Creating a Black and White Image in RawTherapee

Issues with tags and titles aside, I am really liking RawTherapee so far as my Lightroom RAW processing replacement. I wanted to document my process for getting to a black and white photo that I like both as a tutorial of sorts, but also to document for myself how it works with RawTherapee.

RawTherapee - Converting to Black and White 1
RawTherapee – Converting to Black and White 1

I’ve activated here one of my favorite features RawTherapee has that Lightroom does not, two windows showing just a small region up close. Too often I’m stuck zooming in and out of an image to check various parts of the image as I make changes. It’s not as crucial with this image, but I just wanted to test out the feature.

So let’s start off on the Exposure Panel and look at the Exposure Compensation slider. I make a slight adjustment to the midtones. I’m going to skip adjusting the white balance, because I like how the camera did it. It seems pretty similar (to my eyes) to the real thing. Now I’m going to take a look at the contrast and saturation.

RawTherapee - Converting to Black and White 2
RawTherapee – Converting to Black and White 2

Overall, I like to get a picture I would like as a color picture before I go black and white. I’ve pushed the basil leaves a BIT too far on the saturation, but I think that’s probably going to work out good for me in black and white. There’s a bit of a highlight issue on the orange pot. I’m going to try the highlight compression slider to see if that can help with it a bit.

RawTherapee - Converting to Black and White 3
RawTherapee – Converting to Black and White 3

It does help a bit and I don’t want to overdo it as it has consequences on the whole image. So now let’s move on to the Black and White tool. I played around a bit and got this:

RawTherapee - Converting to Black and White 4
RawTherapee – Converting to Black and White 4

It may not be an awesome black and white image – I probably wouldn’t have chosen this image to convert. Optimizing for the pots, as I have, causes the leaves to somewhat blur together) But it has all the tonal qualities of a black and white image that I like and it only took me about 25 minutes including learning what the sliders do and writing up this blog post. RawTherapee gives a few ways to convert to black and white. The default was “desaturation”. Ever since I learned how to do this with old Photoshop 7, I never liked that method of black and white photos. It may suit some, but it never quite had the tonalities I liked. The method that worked best for me in RawTherapee was Chanel Mixer. This is the way I used to do it in Photoshop before Lightroom had their own weird way of doing it. I actually prefer doing it this way as it makes more sense to me. Given the composition of pots and the greens in the leaves, I found the best filter for me in this specific circumstance was a Blue-Green color filter. I’m not sure what the Before Curve is supposed to do, but I imagine it’s a way to getting around what I did in the beginning with the saturation and so on. However, I always like to use an S-curve to get the tonalities I want. The degree to which I mess with the sliders depends on the the image, of course.

And here’s the resulting JPEG.

Pots (black and white)
Pots (black and white)

Overall, this is a process I prefer to the Lightroom way of doing things. Really, with a fixed metadata process, I think it would be the perfect program for the way I think about photos. (At least so far)


Author: Eric Mesa

To find out a little more about me, see About Me