Why would you choose black and white photography? Perhaps it’s because of black and white photos’ classical elegance. The simplicity of a black and white portrait can be alluring in its beauty. Or maybe it is because the absence of color in a black and white image compels you to focus on its other elements: the story, contrast, textures, shape and form. Color can sometimes be a distraction; with b&w photography, you can drive the focus more clearly. The sparsity of black and white photography can be daunting, leaving you with very little room to hide. But if you would like to learn how to take a black and white photo, we’ve put together this guide for you.
There’s absolutely no reason why you should need to switch cameras or lenses to shoot black and white photos. What’s important is that you have an editing software that puts you in control of converting your images from color to black and white. Ideally, you should shoot in Raw format, too. This preserves as much information as possible in each photo, giving you superior flexibility when it comes to post-processing.
Some DSLRs have the option to let you shoot in black and white, and some cameras are designed for shooting purely in black and white, much like using black and white film in an analog camera. However, you don’t need any of this to take black and white photos. If you do decide to use a specifically black and white camera or film, you will need to use filters with it to achieve contrast and tone in your images. You’ll still need filters if you shoot in color and then convert to black and white in post-processing, but those filters will be there in your editing suite. You won’t need to attach physical filters to your lens! We’ll look at the importance of filters a little later.
Tips for Black and White Photography
When taking black and white photos, concentrate on the following 7 points to capture images that will really speak to your audience.
1. Aim for Contrast
A strong element of contrast will help your black and white photo stand out to your audience. Without it, you might find that your b&w images appear dull or flat. By looking for bright whites against deep blacks, you will induce dynamism and give interest to your shots.
2. Look to the Shadows
With a black and white image, your shadows are no longer just a darker area of your image that adds depth to it. Shadows can be the very essence or focus of a black and white photo. You might well find that a shadow in a black and white image is a central compositional element. Think carefully about where shadows will fall and how they will appear in a black and white photo. They might give an image a stark abruptness or a more subtle intensity.
3. Feel for Textures.
Without the distraction of color, textures can appear more pronounced in a b&w photo. This can obviously help add depth to your photos. Still, you might also want to be aware of it in case it becomes overwhelming, as textures can strongly impact a photo’s mood. Rough or smooth; regular or irregular: they make people feel things. If you need to control the appearance of textures in a shot, remember: side lighting will help enhance textures, while frontal lighting is usually flatter.
4. Black and White Strengthens Shapes.
Without color, shape becomes a dominant feature within your image; they become how someone will recognize it. Physical objects will always give rise to forms within a shot, but don’t forget that contrast and light and shadow create their own shapes. With a black and white photo, you are looking not only for shape in physical form but also in the abstract.
5. Play With Key
High-key and low-key images respond very well to black and white conversions. The lack of color intensifies the focus on light or dark. Equally, you can alter the feeling of a black and white image, making it brooding and moody or light and fun by adjusting its key. Go high key for brighter, more relaxed or fun photos. Go lower key to create something more melancholy or menacing.
6. Composition is Critical
Without color to focus attention and draw the eye, how you arrange your subjects in the frame becomes even more critical with a black and white photo. Think about the focal point and work carefully using compositional rules, for example, the rule of thirds and leading lines, to ensure that the audience is sent and kept there. Patterns can appear especially striking in black and white, and using frames-within-frames can really help focus attention when the obvious draw of color is not there. Negative space is also an excellent means to focus attention and, combined with strong contrast, makes for a compelling black and white photo.
If you shoot in Raw, it’s very easy to convert an image to black and white in your post-processing suite. Most of them have a button that does it with 1 click. However, there are further adjustments that can really make your black and white photos stand out. For example, increasing the contrast by a few points can give it more depth. You might also like to play with the key and see if a higher or lower key gives you a look you prefer.
But the set of sliders you should not overlook is the color filters. Whether you’re trying black and white model photography or having a go at landscapes in black and white, applying a color filter can dramatically impact your photos.
- If you want to reduce the appearance of blemishes in a portrait, a red or orange filter will help smooth out someone’s skin.
- On the other hand, a blue filter will emphasize any freckle or line and isn’t used very often.
- A green filter will help separate foliage from petals in a black and white flower photo.
- Yellow and orange filters work well for landscapes, helping to darken the sky to varying degrees and brighten clouds.
Of course, the best way to see a filter’s impact is to try it for yourself and see!
Black and white photography can be bold, but it can also be elegant. A black and white conversion can give a very different feel to a color photo, emphasizing shapes and shadows. If you want to try black and white photography, it can certainly pay to shoot specifically black and white images. If so, do it thinking about composition, shadows and shapes. However, sometimes you can look at a color photo and think: “This deserves to be in black and white!” So press the button: you never know!