can see right there, I'd darkened the whole file and that gave some of the nice gradations from these tones up here to the darker tones. Then I started adding brushes and doing nothing other than Regional Dynamics and you can see here I painted in, probably with a lot of clarity, to make that move right there. And then I added a brushstroke up here and you can see I'm refining the brushstrokes with the eraser tool inside the brushes and I obviously made some radical mistake. This is a good thing to point out, because this is what happens when you add too much clarity, OK, because it's modifying the amount of contrast between that dark area and that light area. So if you overdo it on clarity that's the effect you're gonna get. And thankfully I realized that, kept editing, I found a spot and then again it looks like I made a Graduated filter, and a bad one, and then adjusted it and added another brush to compensate up there and then kept going. You can see another point I want to make about black and whites which I'll show you is at this point is when I decided I wanted to see what some color looked like. So if you take a black and white file and I'm going to show this example, I'm gonna go into one here and open it and develop, and hit V, V is the shortcut key that converts it from color to black and white right away, automatically. What's happening is it's going into this black and white which is buried in the HSL and color panel and it's applying this mix with all with all these color sliders to make it black and white. That was that preference way at the beginning when I was showing you the auto mix for converting to black and white. You can change these and you can modify these. This picture before I converted it was primarily green. So, if you come in here with the green channel it's going to affect it dramatically. So that's one modification you have, and remember there's a lot of yellow and green. So, if you take those two sliders, you're going to be able to affect this as a black and white considerably. The orange slider isn't going to do much, the magenta slider isn't going to do much, because that color is not in the color file. So you have these as a first move, OK. That's one of the first things I'll do when I hit the V key and check out an image in black and white. Then again once I've started, once I make sure I've taken the most out of this file without degrading it with those sliders then I go on to make all the masks. And by that I mean if you take this green slider and you drag it all the way over, especially to the right, you can see here if I go into two to one, it's actually a mask, believe it or not. Now I can see the edge of that mask where it's actually a mask of just the green leaves and anything else that's not green is not being affected. So the demarcation between that mask, the edge of the mask, is what you're seeing here. This is a point where, when, you don't want to drag that slider all the way. But, you can figure that out, like I say, by going into two-to-one and looking at the detail and making sure that it's not degrading the file too much. Those are some of the first steps that I make on any black and white and then again once I've made that decision it's really a matter of going in and doing all the very same edits that you make inside a color file when you're changing the contrast, the tonality and those things. Now, the good thing is is once I've cropped this and done all my changes I can go back in to the Basic panel, and if I want, I can just add the color back and you can look at some of the interesting casts from all the edits I've made, and you can just lower the saturation just add a tiny bit of color you can see that glow and so I'm at minus and that gives it sort of a half sepia and half selenium tone look. That's kind of interesting sometimes and I will do that occasionally. However, just to keep it in black and white mode here, the other way that you can add color to your black and white is to go into split toning and what this does is kind of cool because it allows you to change the hue of that you can see I can go as far as I want by adding the saturation to the highlights and change the tone of this black and white. And this is overall from all the, pretty much all the highlights here and does the same thing to the shadows down below. So often what I'll do is add a little warmth to it and dial the saturation down a little bit and now it's fairly hard to detect the change that I made. Well we can see here, there is the actual black and white and there's with it a little bit of color cast. To sum it up quickly what you want to do is you want to convert to black and white, do this very same workflow that you do in color because you want to make sure that you crop it to get rid of those highlights and shadows that might become a problem and change the Histogram in the end. Then you want to go in and start affecting the file in the same ways with the Graduated filter, the Radial filter and the Adjustment brush. This way it's a little easier because you don't have to worry about white balance and color and so it's actually a fun way to learn all these tools for Regional Dynamics. OK, so I know you guys have been patient and tolerant of looking at my pictures for two days. So I do want to share a couple of your pictures. You have been kind enough to grant us that opportunity and so I haven't taken the time to really look at these. I looked at them just because I imported them but that was it, so I'm gonna show you a couple moves that I would make, basically, on first sight. So don't gasp if I go the wrong way and it's your image and you don't like it. You can always raise your hand and say, you know that's not the direction I would go. But in the end the whole reason that I do this is so that you see my workflow and my interpretation of it and really the use of the tools, dynamically, in an image and sometimes