Best Lens For Black And White Photography

December 21, 2018 12:48 am by columnblogger
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Best Lens For Black And White Photography

Until a few years ago Photoshop’s Channel Mixer was the preferred means of turning colour images monochrome, but now Adobe Camera Raw has more powerful tools (in the HSL/Grayscale tab) that allow you to adjust the brightness of eight individual colours that make up the image.

During the exposure the highlights of the water, for example, are recorded across a wider area than they would with a short exposure and this can help enhance tonal contrast.

It’s worth experimenting with these filter effects, especially if an image doesn’t look great when you first convert it to black & white. Red is good for boosting contrast and adding drama to the sky while green works well on landscapes. The benefit of adding the effect digitally is that if you don’t like it, you can cancel it and try another one.

Any subject that doesn’t rely on colour for its appeal will work in black & white. Landscapes work well because by stripping away colour you get back to the bare bones of the scene – the textures and shapes, the play of light and shadow. Portraits also tend to be more powerful in mono because there’s no colour to distract. The same applies to architecture, details and patterns, still-life, nude studies and flower portraits.

DSLR users can also do this if they activate their camera’s live view system, but the usually slower responses mean that many will find it preferable or check the image on the screen post-capture.

If you’re not sure how a scene or subject will look in black & white, simply set your digital camera to Monochrome mode and Jpeg capture. When you take a shot, the preview image you see on the back of the camera will be black & white. Taking this a step further, if you set the camera to capture images in both Raw and Jpeg format, when you shoot in Monochrome mode you’ll end up with a black & white Jpeg and a colour Raw file, so you can work on either of them. Digital cameras with an electronic viewfinder (EVF) are even more sophisticated because if you set monochrome shooting mode, the image you see through the EVF will be black & white too!

It’s possible to adjust one of these colours to make it anything from white to black with the sliding control.

Natural History Museum, London.Sepia tone was used to warm up this architectural shot.Canon EOS 5D Mk III, 24-70mm, 1/[email protected] f/8, ISO 100

The blurring of the movement also adds textural contrast with any solid objects in the frame. If necessary, use a neutral density filter such as Lee Filters’ Big Stopper or Little Stopper to reduce exposure and extend shutter speed (by 10 and 4 stops respectively).

When you convert colour images to black & white, do it with conviction. The clue’s in the name! Don’t be scared of pure whites and proper blacks. Boost contrast, add impact and drama, otherwise you’ll end up with grey, dull and boring images, and there are enough of those in existence already!

Plus, because you can set the opacity of the tools, you can build up their effect gradually so the impact is subtle and there are no hard edges.

The two main brands of inkjet precoat are Golden Digital Ground ( and Inkaid ( You can buy a trial pack of the former from and the latter from

The complimentary and opposing colours that bring a colour image to life are all reduced to black and white or shades of grey in a monochrome image and you have to look for tonal contrast to make a shot stand out.

The Levels and Curves controls can also be used to manipulate tonal range and contrast, but the HSL/Grayscale controls allow you to create separation between objects of the same brightness but with different colours.

Coloured filters, which are an essential tool for monochrome film photographers, can also be useful for manipulating contrast in digital images.

As wonderful as colour photography is, it can also be too familiar. It shows us what things look like and leaves us feeling reassured and comfortable. But in art, reality isn’t always the best solution because it doesn’t encourage us to look beyond familiarity and appreciate an image for any reason other than what it depicts. As soon as you remove colour from an image, however, everything changes because it no longer represents reality.

About the author: Jeff Meyer is the editor of PhotoVenture, a photography blog for everything post-capture — improving photos, image management, sharing and more. This article originally appeared here.

In colour photography, for example, your eye would immediately be drawn to a red object on a green background, but in monochrome photography these two areas are likely to have the same brightness, so the image looks flat and dull straight from the camera.

Stokksnes, Iceland.High contrast and high structure presets are idealfor adding drama to an image.Canon EOS 5DS, 16-35mm, [email protected] f/22, ISO 100

Setting the exposure for these brighter areas also makes the shadows darker, so the highlights stand out even more. Look for shapes, patterns and textures in a scene and move around to find the best composition.

There are many ways to convert a colour digital image to mono. My favourite is to use Silver Efex Pro, which is part of the Nik Collection by Google ( The whole collection costs £95 and the other applications are useful, too (Colour Efex Pro, HDR Efex Pro etc). Quick and easy to use, Silver Efex Pro is also very effective, offering a host of tools and presets that will transform your black & white photography instantly. It’s available for both Mac and Windows.

