I’m not sure that the specifics of B+W are all that different than shooting color, especially if you want good contrast and lighting.
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By doing this simple exercise both my beach subjects and compositions changed. Some images I would normally take that looked lovely in color looked washed out and a bit nothing, and vice versa, something that just didn’t look so wonderful no matter how many times I color photographed them, suddenly worked. Things like graininess became a bonus rather than something to avoid.
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Black and White Photography Tip #14: Shoot in HDR!!! I’m actually surprised how little attention is given to black and white HDRs on the web. I am so convinced of the merit of the black and white HDR that I spent an entire chapter in my HDR eBook talking explaining how to do it. HDR is great for black and white photography because it exaggerates the dynamic range and edges. Nothing pops quite like a black and white HDR.
Photographing in black and white for a day can help you see tones and shapes better, which you can then apply to compositions in your color photography.
To be honest I rarely shoot black and white, but when I do I usually do it in the camera itself, that way I’m more confident with the result. that way you can see the result in camera’s LCD even before taking the picture, then all you have to do is to test different times of day with different weather! I think it’s really a matter of taste, just go out and try it yourself.
Black and White Photography Tip #4: Pay special attention to noise. With the outstanding low light performance of modern DSLR cameras, in addition to the noise removal programs at our disposal, photographers are used to getting away with noise.
Black and White Photography Tip #2: Give your photo some Silver Effex. Silver Effex Pro 2 is a Photoshop or Lightroom plugin that does one thing–make black and white photos look incredible. In theory, you could replicate everything that Silver Effex Pro 2 does using Photoshop, but I have to confess that I have never been able to do it. Black and whites look absolutely stunning in Silver Effex Pro 2. The program is a bit pricey, but it is worth the money if you love black and white. In fact, when I look at black and white produced by other photographers, I like to think I can tell if Silver Effex Pro 2 was used on the image. Check it out here.
I intend to take the photos as normal and then edit them in Photoshop to achieve the black and white effect. I do however want the best possible original to work with so I want to take the photos at the correct time of day.
Whether you are a landscape, portrait or any other type of photographer it can be fun and beneficial to take a slightly more restricted approach. Much like a free form poet suddenly attempting a haiku, the limitations of the haiku format insist on a completely different attack requiring a stretching of creativity.
You might not be keen to try it again but it can be a learning experience and you might just get a decent photograph out of the experience. For this article I tried the exercise again at another familiar place I have photographed many times. An artists studio where I often work on collaborations.
I’ve seen some interesting landscapes taken by the light of a full moon- the clouds are motion blurred by the long exposure times.
Black and White Photography Tip #7: Use a polarizer. When shooting around reflective surfaces such as water or leaves, use a polarizer to cut the reflections of the sun’s light. When color is removed from the photo, these specular highlights can be distracting the overall composition.
Black and White Photography Tip #9: Use the correct terminology: Black and white, monochrome, grayscale. “Monochrome” means that a color is placed on a neutral background. Therefore, black and white images, which put black on a white background, are a type of monochrome image. Grayscale is merely a way to show black and white images on a computer, which uses a reduced set of shades of gray.
If you do try the exercise, please share you favorite results in the comments below. Or perhaps you have some other simple exercise idea you’ve tried that you would like to share with our readers. Happy photographing.
An added benefit of shooting at this location being that the artist, Randall Sinnamon, is also an art teacher so I asked him for some tips on working in black and white.
Black and White Photography Tip #6: Find a wide range of grays. Having white and black in the image will help add interest to a picture, but if other areas do not have a wide range of varying tones of gray, the photo will most likely look dull. You can achieve a a wider range of grays by using flash to throw highlights and shadows over certain areas of the photo.
It doesn’t matter where you try this exercise, just as long as it is a familiar place or subject so you can always go back and do color versions later after seeing it through a black and white perspective.
Once you challenge yourself to let go of the beauty of the colors in your usual color subjects your approach can change dramatically. It becomes more about tones, patterns, contrast and mood. You can end up photographing your regular subject entirely differently when you start to play more with shapes, patterns and designs you might otherwise not have noticed when color is involved.
Black and White Photography Tip #8: Watch for texture. As long as texture is not front-lit, it will show contrast in fine details, which makes it a compelling subject for black and white. This is why black and white photos of old items such as barns or antiques are so compelling–they have a lot of weathered texture.
“Contrast is the balance between the extremes of black and white, with tone being the gradation of black and white, you use them both to create form. It’s the placement of these elements that creates your composition. If you get these things right then the picture works. It’s often good to have some larger shapes of light or dark in a composition.”
To paraphrase a line from “The Unsinkable Molly Brown”, “Only shoot by day or night or somewhere in between”.