how chaotic my workflow can be. Because in the end, I'm flipping between tools often. All right so you guys shared four images with me and I'm actually going to try and process all four of them. I'm looking at them now. Beautiful zebra, incredible image, it looks like Bryce Canyon or Black Canyon of the Gunnison, this looks like Bryce Canyon. So let's start with this one I'm looking at it full screen before I make any edits. I'm going to go actually fullscreen which is the F key and that highlights a couple things. One is this little branch here or somebody's hand, I'm not sure what it is, so let me get rid of that. Do I want to crop it? I don't think so, I like the composition with this nice little rim down here and there's just the right amount of sky. So I don't see a need to crop it. I'll go back in to Develop module. First thing I want to do before I start editing that handout is I want to make sure that tonality is right. I look at the Histogram and I'm gonna take that Histogram highlights and slide it over all the way and look at that there's plenty of detail in there. Open up my tone curve and realize that if I move the tone curve in this case, I kind of had, still have, a split image. All the tonality up here is really bright, all the tonality down below is really dark. So the first thing before I even modify the mid-tones is I go into the Graduated filter. In this case I'm going to make it darker because I don't want that sky to be darker. Drag that down just enough so that it affects right at the horizon and I might even go darker than I want it to go because what I'm going to end up doing is countering that with a move with the Histogram, I'm sorry, the tone curve. I'm gonna drag that tone curve over now and now my sky is bright enough. I had to modify the Graduated filter first so that when I do this it doesn't get too bright. Now all of a sudden I've opened up the shadows, darkened the highlights just with the Histogram, Graduated filter and the tone curve. Kind of like that. I think it's time to get rid of this little hand. Zoom in on that guy, oh got some of those evil chromatic aberrations. So, let's go down and see if we can get rid of those. That's in the lens correction tab, check that box and remove chromatic aberrations and voila. So thanks to the little evil branch we were able to do some nice lens correction work. Come back up to remove that guy, and that looks pretty darn good except there's some overlap there so I might move that up just a tiny bit or down. Line that horizon up just perfect, there we go. Got rid of that branch. Now I'm ready to make some of those Regional Dynamic moves. The only problem with this picture compositionally is I think the we go back to one to one I think this pinnacle, the top of it blends in the background and so it's hard to separate it out. What I want to do is I kind of want to try and highlight that pinnacle. I'm gonna make it a little brighter, the brush tool adds some clarity and see if we can't just make it stand out a little more. That worked fairly well. While I'm at it, I might the same thing to some of these highlights down here and right over here kind of embellish that area right there then maybe just to certain spots in the background to get a little more contrast just in those areas. Then, I'm gonna make another contrast move to the whole image just to give it a tiny bit more color. Now I have the global contrast set, I like some of the Regional Dynamics I made. The white balance is off just a little bit. I save that for the last some times because I'm not worried about that I'm worried more about the contrast and the detail of these things. So now I'm gonna go into Temperature and Tint and we can look at the right side over there, although it's kind of a sunset. So it's a little hard to use that method. I think really visually, because my monitor is calibrated I'm just gonna make it a little bit warmer. That really helped it a lot. So, there's most of the edits I would make. So, great picture I really like it. Bryce Canyon is wonderful and now I think that pinnacle separates just a little bit. Who's image was that? What do you think? Let's grab you a mic. Be careful now, just kidding. I think that looks that looks good. I guess what, when I took the picture, what bothered me is the pinnacle that's standing up there and blending in with the other one in the background but highlighting that's a good move. I think if you wanted to refine that a little more you'd go in and make a mask so that the ridge in the background didn't also lighten up. So you'd make a detailed mask at the top of the pinnacle and then it would shine all by itself. the background would be dark, so that would help embellish it with a little more time. I'd probably do that in Photoshop. But OK, on to the next one. OK, so one of the things I do often when I don't know what's going on is I'll take the tone curve, get rid of the Basic panel here open the tone curve and I just want to see what happens when it gets darker. I grab that, look at it and look at those beautiful yellow highlights on the ridge. Then I open it up see what's going on if there's any high key look to the shot. Not really, I kind of like this mood better. That has a little more drama, so I'm gonna make the whole image a little darker. Then I'm just going to go in with the brush and I'm gonna lighten certain areas up. We might have to lighten them up a little more just to give it a little light and contrast. So now it's a balance between the dappled light I'm giving it, I'm gonna make a new one and this time I'm not going to add contrast 'cause it's back in the background, just gonna add a little light as if some sunlight is hitting the back of that canyon. I also notice now that this highlight got a little bright so I'm going to hit the option key, erase some of that on that bright hot spot there. Now I'm getting it closer, I kind of like