A Comparison to B&W Artisan Pro X
Is it possible to create fine art black and white photographs using only Lightroom? A few years ago I would have said, “Heck No!,” but with the masking improvements that have been added to Lightroom in the last few versions, my answer now would have to be “Maybe/It depends.” That may seem like a non-answer, but it really does depend on the specific image in question and your vision for that photograph.
In this post, I’m sharing some comparisons of photos that I originally processed in Lightroom and then decided that I needed to use Artisan Pro to realize the image I had in mind. In all of the comparisons below, the Artisan Pro image is on the left and the Lightroom version is on the right.
I was quite happy with the Ghost Ranch photo until I tried to print it; with all of the adjustments needed for print, I realized that it needed to be redone in Photoshop. However, I did find it was very challenging to achieve a result as visually pleasing on screen as the Lightroom version. In the end, I managed to get it to a point where the Artisan Pro/Photoshop version is better than the Lightroom version, but only slightly.
I think this image is an excellent example of the type of image that can be processed in a “fine art” style completely in Lightroom. The main subjects are isolated by the inherent light in the photograph, so they do not have to be isolated from the ground using hard masks. In addition, although the ridgeline creates a prominent hard separation from the sky in the middle of the photograph, the strong separation diminished toward the sides of the frame providing a smooth transition from ground to sky.
East Spanish Peak
This photo had been overlooked previously but immediately grabbed my attention when I stumbled across it recently in my image catalog. The Lightroom version is not bad, but the Artisan Pro version is so much better. I think it is the combination of the mountain being subtly brighter while the sky is subtly darker that really sets the Artisan Pro version apart.
Great Sand Dunes
Unlike the other comparisons I’ve presented so far, this image started as a standard color photo rather than infrared. I processed this image in Lightroom and was quite happy with the result, but I decided to see if it could be improved so included this image in my “Ten Photos in Ten Days” exercise. When re-processing this photo using Artisan Pro, I did not refer back to the Lightroom edit, so I was really surprised by how different this image looked when I compared them side-by-side.
In this case, the main subject, the dune, is not really different and both versions are equally good. However, everything behind the dune is different, and that makes all the difference for this photograph. In the Lightroom version, all of the background elements are bright and contrasty, while in the Artisan Pro version, these elements are darker, softer, and more subdued yet I think even more powerful in the image. I particularly like how the background dunes do not compete with the foreground and how the darker mountains provide visual separation between the foreground dune and the sky.
East Spanish Peak
These are actually two different photographs captured a few minutes apart. I originally selected the Lightroom version to be processed and only later realized that the image is slightly out of focus. The Artisan Pro image is a cropped two-frame pano and is much sharper when zoomed in. However, the rain in the Lightroom version is just touching the very summit of the mountain in full sunlight, creating a natural ethereal glow above the mountain. Sadly, in the sharper photo, the rain was not quite falling on the summit. I’m not sure the effect is prominent enough to ruin the photo, but I wish the camera had not missed focus on the later shot!
I hesitated to re-process this image with Artisan Pro-I truly did not think I could improve on the Lightroom edit. However, I took it up as a challenge to see what I could do with this photo in Artisan Pro, and I have to admit that the resulting image is better all around aside from the minor detail of missing the crucial moment. I think the light on the peak, the light and dark transitions on the front of the mountain, and the detail in the deep shadows of the foreground are all rendered better in the Artisan Pro version along with the subtleties of the rain and clouds in the sky.
West Peak Moonrise
This is the photo that originally led me to discover Artisan Pro. The Lightroom version of this photo is very nice; it is striking, but it is not the image I saw in my mind. Artisan Pro gave me a toolset and workflow to achieve that vision.
I think I used the word “subtle” to describe the Artisan Pro edits to every image presented in this post, and truly the ability to make subtle adjustments is the one key feature of Artisan Pro that elevates it above other black and white processing workflows. Looking at these photos, it seems that Lightroom can work for “busier” images in which the subject is more intertwined with surrounding elements. However, when the subject must be clearly isolated from the background or when more extreme adjustments are needed between these different elements, the Artisan Pro workflow is superior.
The Lightroom version for all five of these photographs is perfectly acceptable, but the Artisan Pro version is simply perfect.