Creating Dramatic Black and White Photos Using Curves and HSL Sliders

Ever wanted to achieve the punchy and dramatic black and white photos you see all over Instagram? Knowing how to tweak the HSL Sliders will help!

Among the most popular and eye-catching styles for black and white photography is the punchy and dramatic look. If creating monochrome photos this way has been your goal, but you have no idea how to achieve it, we have just the tutorial for you. UK-based photographer Sean Tucker has a helpful video showing how to use the HSL sliders to edit your color photos — even with your smartphone!

Sean was often asked about how he processes his black and white images for Instagram, so he thought about sharing a basic technique he uses with an iOS app called Darkroom. One thing to keep in mind: Sean made this video primarily for those who shoot in JPEG or work with JPEG images — like those who mostly use their smartphone cameras or are just starting out with DSLR or mirrorless cameras. If you shoot in RAW, you would still retain all the color information so you can have both a color and black and white version of the image.

His choice to use the Darkroom app is attributed to two things: the Curves and the HSL (Hue, Saturation, Luminance) sliders. The first lets you tweak the tonal range of your image, divided into blacks, shadows, midtones, highlights, and whites. The second lets you work with the color information within your photos and adjust the warm and cool tones to lighten or darken certain parts of the image in black and white.

First, he shows us how to achieve the contrasty monochrome look by deepening the shadows and pulling up the highlights. As he mentioned, there’s no hard and fast rule, but creating an S curve with the highlights and midtones up and the shadows down will give you contrast. Sean also demonstrated how to create a vintage look by flattening down the whites, highlights, and pulling up a little bit of the blacks.

As for the HSL sliders, we see how we can darken or lighten the warmer and cooler tones to create a dramatic black and white look. This technique borrows the filters approach for black and white film photography, where colored filters are used to alter the look of certain elements in the image (i.e. darkening the sky with a deep red filter). Pair this with the Curves technique and you have a really punchy black and white look.

You can use this technique for any app or software that has the Curves and HSL slider functions. If you’re an Android user, your options include Snapseed and Lightroom Mobile.

Do check out Sean Tucker’s YouTube channel for more of his photography tips and tricks.


Screenshot image from the video