Review: Totally Rad Lightroom Black & White Presets Produce Glorious Images

A Review of Doug Boutwell’s Totally Rad Black & White Lightroom Presets – Number 2 in a Series of 4 Reviews.

FIRST A BRIEF RECAP:

As I mentioned in my last post/review, New Lightroom Presets From Totally Rad Really Deliver, I recently received the new Totally Rad Lightroom Presets. These presets are offered by Doug Boutwell over at Totally Rad with four different categories – Basics, Black & White, Effects, and Vignettes & Toning.

My first review covered the Basics portion and this review will focus on the Black & White section.

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GROUND RULES:

For this review, I will demonstrate the differing results between using the Basics to create a foundation for the Black & White, and using the Black & White presets alone. All images in this post were taken by me, and are straight out of the camera. I did some basic Lightroom touch up, such as spot/blemish retouching and skin smoothing, but NO exposure, color correction/enhancement etc.

METHODS:

Much like my earlier review, I clicked. A lot. Paid attention to the different results and made note of which combinations I liked best. Then I wrote it all down in my favorite Wonder Woman notebook.

IMAGES:

I started with an image taken in VERY dim natural light with my Nikon D700 set to a very high ISO. ISO 4000 to be exact. I used a Nikon 85mm f/1.8 lens set to f/2.8.  The resulting image was lovely and very ‘grainy’. Here it is basically out of camera, cropped and with a bit of skin smoothing:

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I started with the Basics and used A Beginning/Lite and Auto/Contrast. I was tempted to just stop at this point. The resulting image is so appealingly delicate and ethereal. I learned from many long years spent in a communal darkroom that exposure is in the eye of the beholder. I usually like my images on the super-saturated side. But I can also fully appreciate the beauty of an image printed to the lighter, more delicate side of exposure and color balance.

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Since this review is focusing on the Black & White section of Totally Rad’s Lightroom Presets, I wanted to create an image with a ‘real’ black and white feel. I used the Riot Juice* preset and it hit the target spot on. Notice the beautiful, soft skin tones with their ‘creamy’ feel. It reminds me of one of my favorite types of film, the chromogenic film Ilford HP5. It was known for it wide exposure latitude, and exceptionally fine grain from which beautiful prints with particularly lovely skin tones could be produced:

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Here is the same image, straight out of camera, no Basics presets used and ONLY the BW/Riot Juice preset. As you can clearly see, the Black & White presets work best building on a foundation created with the Basics. This image is under exposed and very flat or low contrast:

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The next image is architectural. That is where a strongly graphical image can really shine in black and white. This image, taken straight out of camera, was taken with a point and shoot Canon PowerShot A590IS:

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I started working with the Basics; Auto/Contrast, Auto/Exposure, Auto/Shadows & Blacks, Brightside/Strong and Smack My Pix Up/Strong to create this:

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Once again, this was a tempting place to stop. The image has already been greatly enhanced well above and beyond your ‘typical’ point and shoot fare. However, I really wanted to see it in black and white. I layered the BW/Grey Matter preset over the Basics presets to create a stunningly graphical architectural shot which makes me think of the great building era in America during the 1930s:

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Here is the same photo straight out of camera and using only the BW/Grey Matter preset. Once again, it is clear the Basics presets really create a strong foundation to build on, as this image is not as strong as the one above:

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My last image is from a personal project I shot in the studio. Here it is straight out of the camera with some spot/blemish touch up and skin smoothing:

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I started with the Basics; Auto/White Balance and Electric Skies/Lite. Stunning. Simple perfection. There is nothing about this image I would not proudly either display, sell to the client or use in my portfolio:

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There were so many GREAT options in black and white for this image. All three of the images below are different and I’ll tell you what I like about each effect. In the first one, I used the BW/Great White preset. This is a fantastic dramatic effect. Notice how the light falls off at the edge of her face. There is still good separation between subject and background, yet the blacks are deep and velvety. As important, the highlights also have good detail and aren’t blown. Her face is front and center and those eyes are really highlighted:

#1

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In this next version I layered BW/Great White with the BW/Concrete Jungle preset. This one is darker and moodier, yet the subject is still separated well from the background and good detail still found in the shadows and highlights:

#2

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Below I once again used the BW/Great White preset, but this time I layered it with BW/Riot Juice. The results are between the first two. The shadows are not as deep as in version #2, nor are the highlights as dramatic as in #1. It is a good, solid black and white image with velvety blacks, creamy highlights and the subject is well separated from the background:

#3

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My favorite? Number one.

The Black & White presets have a number of ‘warmer’ effects as well. I usually prefer my black and white straight up, but do sometimes avail myself of other ‘toning’ options. Here is our lovely Miss using a combination of BW/Great White and the BW/Bodie preset set to Lite. This is a fairly close approximation of what an image shot with low key lighting then sepia toned would look like:

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PROS-

Using the Basics in combination with the Black & White presets, it is not only easy, but FUN to create absolutely stunning black and white images. There’s not a lot of guess or grunt work, just click, watch and decide which effect you like best. I particularly like the results towards the darker end of the spectrum and feel these presets are extremely well suited for either architectural and landscape images.

CONS-

I found it impossible to get good results for skin tones in the dark olive category. As you can see, my examples were of a fair-skinned child and a dark-skinned black woman. I tried to work with some images of a pair of Indian sisters and an Indian man. I was not pleased with the results. That said, I acknowledge I always find it difficult to get good black and whites of people with olive or sallow skin. Perhaps I was hoping for a ‘magic button’ that could erase this problem with one click of the mouse. Nope. So I don’t think I can hold Doug Boutwell personally accountable for my failure in this area.

I would also like to see more straightforward black and white presets and less of what I consider to be ‘trendy’ and strange warm and brown effects. That is simply a personal preference on my part, as really good black & white digital conversions are still one of the trickiest feats to achieve.

CONCLUSION-

Overall, a powerful tool to have in your toolbox. Totally Rad Lightroom Presets work very well in combination with each other, as a set of ANYTHING should. I know I will be using the Basics and the Black & White presets often. They are a fast and easy way to streamline work flow and used in combination with other Lightroom adjustments, can help round out a complete image post processing system.

Review: Totally Rad's RadLab software makes photo editing simple and easy.

My next review will focus on the Effects presets in this set. If you are interested in reading more, check out these articles:

Review: New Lightroom Presets From Totally Rad Really Deliver

Review: New Totally Rad Lightroom ‘Effects’ Add Visual Interest to Photographs

Review: Totally Rad Lightroom Presets Total Package

Low Key Lighting Tutorial

Photographing Young Children With Low-Key Lighting

Black & White Conversions Using Lightroom and Photoshop

*Don’t you just love Mr. Boutwell’s way with words?

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2 comments

  1. Good article! I’ve added you to my Lightroom Links page: http://bit.ly/4XuaXE

    Mike.

  2. deborahwolfe says:

    Thanks Mike! Much appreciated. Nice resource site you’ve got : )