Workflow for creating dramatic black & white photos

Does anyone have a good workflow or guide for creating “dramatic” black & white images? I am not sure exactly how to describe this, so here are some pictures I found online which capture this look:


  • seven:


When I try to convert a RAW that I have processed with darktable to black & white, it often seems flat and doesn’t have the dramatic look that these photos have. I think part of this is I need to focus on having deep blacks in the image which provides more contrast than more of a gray look to the picture. I’d appreciate any guidance on how to do this, including any capture advice (in addition to post processing).


Try a seach for darktable freaky details. A random hit:

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We have an article on freaky details and threads that have discussed or referred to that style.

darktable 2.0.0 - just two modules. Brilliant!

As a staring point, turn black&white using color zones, add quite a bit of local contrast (modules local contrast (surprise) or contrast equaliser (clarity presets)), and then adjust shadows/highlights (tone equaliser). Then adjust the histogram (filmic rgb and exposition) so you have white whites and black blacks.

The trick is to occupy the whole dynamic range, with lots of local contrast for details, and global contrast.

It’s all about contrast which is what leads the eye in B&W photographs.


Definitely. And, from the first post, crispiness in the blacks is where drama happens. To that end, a filmic curve with good control of its toe is the right tool to finesse that. That said, I often use a control-point curve in lieu of filmic, and slew the curve in ways that color images won’t tolerate…

I started as a monochrome photographer with film in the '70s, and I continue to mess with it in digital now. Certain subjects respond well to the treatment, particularly ones with interesting textures. Note that ‘texture’ doesn’t necessarily imply varigated; planished iron in the right light provides a profound monochromatic gradient. All the compositional elements and concepts come into play, surrounding textures with context.

I’ve found that control over the act of grayscaling a color image to be useful. Essentially, its the arrival at a tone from the luminance contributions of the three channels, R, G, and B, so having interesting colors is important to the process. I’ll sometimes add ludicrous color saturation prior to the grayscale operation to use certain colors to advantage.

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See tutorials about the Dragan Effect.


Never thought that this was that nice of an effect, but I have to admit that it might be really nice to incorporate, or use as base, for a B&W/Monochrome edit.

Thanks for the guidance - I think both Freaky Details and the Dragan Effect match what I was looking for regarding the last couple of images.

However, there appears to be a different technique used for these images:

They don’t have the exaggerated detail contrast that the last two have; they look more realistic but still very striking. How can I achieve this effect? Just use tone equalizer to make the shadows a darker black? When using filmic, I’ve found that adjusting black relative exposure results in the shadows remaining gray, even at the far end of the slider.

Feels reminiscent of split toning but with grey tones.

Wow looks very impressive.

If you look for a more natural appearence, I would try the freaky details filter as described by @patdavid (see post above by @afre) . Just limit the amount of blurring.
I used this kind of filter in a subtle way for example on this portait to get more sharpeness for the eyes, beard, scarf and hair.


Looking at the faces, I’m pretty sure that channel mixer (color calibration module in darktable) was used here to mimic color filters for black and white shots. When creating the black and white version, the red color channel was lightened and the green and blue channels were darkened.

Here is an example from me. Initial photo (exposure correction only)…

…and result (after using color calibration module and local contrast module):

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Separating the channels shows you where the details (and noise) lie.

R, G, B

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Hello, and congratulation for the stunning pictures, to accentuate the contrasts while darkening the shadows I’d try :

  • using dehaze tool (optionaly with a parametric mask to select areas affected by luminance)
  • using local contrast with the reverse multiply modifier ( as shown in @s7habo tutorials on contrast enhancements)

The more interesting way is I guess channel mixer as @s7habo suggest or color lookup table if you want to be more selective.

Very interesting topic, I’m looking forward to see results and discover new tricks !

Thanks for posting this example! How are you performing the black and white conversion? Using a second instance of color calibration and then just adjusting the grey tab until it looks good?

Moreover, I remember reading that it’s important to keep the sum of the adjustments of these 3 sliders (on any tab) to 1.0 (or maybe using the normalize channels checkbox achieves the same effect)?

local contrast has no reverse multi option. Just for fun I tried this one with basic adjust, local contrast (no blending) and a little contrast eq sharpening.



There are new scene referred blend modi.

Now I found it :wink:

I don’t have a specific order. It depends on the photo. Not all photos are suitable for black and white conversion.

I first process the photo in color and then see if the main subject stands out well from the background by its color or brightness. Then I adjust the color and/or brightness accordingly to be able to get good conversion to black and white.

If I use color calibration for this sometimes only one instance is enough, if not then two or more. There are also no rules.

Sometimes just gray mode but sometimes brightness too.

I would not be so much frightened by the rules. They are there to warn you that if you use the module “wrong” you might run the risk of creating the unwanted artifacts. But, you see the result - if it is right then the rules don’t matter.

I sometimes use multiple instances of filmic (sometimes with masks and blend modes) to get interesting results. :wink: