The B&W Panel and Color Filters

The B&W Panel and Color Filters

This post was updated on October 25th, 2019

Adobe ® Lightroom’s Develop Module explained

In this article we work our way through the B&W Panel and Color Filters for Monochrome photos. First, we explore how to convert to Black and White and improve the results. Later we have a look at the different color filters for Monochrome photos.  

The B&W Panel 

Up to the April 2018 version of Adobe ® Lightroom Classic CC, the B&W Panel was always visible as part of the HSL/Color Panel, which we examined here. With the different Profiles now accessible in the Basic Panel, the B&W Panel gained its independence. However, where is it, when you open a color photo?  

The B&W Panel and Color Filters in Adobe ® Lightroom
Color photo with the Right Panel of Adobe ® Lightroom

As you can see in the figure above, it is not there. As this is a color image, there is no reason for you to have a B&W Panel accessible. So the first step, to access the Panel is to convert the photo into a Black and White picture. You do so by using a B&W profile of the Basic Panel, or by clicking on Black & White in the Treatment section of the Basic Panel. Let’s take the easy way for now and change the treatment to Black and White. 

Using the B&W Panel for monochrome images
Black and White with the Right Panel of Adobe ® Lightroom

Et voilà not only did the Profile change to Adobe Monochrome, but the B&W Panel replaces the HSL/Color Panel. 

A first look into the B&W Panel. 

Black & White Panel

Once again you have a Target Adjustment Tool in the upper left corner. New to this panel is the Auto button, which the HSL/Color Panels did not contain. The Auto button tells Adobe ® Lightroom to come up with a suggestion on how to process your photo. Of course, you can adjust these afterward to your liking.

You also find color sliders, which may come as a surprise, given that you are working on a monochrome image. Each of the sliders acts on the areas in the photo that – in the original color version – contain the named color. Moving them to the left darkens the region, moving them to the right, brightens it.

Different settings for Monochrome conversions

Do you remember the color Octagon from the last article?
Here it is again. 

The Wheel of Color
Color/Hue Octagon

Now let’s use the Adobe Monochrome Profile on it and the initial settings of the BW Panel. 

A monochrome version of the Wheel of color
Adobe ® Monochrome Profile

Are you be able to tell which grey belongs to which of the eight original colors? Without looking at the color version of the Octagon? Maybe you would, because you remember the color’s positions. However, if you have a closer look, you see that some grays are very similar if not even the same. A common problem of similar grey tones exists for green and blue tones. However, you would not want your sky to reassemble the grass on the hilltop as it would make it difficult to separate the two areas from each other.

Using a filter during the exposure could prevent this from happening. If you were to discover this first at the moment when you are post-processing your photo, this is not a solution. Careful dodging and burning specific areas in the photo could help you solve the problem. It seems easier though, to be able to make such adjustments based on the original colors in the image. 

So let’s have a look what the extremes of the sliders look like in the monochrome version. 

All Sliders moved to the left
Initial Settings
All sliders are moved to the right

As you see in the middle image, the former blue and green areas are quite similar. They are, also similar when you move both sliders to the same side. However, brightening the greens and darkening the blues can make a significant difference. 

Blue and Green slider moved to opposite directions

We are going to use this idea in the following examples of photo conversions to monochrome. 

 Examples of Monochrome conversions

To keep things simple, I use the same photo as a base for all the following conversions. 

Color example to be converted to Monochrome with the B&W Panel of Adobe ® Lightroom
Alexander Nevski Cathedral, Sofia

The first step for the following conversions is to change the Profile in the Basic Panel to Adobe Monochrome. This adaption results in a monochrome representation looking like the following image. 

Initial Monochrome conversion to be improved by using the B&W Panel's settings
Initial Monochrome Conversion

Let’s dive into the BW Panel and have a look at how we can improve this photo.

What I like in this photo is that the sunlight is visible on the eastern wall of the church. I am, however, not too fond of the sky’s grey in comparison to some of the domes of the church. In my opinion, they are a little too similar to the sky. The tree’s trunk could easily be a little brighter to get some more visible detail. However, its original color is already a grey tone, so we are unable to address this with the BW sliders. Brightening the tree trunk is a job for the brush tool. 

Adobe Monochrome Profile and the Auto Settings of the BW Panel 

Can the Auto Settings address the problem without losing the light on the church’s wall? Let’s give it a go. 

Auto Settings

As you can see the Auto Setting makes changes to every slider of the BW Panel. It brightens some grey tones, like the blue in the sky. And it darkens others, like the greens in the leaves and the lower dome’s roofs of the cathedral. 

Auto Settings of the B&W Panel
Monochrome with Auto Settings

In this conversion, I do not like the brightened sky and the darkened domes. In my opinion, it removes the luster effect off the dome’s roofs and makes them look sort of matte. The eastern wall’s sunshine effect is also almost erased, by the darkening of the yellows and oranges. I am not satisfied with this result, and I would have preferred a different look.  

Adobe Monochrome Profile with manual adjustments 

Let’s see what we can do manually to achieve a look that is more in line with the look that I desire. I am going to use the TAT tool to address the areas that I want to change — starting with the greens and the blues. I want to achieve the opposite effect from what the Auto adjustments did. Brightening the greens brings back some detail in the leaves of the trees. If I darken the sky additionally, it should stand out against the roof of the cathedral. 

Manual Settings

 Something like this would be not too bad. 

Manual settings made to the B&W Panel
Monochrome conversion with manual adjustments

However, looking closely, I can spot a white line between the roof of the central dome and the sky. This line is best to spot in the enlarged version of the image.

White lines between elements in a photo can indicate over-processing.

So, what if I also change some of the yellows to avoid the white lines?

Adjustments to fix the over-processing

 When you compare the settings of the overdone version with this one, you see that I am no longer darkening the blues as much as before. I am also brightening the yellow-grey tones, to maintain some difference between the grey tone of dome’s roof and the one of the sky. 

Fixing problems of over-processing with the B&W Panel
Fixed the over-processing

Comparing this version to the version created by the Auto Settings, I am satisfied with the results. The dome’s roofs keep their shiny effect, and the eastern side of the cathedral is visibly sunlit. A little more detail in the tree trunk would not hurt though. Therefore I am applying the brush tool only to the tree trunk, brightening the shadows just a little bit. 

Brush Tool Settings

The tree trunk is in the shade, so overdoing it would make the image seem unrealistic. 

Final monochrome version created with the B&W Panel and the Brush Tool

What do you think? Is this a satisfying result or would you have done more? 

Of course, you don’t need to stick to the Adobe Monochrome profile for Monochrome conversions. There are 13 different versions of implemented grey tone adjustments. Additionally, you find some conversions using color filters too.

Wait, color filters for Black and White? Let’s have a look. 

Color filters for Black and Whites

Color filters for Black and White photography have been used back in the days when there were no digital cameras. Standard Black and White films are sensitive to all wavelengths of the light. However, they might not reproduce the grays in the exact way you would envision it at the time of taking the exposure. Color filters can help solve these problems. They change how the film is going to respond to the different colors of the light. 

How do color filters work in Black and White Photography? 

Color filters in Black and White Photography darken the color opposite to their color on the color wheel and brighten their own.  

So how does this look on our wheel of color then? 

 The following monochrome examples are all created with the Adobe ® Lightroom color filter profiles for Black and White. 

Monochrome without Filters

Yellow filters 

These darken the blues; they lighten greens, reds, oranges, and yellows. The results include a better representation of the foliage, more natural skin tones, and a darkened sky – which makes clouds stand out more. Additionally, they have a dehazing effect. 

Yellow Filter applied

Orange filters 

They darken the blue tones even more than the yellow filters. Using this filter leads to an enhanced contrast between the clouds and the sky. As well as the yellow filter orange filters have a dehazing effect. Orange filters work very good for flower photography. As they tend to separate the grey tone of the blossom from greys of the surrounding foliage. In Portrait photography these filters help to achieve a healthier skin tone, and they remove freckles and blemishes to a degree. 

Orange Filter applied

Red filters 

Red filters can convert the blue to a black sky as if you were in the middle of a thunderstorm. Using them on a skyscraper photo can give some dramatic results. Reds in the image get brighter, which can lead to a red object becoming white in the monochrome version. Once again a filter that works well for flowers and it has a dehazing effect. 

Red Filter applied

Green filters 

Green filters are the to go to filters for foliage photography in Black and White, as they lighten the green foliage. Leaves are often very dark green, which renders to almost black in monochrome images. By using a green filter, you can brighten up all greens without overexposing everything else. In tungsten or natural light, a green filter can help to achieve natural skin tones in Portrait photography as well. 

Green Filter applied

Blue filters 

Blue filters are mood-adding-filters, because they can increase the effect of haze and fog while lightening the blues. They darken yellow, orange and red tones. Blue filters are not very often used in black and white photography though.

Blue Filter applied

Color filters in Adobe ® Lightroom 

You can find these filters in the profile panel of the Basic Module.  The differences between the yellow and red filter effects are subtle though unless you set different amount values.

Let us have a look at the different outcomes on the photo that we have worked on so far. 

Color version
Using the B&W Panel and Color Filters for a monochrome conversion - Yellow Filter
Yellow Filter
Using the B&W Panel and Color Filters for monochrome conversions - Orange Filter
Orange Filter
Improving monochrome conversions with the B&W Panel and Color Filters - Red filter
Red Filter
Monochrome conversions improved by the sliders of the B&W Panel and Color Filters
Green Filter
Improving Monochrome conversions with the B&W Panel and Color Filters
Blue Filter

The differences are subtle. However, even in the days of analog photography, there were filters of the same colors but different strengths. So how would the Nevski Cathedral look with a yellow filter and an amount of 200? 

B&W Panel and Color Filters used for Monochrome Conversions
Alexander Nevski Cathedral with Yellow Filter, amount +200

Using a red filter with the same amount on this photo, and it shows signs of over-processing. 

Improving Monochrome conversions with the B&W Panel and Color Filters
Alexander Nevski Cathedral with Red filter, amount +200

Since I would like to see that dramatic sky effect that the red filter can have, I give it a try with another photo.  

Using Color Filters for Monochrome conversions
Seattle Skyline in color
Color Filters and Monochrome conversions
Seattle Skyline with a Red Filter, amount +200

So as with most things, what amount you use is your artistic choice. However, using a too strong filter and you might ruin your image.

All trademarks and copyrighted items mentioned are the property of their respective owners.

I am in no way affiliated with any of the products used in this post-processing process. I do not receive any kind of compensation for this article, it was neither offered or asked for.


All photos taken by Lille Ulven Photography.

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