When composing your shots, look for tonal contrast – dark shades that contrast against lighter tones. Contrast is your best friend when it comes to black and white photography, because generally speaking, if a black and white image has very low contrast, it’s going to look a bit muddy. The more contrast a composition has, the more dramatic and interesting it will usually be. You should also make sure the subject will stand out against the background, ensuring that it will show up well as a black and white image.
There’s an ongoing debate about whether digital photography could ever match the quality of film – soaring megapixel count notwithstanding – but since most of us now use our smartphones and digital cameras to take pics, let’s stick with that method. For years, shutterbugs have been able to convert colour jpegs to monochrome using Photoshop and similar editing suites, but most cameras and many smartphones now let you switch to black-and-white mode – and there are advantages to creating original monochromes right at the source.
If you’re interested in black and white photography, you should know that there’s more to it than hitting the grayscale button during post processing. The best black and white images are usually the result of careful and deliberate composition.
One of the things that makes black and white photos so remarkable – is the fact that these images are often marked by a certain simplicity that color photos just don’t have.
Do you enjoy creating black and white images? Feel free to share your black and white photography tips, and photos in the comments!
When shooting landscapes or street photography, overcast skies and foggy weather can be your ally, giving photos a moody atmospheric quality (unlike in colour photography, which can suffer in low-light conditions).
4. Lou Gehrig, July 4, 1939. Photo taken right after his famous retirement speech. He would pass away just two years later from ALS.
We live in a world of beautiful color – why would you ever want to take black and white images? If you find yourself asking this question, you’re not alone. Many people feel that color photos are far superior to anything that could ever be created in black and white.
47. Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels scowls at a Jewish photographer, 1933.
While learning to see the world in black and white, so to speak, can be a challenge, it’s all part of the fun. With enough practice, you’ll soon be adept at spotting great monochrome photo opportunities, and will be able to capture truly remarkable black and white images.
Keep these details in mind when shooting portraits, as well: use shapes, patterns and textures to your advantage, and avoid any unflattering disadvantages, such as a distracting shadow on someone’s face. As in colour portraiture, make sure the subject’s eyes are the focus of attention.
42. Brothers Robert Kennedy, Edward “Ted” Kennedy, and John F. Kennedy outside the Oval Office.
Seeing these photos in color for the first time makes it easy to imagine we could all have been part of a world that we’ve never even seen. It literally changes our perspective of history.
When you take away color, you’re left to rely on other elements – like texture, tone, form, and detail to create your images. This will take you out of your comfort zone, and challenge you to see the world differently. It’ll force you to think carefully about your compositions, which in turn will help you to create powerful and striking images.
Take a trip back in time through these photos below. It’s quite incredible to see Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein in living color.
In black and white, shapes, lines and patterns leap out, so try to include these sorts of eye-catching touches in the frame. Similarly, textures often come to life in black and white more effectively than in colour.
Without color, your attention will also be drawn to form. If you come across a strong shape that you want to emphasize in your image, consider composing it as a black and white image. Few things can draw attention to the object, or subject in question like capturing it in monochrome.
2. Brigadier General and actor Jimmy Stewart. Stewart flew 20 combat missions over Nazi-occupied Europe, and even flew one mission during Vietnam.
For scenic black and white photography, nothing will transform your images like a well-timed long exposure. If you’re capturing an ocean scene, a river, or a setting that will include clouds – or anything else that involves movement, using a long exposure will blur the motion, resulting in a silky smooth ocean, or streaky, softly blurred clouds.
40. 1920s Australian mugshots from the New South Wales Police Dept.
One German camera manufacturer has taken this concept to the nth degree: a couple of years ago, the legendary Leica brand launched a state-of-the-art model designed to take only black-and-white photos. With a 24-megapixel sensor devoted exclusively to rendering black, white and shades of grey, the aptly named Monochrom produces astonishingly sharp images – but at a steep price. The camera retails for about $10,000 here in Canada, lens not included.
With this in mind, let’s look at how you can create black and white images that are truly remarkable.
When you take color out of the equation, the eye will be drawn to other details – like texture or pattern. Keep an eye out for interesting patterns or textures to feature in your images. Since there will be no colors detracting from them, details like peeling paint, roughhewn wood, and rusting metal will stand out beautifully in black and white.