the mood, my highlights are dark, so I'm gonna bring that over, extend out the dynamic range. Now that I've added that much contrast, I'm starting to see quite a cast. These colors in here just look a little green. I'm not sure what it is, it's showing on my monitor so instead of changing the white balance, because this sky it looks actually quite nice, I'm gonna come down in here to HSL right here and come to the saturation and hue slider and I'm gonna grab that little node there, come into the yellow and see if I can change my yellow just to give it a little warmth. That looks to me, now whether that's the accurate color of the place or not that just looks like a little more accurate color in my opinion. Then if the whole thing is a little too dark. I don't think so but I'm gonna make one spot a little darker and that's this highlight right over here. Because I want to emphasize this region in here. OK, so quick edits now it has just a little more depth and we highlighted some of those ribs of the ridges on the edges. Where is this by the way? Yellowstone. Yellowstone, thank you, yes that is. I know we don't have a whole lot of time but the first thing I saw was this beautiful light on the ridges right there and so I wanted to embellish that with the brush. So now that you say Yellowstone, that's why it's yellow. All right, so now I can go back and undo that HSL move and show the yellow. Will you email that to me? Yes for a certain price, no. (woman chuckling) All right, thank you very much for sharing your picture. All right, we have one more zebra. Is this your picture as well? OK, that's yours back there, great, all right. First of all, very nice light on the zebra. I like the bokeh in the background and I, this one's a good one because you don't have to change it much. Look at that sharp grass coming out of his mouth, everything is sharp but let's check the eyeballs. Beautiful, the eyeballs are sharp and that's what's really important. You know, I'm just gonna change the white balance first because I think it could be just a tiny bit blue and I'm gonna look at these numbers here and certainly it says red is 52 the green is and the blue is 57 so I'm not sure we want that blue cast on the zebra that's just a quick way to check. So I'll grab the eyedropper and I'll bring it down here. It could just be the shadow, I mean the light in the shade and that's what's causing that. So you can quickly undo that, and now you can see the right side of the Histogram is nice and even. Come over here to the tone curve bring that out to the right so that it's nice and stretched. And really, I love pictures like this because the lights so good there's not a whole lot I need to do to this, it's almost done. I'm gonna look at cropping it now that I think about that. I think that this could be helped a bit by exaggerating just the ears, a little bit, getting getting those ears a little bit closer to the top of the frame. It's a little bit awkward in the way the neck is posed and so it looks like he's falling back this way. I like that but let's try one more thing, let's try cropping it and not having his neck, see what happens if that really looks awkward. So that's kind of interesting, it looks like it could be two zebras. So, that didn't work, but I do that occasionally. I do like that, I think if I had more time I'd probably go in with a brush and you could exaggerate those stripes just a tiny bit, all right. Maybe the eyeballs, just gonna make that a tiny bit brighter, not much. Now this is that luminance mask. I'm just gonna grab the shadows and give just a little bit of light to his eyes and add a little contrast. That would make a difference if you were looking at it very large. Now you can see a little bit of color in his eyes and so on, so I can show that right here. See the difference it made in the eye. Do you have any kind of final thoughts for us maybe they kind of close out these two days? Yeah, a whole bunch of them. First of all, thank you for sitting there and participating in this and honestly, thank everybody else for watching. I know you've sent me, again I'll mention it again, you've sent me many nice messages and thank you for that. I think in general I love teaching and the best part is when I've actually been able to teach somebody something so I hope that's happened today and I hope that you carry it with you. And if you take some of those exercises, not even all of them, I guarantee you will improve in some manner. And I have to speak to myself too, because I know that if I did all those exercises especially within a week's time I would improve as well. So when it comes down to it, really it's experience. You can learn all this stuff, but in the end, it's up to your participation and your ability to go out and practice it, you know, a lot of this stuff is overkill. You just want to go out, take some pictures and bring them back import them and look at them. That's the process and that's what it comes down to. Above all, I'll just sum it up with this. Photography is one of those things that is so easy to critique. You might hear a lot of people critique your work. In the end, don't worry about whether it's good or bad listen to as many critiques as possible. Because what you want to do is learn how to convey your ideas and thoughts and opinions through photography. When they're critiquing you, they're not critiquing your opinions, they're critiquing your ability to photograph. We all know we can all improve. So as long as you take those critiques for what they are and don't take them too personally, then you'll grow as a photographer. I hope that helps, thank you again. And again if you want to support me, it really does make a difference because I love what I do, I hope to see on one of the workshops in one of the cool places around the world. One more time what website can they go to to find out about them?, that's my last name M-U-E-N-C-H

Class Description


  • Capture great shots of landscapes and nature
  • Confidently shoot in manual mode
  • Fine-tune your eye for composition
  • Master light for landscape photography
  • Work with HDR and panoramas
  • Perfect your images with post-processing in Lightroom


Turn a spark of passion for the outdoors into beautiful landscape photography in this start-to-finish course. From gear and exposure to light and post-processing, master the landscape photography workflow with veteran artist Marc Muench. End the frustration of being unable to capture the raw beauty of nature and capture inspiring awe-inducing views on camera.

With both live instruction and on-site photography tutorials, you'll master both the technical and creative necessities for capturing better landscape images. After the adventure, learn to perfect the scene using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to crop, color and fine-tune those images. In addition, you'll tackle advanced techniques including HDR and panoramas.


  • Beginners ready to get off auto mode
  • Intermediate photographers looking to improve
  • Photographers ready to tackle landscape photography as a new genre

SOFTWARE USED: Adobe Lightroom CC 2015, Adobe Photoshop CC 2015


As a third-generation photographer, Marc Muench has spent nearly 30 years working as a landscape and sports photographer. His work has appeared on the cover of publications like Time, National Geographic, Traveler, Outside, Sierra Magazine and more. In addition to shooting, he leads photography workshops around the world. He teaches with a mix of technical and creative details and personal insight.


