How to create a Monochrome Image from a RAW file? – Part 1

How to create a Monochrome Image from a RAW file? – Part 1

This post was updated on October 31st, 2018

Table of contents



The following article series describes step-by-step how I create a monochrome image from a RAW file, on the example of this photo:

This first part of the series shows, how I do my basic post-processing to create a stunning color image from the initial RAW file.

To process this particular photo I am using:

  1. Adobe® Lightroom
  2. DxO® Nik Collection Silver Efex Pro 21
  3. Adobe® Photoshop

In many cases, you can get a long way by using Adobe® Lightroom and Silver Efex Pro, but for this particular image, I felt the need of using Adobe® Photoshop as well. You will later learn why.

Though I am using the CC versions of Adobe® Lightroom and Adobe® Photoshop, this tutorial should work from Adobe® Lightroom version 4 and with and photo editing software that supports layers like Adobe® Photoshop Elements or Gimp.


I have copied my photo from my memory card to my external hard drive and have created several backups of the original photo on other hard drives and in an online backup solution. Afterward, I imported the photo into Adobe® Lightroom from one of the hard drives using the Add menu choice. This ensures that no new copy of the file is created, but Adobe® Lightroom creates a link to the photo on the chosen drive.
Important to remember: Adobe® Lightroom does not store any photos. It stores links to files on hard drives. If you delete the file from your drive Adobe® Lightroom cannot rescue your photo for you!

Basic post-processing in Adobe® Lightroom

Before I convert my photo into a monochrome image, I am going through all the steps of post-processing as I would for any color photo. For me, this is usually the easier way of post-processing, as I get a working color version of my image before I am trying to create a monochrome version.

Camera calibration

Adobe® Lightroom applies an Adobe® Standard calibration to every imported photo, unless specified differently. However, every camera model comes with its own color settings applied to the RAW file. By these settings, I do not mean the color modes you can choose in your camera menu, but color settings that derive from how the hardware of your camera is set up. While Adobe Standard might give you a decent first idea, I hardly ever use it as I find the colors not true enough to what I have seen when I took the image. Therefore my first step – if not applied on import already – is always to open the Develop Module and scroll down on the right side to got to the Camera Calibration Panel.

From the list-menu I am choosing a calibration profile specific to my camera. In this case, Adobe® does not offer one for the Pentax K-3, which I am using. So I had to buy one or create one myself.

Straight out of Camera versus Applied Camera Calibration
Straight out of Camera
Camera Calibration Applied


This tiny change already affects my photo. If you move the slider all the way to the right you see the RAW file as it was imported with the Adobe Standard Camera Calibration. If you move it all the way to the left, you see how it looks after I applied my camera specific calibration.

Lens Corrections

The Lens Correction Panel allows me to automatically remove chromatic aberrations, based on the lens that I have used taking the photograph. Chromatic aberrations are red, green or purple colors on the edges of elements in the photo. These can occur if the contrast between two elements – such as, the sky and the edge of the mountain – is high. If there is no chromatic aberration in the photo, Adobe® Lightroom will remove none. So it does not hurt to enable the lens calibration. In some cases Adobe® Lightroom might not be able to remove all the aberrations, in that case using the sliders from the Manual tab can be helpful.

As you can see in the last image of the Lens Correction Panel, Adobe® Lightroom has recognized my lens and is applying a standard profile for this particular lens to the photo.
After applying both the Lens Corrections and the Camera calibration for my camera and lens, the resulting photo looks like this:

Basic Panel Settings in Adobe® Lightroom

In the next few steps, I will apply some settings from the Basic Panel. This to make sure that the photo looks its best before I start the conversion to monochrome. These are also the settings, that I change when I do my standard post-processing for color images.
My settings in the Basic Panel before I have applied any changes to it look like this:

Black Point

Most images contain at least one spot of true black. Sometimes it is enough to apply the previous settings, sometimes like in this case, it enhances the photo if the Black slider is used to darken or lighten an image. In order to activate an area of true black, I could manually move the slider or enter negative or positive numbers. But Adobe® Lightroom comes with a great shortcut: by pressing the Shift key and simultaneously double-clicking on the word Black in the Basic Panel. For very dark photos this shortcut can lead to drowned shadows, but of course the setting can be adjusted manually to your own liking.


The result looks like this:

White Point

Most photos also contain at least one spot of true white. To adjust the whites in a photo, the white slider in the Basic Panel is used. Both, the Black and the White slider, are useful when the Histogram shows some clipping in the dark/light areas of an image. The shortcut from the Black slider works the same way for the White slider, except of course I am not double-clicking on the word Black but on the word White.

The resulting image looks like this:

Shadow adjustments

Changing the blacks has an effect on the shadows in the image. Occasionally they get too dark, sometimes, they will still not be dark enough. I am adjusting the Shadows slider to further improve my image. Again the shortcut of holding the Shift-key while double-clicking on the word Shadows leads to an automatic adjustment made by Adobe® Lightroom, which in many cases is perfect. In some cases minor adjustments are necessary.

In this case the value for White and Shadows is close to equal, this, however, is a coincidence and not a general rule.

Highlight adjustments

Similar to the shadows, the changes I have made with the White slider can have an effect on the highlights in my photo. To counteract these changes I am adjusting the Highlight settings. And you may have guessed it already: the same shortcut as before works here as well.

The result looks like this:

Of course, I could leave it at this, but I have learned that changing the Clarity and Vibrance enhances my images further.

Clarity adjustments

The Clarity slider can enhance details and structures in an image. So far, I haven’t found a photo where it hasn’t improved the image much. For this slider, there is no shortcut. Of course I could just enter a number and pretend to be happy with it, but usually, I am moving the slider force and back until I find the setting that I like the most.

Vibrance adjustments

The Vibrance slider only affects dull colors and does not affect skin tones at all, while the Saturation slider applies enhancements to all colors. Using the Saturation slider to enhance colors therefore often leads to an artificial effect, that is not really useful. The slider is, however, helpful to convert a photo to a monochrome or to detect color casts.

Checking the histogram

With all these changes applied to my image, I am checking my histogram to see if there are any dark or light areas that are lost now.

On the left — the dark — side of the histogram I can see that some areas might be a bit too dark. Clicking on the top left arrow in the histogram box will mark these areas in blue in my image.

The marked areas are neither very large nor significant to my image. Playing a bit with the Highlights slider will remove these clippings, but in this case, it does not enhance my image. I am satisfied with the results that I have from the post-processing including the Vibrancy settings.

Figure 23: Out of Camera and finished LR processing

I have now created my color version of my photo. I am going to show how to convert this into a beautiful monochrome image in the next part of this article series on March 9, 2018.
How is your post-processing process? Has this article helped you along the way? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.


1Silver Efex Pro2 belongs to the Nik Collection, which recently has been bought by DxO. A free download is available here and a new version is supposedly released mid-2018. Back to top

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.

All photos were taken by Lille Ulven photography.

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