Post processing is an important part of creating beautiful black and white photos. While photographers used to develop their images in the darkroom, today the developing happens in post processing. Post processing is a great alternative to snapping in black and white mode since it allows you more control over the resulting photo. Instead of relying on the camera to turn the colors into the right shades, you can do it yourself. Lightroom is obviously the weapon of choice for pro photographers, but another excellent tool that many photographers use is Silver Efex Pro.
6. Lee Harvey Oswald, 1963, being transported to questioning before his murder trial for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
49. An RAF pilot getting a haircut while reading a book between missions.
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With black and white photography, a graduated neutral density (ND) filter can help tremendously. This lens will come in handy when you’re doing long exposures, preventing the highlights from being blown out and appearing bright white, allowing you to capture a well-exposed sky and landscape.
Think about your composition. Is it best suited to black and white, or color? While some situations call for color – for example, a breathtaking sunset; other times a composition may be better served by black and white. Any time color is distracting from the main focal point, or taking away from the message that you’re trying to convey, removing color from the equation can help. Black and white is also ideal when the composition contains plenty of beautiful texture and form that you’d like to draw attention to without the distraction of color.
Then the new Huawei P10 and P10 Plus smartphones came along, boasting a top-notch dual camera – co-engineered by none other than Leica – with 12-MP colour and 20-MP monochrome sensors. Image information from both are combined to provide enhanced image detail, high dynamic range and low noise levels for sharp, vivid photos. Needless to say, it’s way more affordable than the Leica M Monochrom.
Typically, when you head out with your camera, you’re hoping for stellar light. But the great thing about black and white photography is that it can be a bit more forgiving. The flat, dull light on a dark, overcast day may mute bright colors, but it won’t matter as much for black and white images – making it the perfect time to go black and white. Bright sunny days are also great for black and white photography, since direct sun produces bold shadows – and plenty of high-contrast situations that look great as black and white images. Of course, great lighting – like golden hour, can also look beautiful in monochrome – so don’t rule out creating a few black and whites from shots that feature good lighting as well.
Practice makes perfect: don’t be discouraged by lacklustre results on your first attempt. Take lots of shots. Examine them closely and objectively. Learn from your mistakes and you’ll discover that monochrome photography can be just as vibrant as its counterpart – the best black-and-white pics are sleek, dynamic and colourful in their own way.
37. Louis Armstrong plays to his wife, Lucille, in Cairo, Egypt 1961. Jordan J. Lloyd
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Up until the 1970s, color photography was extremely rare, and so when we think about history prior to that time, we often envision it in black and white. Today’s technology now enables us to “colorize” historical photos, giving us our only chance at seeing what the world really looked like back then. And it was truly spectacular.
You’ve probably heard that black-and-white photography is making a big comeback, but the truth is it never really went away. Even when colour film became more popular and affordable back in the mid-20th century, monochrome photography (as it’s also known) always held its ground. These arresting images just look and feel different – we see the world in colour and yet a black-and-white version can seem strangely more real – and when properly executed, a monochrome photo is about as contemporary as it gets. It’s a bit harder to shoot a truly standout black-and-white picture, but here are a few pointers to help get you started.
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This piece of software is easy to use, and will help you to create polished and striking black and white photos. If you can, try to shoot in RAW since this will allow you the most flexibility in post processing. If you are shooting in JPEG though, shoot in color and convert it to black and white later on for the most flexibility.
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Mist and fog can make for excellent black and white photo opportunities. The mist will take on a surreal, almost ethereal quality when captured in black and white, and can result in beautiful, dream-like photos. The dramatic light that’s often found streaming through the clouds after a storm is also ideal for monochrome imagery. Smoke can have a similar effect, so look for the chance to capture these opportunities in black and white.
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But while it’s true that the advent of color photography has brought us a world of amazing color photos, there’s still something to be said about a beautiful, and striking black and white image. Black and white photos exude charm and elegance, and a timeless, classic beauty that’s not easily replicated with their color counterparts.
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34. A Washington, D.C. filling station in 1924. Patty Allison
53. President Lincoln with Major General McClernand and Allan Pinkerton at Antietam in 1862.
It’s been said that to take great monochrome pics, you have to train yourself to see in black and white – and that’s not as hard as it sounds. Contrast is key: look for bright patches of light situated against darker ones and imagine all the colour drained from the scene.
There’s an art and a science to capturing eye-catching monochrome images – here’s what you should know