Jeff McPheeters

This was my first class with Creative Live and also my first exposure to landscape photographer Marc Meunch. I've been a photographer for many years, an educator in science and technical fields for more than two decades, and a lifelong learner of the craft of making photographs. I am pretty picky when it comes to educational resources and when it involves recommending something that I want to reflect my own standards of excellence. That said, I came with an open mind, with some expectation that I would learn a few tricks, but also with the understanding that after spending thousands of hours in books and online courses as well as direct workshop and tutorials from a range of photographer workshops, Adobe training, KelbyOne and other professional organizations, that some of what I'd hear would be stuff I'd already known. My first impression was positive, as I think Creative Live did a good job explaining the purpose, intent, and scope of the workshop, as well as giving me a good idea of the speaker's credentials. As the session begin on Day 1, I was immediately impressed with the quality of the technical aspects of the live feed. It was like I was there. The sound quality was outstanding. The video streamed effortlessly and I only have wireless access to the Internet. I'm not on high speed wired cable. The bandwidth can fluctuate, yet it worked extremely well. The speaker, Marc Meunch, was relaxed, engaging, professional, and possessed such a comprehensive and deep understanding of the topic that I felt extremely lucky to have been told about this workshop. I don't think I've ever been able to watch someone who was so masterful in their presentation, so thorough in their organization and outline, so enthusiastic about their work, so passionate about the craft of landscape portraiture, or so articulate and engaging with the audience; at least in the realm of Photography. I'd jump at any chance to listen to Marc Meunch again; and especially to attend one of his outdoor workshops. One of the unique aspects of this workshop was that Marc uses some video clips from his outdoor workshops to illustrate what he's talking about in the classroom. Very effective. And the slides he chooses to share are effective and easy to understand. It's very inspiring to watch Marc present ideas and illustrate them through his own work, showing before and after and alternate compositions to demonstrate the point he's making. Day 1 was so good that before it was over I'd already purchased the two day workshop. I was that certain it was worth the cost. Frankly, I'm not sure I'd find a class like this for under $100/day. This is a pretty good deal. Day 2 was equal in usefulness and inspiration as Day 1. The discussion of gear selection and scouting techniques along with the introduction to his Lightroom and Photoshop workflow was very helpful and would be especially apropos to someone getting more serious about their landscape work but not very experienced with Lightroom or Photoshop, even perhaps a little intimidated by the prospect of needing to learn those two software giants, because Marc shows the power and easy of learning them. I was pleased I was able to attend and even more pleased I can watch these over and over and study points I didn't quite grasp the first time through. I highly recommend this course. The viewer will be inspired and encouraged as a result. Marc doesn't make it look easy; rather he makes landscape photography look fun and exciting and worthy of the effort and time to find ones own style and vision, clearly imparting the practical how-to's to aid each person in their own journey to make it more enjoyable and satisfying.

a Creativelive Student

I don't like writing reviews. Seems like everyone just wants to hear that everything was... awesome. So, let me try to be specific about what I liked: I thought that the concept of the creative trinity was brilliant. I thought that Marc's presentation on composition was the best I've ever seen. His ideas on having a theme for shooting was inspiring because it was simple. He also had some great tips on light. The other thing I appreciated about Marc's presentation was the wide variety of locations shown and his knowledge of them. I also am always interested to learn more about the people that have inspired presenters. Sometimes, it feel like CL classes are aimed at the lowest experience levels. But, as someone else said in review... there is always a nugget or two and review is beneficial. I wish Marc was more animated. He's obviously very self contained and reflective -- gotta be who you are, right? I have purchased Marc's class, the Shive class, and Art Wolf's class. All have had different benefits. I wish they would do others and take complexity up a notch -- specifically, helping others understand the planning necessary... how they find reliable contacts to guide them and what those things cost. How they are transporting all the gear they carry. More specific information on permits, camping gear, dealing with adverse conditions, etc. And, more information on how they get different images of frequently photographed locations.


I happend to stumble upon the course by an email. I clicked on it and realized that Mark had come to my town (Sitka,Alaska) to do a trip with my good friend. So I thought I'd watch a bit. After awhile I realized this is good, way good. So I shot a lot of that day just eating it up. The director would come on every bit and say there was a show price. I thought well I'll just watch. Then on the second day he did some things that the announcer said he had never seen. I thought the same thing. So I bought. I have been shooting for 40 years and I still LOVE to learn. A noted psychologist said "We are happiest when we are learning" and I couldn't agree more. Thank you Creative Live for offering these courses. I live on an Island in Southeast Alaska with 14 miles of road. BUT I can be a front row student with some of the best teachers in the world. Thank You! Also a Huge thank you to Mark. It takes a ton of time to do this, and Im sure you get tired of the same questions again and again, but it truly changes the lives of us who love this type of life.