Leica Monochrom Workflow

April 2, 2013 — 5 Comments

The Leica M Monochrom is, for me personally, the best camera I have used. It captures an inspiring dynamic range, ISO and noise is simply not a concern anymore and images are sharp. I do, however, shoot with all capture settings off; no sharpening, tonal correction, etc. And, just as Ansel locked him self away in the dark room, I intend to photoshop all images and this means, out of the camera, the images are lack lustre. As you can see below.

The images below are split – neutral on the left and processed on the right.

I selected the entire frame for this first image, so no edge cropping or rotation.

L1000953 Compare

The following image was rotated slightly and cropped in, but you can still see the neutral left and processed right sides of the frame.

L1000903 Compare


I should probably be clear on one thing, I tolerate the post process portion of image creation. It’s certainly not my favourite part of the process, so I am not adverse to use of filter packages – for time saved vs results vs cost they are great value.

Correct the exposure in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR).

My images are all captured and processed in a similar fashion.

In ACR, I’m after an even exposure, relatively low contrast and save the highlights. At the bottom of the ACR window are the image attributes that will translate to Photoshop. I use sRGB – my camera’s colour space is sRGB – for colour space and 16bit.

Open in Photoshop

Identify the primary horizontal or vertical line in the image. If none is available for use with the Ruler Tool, then rotate by eye – Select All > Edit > Transform > Rotate. And crop.

Silver Efex Pro 2

I have come up through the ranks of manipulating images. I know how to convert an image to monochrome and how to boost contrast and manipulate portions of the image. This prior knowledge is extremely useful in knowing how to achieve what I want in Silver Efex 2 quickly, but this ‘apprenticeship’ of manually adjusting images isn’t a pre requisite. You’ll do just fine with Silver Efex from the get go!

Usually a single filter is required. My favourite filters are Modern Full Dynamic, both Harsh and Smooth, Classic High Structure and Vintage Noir 1. Start with tweaking the Structure to about 50%, Contrast around 30%, then go from there.

For both of these images I employed the Modern Full Dynamic Harsh for the base filter.

I will usually add a contrast boosting layer, using a low contrast filter (in Silver Efex) and setting it’s blend mode to Soft Light, somewhere around 20% opacity. It’s just a final tweak to the tones.

There’s always a but though! For the street scene, I mask selected the bushes to the left and used an alternate filter to bring out the textures and lighter tones. In addition, I mask selected the hazy country side in the distance and used yet another filter with a high structure.

For the canal scene, well, I always use an additional high structure and contrast filter for water. Water should appear to be a different substance in images and being so reflective requires high contrast. Set this layer’s blend mode to Soft Light with an opacity around 50%+

Sharpen before resize

Before sharpening, flatten the image’s layers and confirm that Layer > Flatten Image is not selectable. This is likely a result of the rotating process earlier on.

Images, incorrectly sharpened, will have artefacts. ‘Jaggies’ are the most common and you can USM all you like, it looks unnatural!

I use the High Pass filter. Monochrom images are pretty sharp anyway, other cameras require a more liberal ‘dollop’ of sharpening.

Duplicate the image layer. Select the new layer and Filter > Other > High Pass…

My images require only 1.0, but others as much as 3.0. Subsequently, set this layer’s blend mode to Overlay and the opacity to around 60%.

Flatten the image again.

Now we can resize for the internet and ensure you do, no free large images unless you have already thought to do so! When saving as jpeg, don’t compress; save the best version you can.

And that’s how I process Monochrom files. Each image takes me about 2 minutes, but remember that no amount of photoshop will save a poor composition or poorly exposed image. Ensure the capture is super correct.

I hope this is useful – too many photographers hide their workflow as a guarded secret that will unravel them as photographers if revealed. The images will speak for themselves.



5 responses to Leica Monochrom Workflow


    I define colour as black and white. Thanks for the invaluable info about digital B&W. I recently bought a super duper digital camy but after 8 mths I was about to go back to film and use my old trusty Rolleiflex 6×6.


    Thanks for this blog. I am also a photographer who uses Canon DSLRs for years. I am serious considering getting the MM because I am increasing more “noir” in my photos. This helps to understand more about post processing.


    Thanks for the information, outstanding workflow with great detail. Just converted one from the M9P and sure makes a difference. Trying a Monochrom soon !!


    Excellent file processing tips! Very helpful and much appreciated as most people guard their work flow like its Fort Knox. Thank you for sharing!

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. How To Process Leica M Monochrom Files (follow up) « The Stormtroopers Are Coming! - September 3, 2013

    […] I’ve already written a piece on how I process images from the Monochrom and here you can find Leica Monochrom Workflow. […]

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