Adobe Camera Raw is a great way to edit your RAW camera images, be that a basic edit to fix things like exposure and contrast, or if you're aiming for something a little more arty and stylised. It is available for free as part of an active Creative Cloud subscription or even with an older licensed version of compatible software like Photoshop and Lightroom.
Here, we'll take a look at how you can use Adobe Camera Raw to create a flexible Profile or Look up Table (LUT) to create dramatic black and white images.
How to Use ACR's Included B&W Profiles
Adobe recently updated Camera Raw to include several new black and white profile options. Unfortunately, unlike their preset siblings which are listed logically as landscape, high contrast, flat etc, the profiles are named B&W 01 through 12 and then B&W with a blue/green/yellow/orange/red filter. Here's a quick overview of how they work.
Go to Profiles and Browse
There’s a B&W dropdown menu, and under that you’ll see all of the black and white options available to you as standard.
This is 01-06:
It’s a bit hard to tell from small images, but when you see them on your own full size pictures you’ll notice that they’re roughly the same principle as the presets – there are ones with higher contrast, flatter matte effects, low key and high key options, and so on.
Once you’ve selected one of these you can adjust it to suit your particular image by moving the slider to increase or reduce the effect, and by further adjusting your other editing options in ACR.
You can also create your own LUT if you want something that isn’t available as standard or maybe you just want something a little more stylised, we’ll look at that now.
Creating Your Own B&W LUT in Adobe Camera RAW
Open an Image
You’ll need to open an image to work on in ACR in order to create a profile.
Edit Your Image
You’ll need to create your effect (the eventual LUT) on your image. Start by flipping your image to B&W.
Now use Basic Adjustments to create the base for your LUT – let’s go for a high contrast, low key image – lots of almost crunched blacks and bright whites. Remember, you can’t make local adjustments to your image if you’re creating a LUT, otherwise it won’t look right when applied to any other image. So think global adjustments.
You can see above the changes I’ve made, lots of contrast and lots of deep blacks. Although you can’t make local adjustments, you can still tell the LUT to treat specific colours a certain way, so head to B&W Mixer next.
Here you can tell the image how to treat specific colours in your now black and white image. Each colour can be made lighter or darker in the tonal range.
Here, I’ve again gone for changes that will result in high contrast – making blues (sky and water) lighter and greens (foliage) darker.
Add a Matte Finish
Go to the Curve panel and select Point Curve. Create a plot point along the line on each of the intersections in the middle of the graph, like this:
Now take the bottom point and pull it up until your shadows look matte:
Making the LUT
You can make more changes to your image in preparation for creating the LUT but I think this is enough to get a feel for how to create a basic black and white LUT that’s definitely more stylised than the available ACR options.
Somewhat counterintuitively, you’ll need to head to the Presets panel. There’s a folded over paper icon in the top right, which if you hover over it will say Create Preset. You don’t want to create a preset, but if you hold Alt and then click the icon, you’ll get a different pop up menu which lets you create a New Profile.
Name and Save Your LUT
You’ll need to name your profile and assign it to a group. I’ve called mine ‘ Test’ and popped it into a group called ‘ Test Group’. You’ll see that all the adjustments I’ve made appear as ticked boxes. You can choose to ‘unapply’ any of these if you want to.
Using Your LUT
If you head back to the Edit panel and go into Profiles again (via Browse), you’ll be able to see your LUT listed.
If I open up another image from the same set and apply the LUT you can see the result:
I can then make any other changes I’d like, as the LUT hasn’t moved my sliders at all as a preset/action would, so it’s a great base to start with if you have a particular look you like, or if you have images you’d like to batch process.
Unlike many actions or presets, LUTs are more versatile when it comes to applying them to completely different images. Here's the example LUT applied to an image taken in the opposite conditions from the example: bright and sunny, on a summer's day.
Learn More About Adobe Camera RAW
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