Converting Street Images to B&W

Updated: Oct 15, 2020

When we think of street photos, the first thing that comes to mind is likely a black and white image. They're what made the genre famous, and despite the rising popularity of color street photography, a monochrome image still has a little whiff of film magic about it that's hard to match in other formats. Thanks to the advent of editing software, taking our unprocessed 'digital negatives' and turning them into high-contrast B&W masterpieces is easier than editing in the darkroom, but it's still a lengthy process that requires some skill.

The original pre-editing JPEG

The first step in any editing journey is always to import your RAW or JPEG files. For this walkthrough, I'll be using the smaller JPEG format for convenience, and uploading my image into Luminar 4, my editing program of choice for B&W conversion. Prepare it for image editing by zooming in and out, checking for noise, and examining the composition. Once you're satisfied with the basics, navigate to the Saturation tool in your interface. I find it under Color in the Basics panel of Luminar, and apply the minimum setting of -100.

-100 Saturation gives the image a flat look

This gives the image a flat, dull look, as if the scene were deep in shade. It's clear that more punch needs to be added, so apply some Contrast to your image. In this case, a setting of +34 was adequate, but in your shot, more contrast may be needed. Experiment with your image until you find the look that's right for you. Although your image should already be looking much better, the maximum impact has yet to be achieved, so I add a -0.23 EV exposure correction, boost the highlights by +7, and darken the shadows by -95. A vignette of -42 rounds out the look,

The final, sharpened product

but the image is still lacking - it looks soft. I add a +100 setting to the Small Details section. In such a dark and moody photo, the negative effects of such an extreme edit are unnoticeable, and, clearly, such an edit might not work if applied to your image. It's more a lesson in experimentation. Keep trying new settings, keep using your creativity to improve your workflow, and the quality of your street photos will improve massively.

Alternative image edits: Neon, vintage, and high-key looks