What do they do? Well, the basic rule is that the filter lightens its own colour and darkens its complementary colour, so a red filter will cause reds to come out as a lighter grey tone and blues and greens to come out much darker. Orange does a similar job to red but isn’t as extreme while yellow is more subtle still. A green filter lightens greens and blues but darkens reds and oranges, while a blue filter does the opposite to red – it lightens blues and darkens reds significantly.

Thanks to digital technology, monochrome photography is easier today than ever before. Check out these six black and white photography tips for getting great results.

Dodging and burning is a technique that comes from the traditional darkroom and is usually used to burn in or darken highlights and hold back (brighten) shadows.

Black & white. Is it a fine art medium that offers endless scope for creative self-expression, or irrelevant and old-fashioned? For many years, the latter view tended to apply, especially once colour film became affordable back in the 1970s. Why take photographs in black & white when colour is more realistic? The critics had a point, but fans of the black & white image were quick to point out that it’s the very fact they’re not realistic that gives them their appeal.

Many cameras are also capable of producing decent in-camera monochrome images these days and it’s worth experimenting with image parameters (usually contrast, sharpness, filter effects and toning) to find a look that you like.

If you fancy creating some original monochrome masterpieces, why not make your own inkjet paper? All you need is a set of inkjet precoats, a brush and some paper – textured art paper is ideal. Apply the precoat to the paper, let it dry then use it in your inkjet printer as normal. You don’t have to use precoats on blanks sheets of paper – create mixed-media artworks by printing images on pages of text, handwritten letters or manuscripts, maps, illustrations…

How many times have you gone out with a camera, intent on shooting some great images, only to return home empty handed because the weather turned foul? Well, if you think black & white that will no longer be a problem because ‘bad’ weather is perfectly suited to it. Dull, grey days produce great conditions for mono as the light’s soft and moody. Even rain needn’t stop play if you carry a brolly to keep your camera dry.

Fortunately, it’s possible to work adjust the brightness of these two colours separately to introduce some contrast. However, a good starting point is to look for scenes with tonal contrast.

They work by darkening objects of their opposite colour while lightening objects of their own. An orange filter, for example, will darken the blue of the sky while a green one will lighten foliage.

Thanks to digital technology, black & white photography is more accessible and more practical than ever before, mainly because the need for a darkroom and smelly chemicals has been removed from the equation. Now you can create stunning black & white images just by sitting at your computer, day or night, instead of taking over the family bathroom and leaving wet prints dripping all over the carpet!

St Mary’s Island, Tyne & Wear. A long exposure recorded the streaky sky in this scene.Canon EOS 5DS, 24-70mm, 111 seconds @ f/11, ISO 100

Black & white images are simpler, more dramatic, more evocative and more atmospheric than colour. Our emotional response to a colour landscape image is often rendered superficial by familiarity, but comes from a much deeper place when we take that colour away. Light, shade, texture and shape take centre stage and what’s actually in the scene becomes almost irrelevant – it’s the impact and effect the image has on you that counts.

Naturally, when exposures extend beyond about 1/60 sec a tripod is required to keep the camera still and avoid blurring. It’s also advisable to use a remote release and mirror lock-up to minimise vibration and produce super-sharp images.

And adjusting the brightness of a red or pink shirt with the red sliding control, for instance, will have an impact on the model’s skin, especially the lips.

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This can be achieved by the light or by the brightness (or tone) of the objects in the scene as well as the exposure settings that you use. The brightness of the bark of a silver birch tree for example, could inject some contrast (and interest) in to a woodland scene.

Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides. Landscapes are perhaps the most popular subject for black & white.Canon EOS 5D Mk II, 17-40mm, 1/100sec @ f/11, ISO 400

Is digital black & white easier? In some respects, yes. You can make changes to an image then cancel them if you don’t like the end result. You can correct mistakes quickly and effectively and you’re more likely to take creative risks because there’s no cost implication if something goes wrong. But to produce stunning black & white images digitally you still need technical knowledge and skill, as well as a creative eye, inspiration and enthusiasm. Hopefully, this month’s top tips will put you on the road to success.

Don’t let your wonderful work spend its life on a computer hard drive. Black & white photographs are best appreciated in print form, and they look great mounted, framed and hung on the wall. Why not print your favourites and create a small exhibition in your home? If you don’t have a printer you can get the shots commercially printed – The Print Space offers a great service (

Extreme ND filters like the Lee Big Stopper and Hitech Prostop IR ND 10 have become really popular over the past few years. The long exposure effects they create – moving water turns silky smooth, drifting clouds record as streaks of colour – are ideal for creating moody fine art black & white images. Give it a try and you’ll never look back!

Black & white images don’t have to stay that way – adding a subtle colour tone can change the mood of the image without spoiling its monochromatic feel. Traditionally this was done using chemicals and to add a sepia, blue, copper or red tone. Today it’s done digitally. Software such as Silver Efex Pro has toning presets and controls to vary the strength of the colour. As well as single colours, you can also create split-toned effect such as warm highlights and cool shadows. A quick and easy way to tone a black & white image in Photoshop is by using Image>Adjustment>Hue/Saturation, clicking on the Colorize box then adjusting the Hue and Saturation sliders until you’re happy with the effect. Another method is to use Curves.

The kasbah, Marrakech, Morocco.High-contrast scenes are well suited to black & white.Canon EOS 5D, 24-70mm, 1/250sec @ f/9, ISO 400

Derwentwater, Lake District. Mist andfog are ideal for minimalist mono images.Canon EOS 5D Mk II, 24-70mm, 1/250sec @ f/8, ISO 400

The presets offered by Silver Efex Pro and similar applications can produce fantastic results with a single mouse click. You may see this as ‘cheating’, but the software developers created them to make your life easier, so why not use them? All that matters is the final image, and if you can produce a great image in 10 seconds, why spend 10 minutes doing it?

Photoshop’s Dodge and Burn tools allow a level of control that film photographers could only dream of because you can target the highlights, shadows or mid-tones with both.

Dyer’s Souk, Marrakech, Morocco.Black & white images have a stark simplicity.Canon EOS 5Ds, 24-70mm, 1/30sec @ f/4, ISO 3200

As many photographers struggle to visualise a scene in black and white, these monochrome modes are an invaluable tool that will help with composition and scene assessment.

The best monochrome conversions are made by editing raw files which have the full colour information, but if you shoot raw and JPEG files simultaneously and set the camera to its monochrome Picture Style/Picture Control/Film Simulation mode you get an indication of how the image will look in black and white.

A cheaper alternative ($19.99) is Perfect Black & White by On1 software ( Topaz B&W Effects ( is also worth considering and costs $59.99. Free trial downloads are available for all of these, so you can try before you buy!

An ND grad is helpful when you want to retain detail in a bright sky while a polarizing filter can be used to reduce reflections and boost contrast. Alternatively, consider taking two or more shots with different exposures to create a high dynamic range (HDR) composite.

Graduated neutral density (AKA ND grad) and polarizing filters are just as useful in monochrome photography as they are in colour. In fact, because they manipulate image contrast they are arguably more useful.

This means that you can use the Burn tool to darken highlights when they are too bright, or the Dodge tool to brighten them to increase local contrast.

Don’t be afraid to use a ND grad with a standard neural density filter if the sky is brighter than the foreground in a long exposure shot.

Although coloured filters can still be used to manipulate contrast when shooting digital black and white images, it’s more common to save this work until the processing stage.

Because compact system cameras and compact cameras show the scene seen by the sensor with camera settings applied, users of these cameras are able to preview the monochrome image in the electronic viewfinder or on rear screen before taking the shot.

In the good old days of film, coloured filters (red, orange, yellow, green and blue) were used on the camera lens to control contrast and tonality when shooting black & white. These days, you can mimic the effects using filter presets in black & white conversion software such as Silver Efex Pro.

6 Black and White Photography Tips for Monochrome Enthusiasts

It’s a great way of giving a sense of greater sharpness and enhancing texture.

One of the great things about black & white is that by removing the colour from an image you’re also removing reality, which then gives you much more artistic and creative freedom. It doesn’t matter if the final image bears no resemblance to the original scene – so if you want to go dark and moody, or light and airy, do it!

Tags: blackandwhite, blackandwhitephotography, monochromatic, monochrome, Tips

Long exposure shots can work really well in monochrome photography, especially where there’s moving water or clouds.

There’s nothing wrong with deciding to convert a colour image to black & white on the spur of the moment, or revisiting old images months or years later and converting some. However, if you want to really get to grips with black & white photography, sometimes it pays to shoot images knowing there and then that you’re going to convert them, so you can compose and expose the shot with the final black & white image in mind. This pre-visualisation can make a big difference to the quality of your images as it helps you to focus on what you’re trying to achieve before you fire the shutter.

There are always exceptions, but as a general rule look for scenes that contain some strong blacks and whites.

These techniques are popular in colour photography but they also work well for black & white. If you shoot a sequence of identical images at different exposures – usually, -2 to +2 stops in full stops works fine – you can combine them using HDR software (HDR Efex Pro, Photomatix Pro or Merge to HDR in Photoshop) to create an image with a massive amount of detail and tonal information, which then gives you more options when you edit it.

We may live in a colourful world, but your photographs of it don’t always have to be. Black & white photography is back in vogue and creating stunning results is easier than ever

However, it’s important to keep an eye on the whole image when adjusting a particular colour as subtle gradations can become unnatural looking.

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