Of course sometimes it just makes sense to photograph in color. But this exercise can help with working out what does and doesn’t work in either camera setting.
Black and White Photography Tip #3: To visualize in black and white, only pay attention to lines, shadows, and shapes. This trick is very helpful to aid photographers in pre-visualizing a black and white image even though we live in a color world.
Again, there really isn’t an all-around ‘best’ time- there is only a time that matches your vision for the subject.
I love to set myself little exercises to stretch my photographic muscles. I thought I might share one that has been most beneficial to me, photographing a familiar place or subject you would normally do in color, in only in black and white for a day, with the aim of getting a new perspective that could prove helpful when you go back to color.
This post is in response to a question from Matthew Tapley, who is interested in learning how to improve his black and white photography skills. I hope this article has information that is valuable enough to you that you’d consider sharing it on Facebook or Twitter.
So set your camera to black and white, and head out, or even photograph your own home or backyard. No cheating. OK, maybe a little cheating if the color is just too hard to resist. I wouldn’t want you to miss out on a brilliant shot. But do try to stick to it, keeping your eye out for situations with patterns, tones, shapes, contrasts without thinking about color can really make a difference to how you later compose your images. Remember this is just an exercise, you don’t have to get the perfect shot here, relax and enjoy the change. It’s as good as a holiday so they say.
Black and White Photography Tip #15: HSL is the secret sauce. The last black-and-white tip is probably the most important. When post-processing a black and white, you absolutely MUST tweak the colors in the HSL panel in Photoshop or Lightroom. An exact tutorial on how to do this would be a blog post of its own, but your black and whites will look TEN TIMES better with an HSL adjustment.
I first did this exercise some years ago during my regular walk along local beaches. It’s a stunning place with white sands and crystal blue water. You don’t have to be a fantastic photographer to capture a pretty image when surrounded by the beautiful colors of the water and the skies in this place.
In my opinion there really isn’t a ‘best’ time for B&W- it depends on what your vision is of the particular scene you want to shoot.
Portrait of artist Randall Sinnamon. As he said, “Black and white simplifies things”. The colors in this image were distracting, they bounced around too much, where as in black and white it calmed things down and we are more able to focus on the mood, the joy of his smiling face in the sun.
Want a dramatic skyline shot? Shoot early evening when there’s still a little light in the sky but the city lights have appeared.
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It’s really a challenge sticking to black and white when in a location like this, full of gorgeous colors.
Not the answer you’re looking for? Browse other questions tagged night black-and-white sky or ask your own question.
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I cheated. Again. I’d like to pretend it was for the purpose of this article, but really I couldn’t say no to that orange color. Yet when photographing this fungus outside the studio, the orange was distracting, and when I looked at the black and white version, I realized composition wise, things could have been better.
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Black and White Photography Tip #10: Look for patterns. Patterns are interesting because of their ordered repetition. Color merely distracts us from giving the pattern our attention. By using black and white, images of patterns are far more compelling. Once you start looking for patterns to shoot in black and white, you’ll notice them everywhere: cars in a parking lot, the shoes of a wedding party standing in line, or a row of bushes.
“I often look at my paintings in the moonlight, the low light allows you to see the balance of shapes. You can also to this by squinting, or turning your image upside down. Considering I often work with charcoal and ink I tend to do a lot of black and white. It’s nice to just do a drawing and not worry about the color. Sometimes color can be an unnecessary complication. There is a lot of beauty in black and white, with so much color photography we still see a lot of black and white work, obviously there is something appealing about it. It simplifies things.”
You might notice when trying this exercise that an image that can look like a busy mess in color can become elegant in black and white. Photographing outdoors in the middle of the day can work well too, we color photographers so often prefer the softer light of morning or evening, midday light can add harsh shadows or too much contrast, but black and white photography loves contrast. It also loves patterns and repetition.
Because once you take the color out of the picture your awareness of other compositional elements such as tone and contrast increase. It also makes you photograph differently and look at your subject in a different way.
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I had photographed this rocky part of the local beach a few times as a landscape image, always included the area’s amazing colors. A day of black and white changed my perspective. This image and the first one in this article where later commissioned for a guitar duo’s album artwork. A surprising result from a simple exercise.
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Black and White Photography Tip #11: Long exposures love black and white. I read this tip on the fantastic Digital Photography School website and decided to try it on an image that I took a few months ago. I didn’t like the picture and had almost deleted it until I read that tip and applied black and white to the photo.
I would imagine that some of the best b&w photos are taken during the day but I wanted to get some other opinions on the matter.
Shooting around dawn or dusk gives you much better light and much better contrast. The noon sun gives harsh light and unflattering angles. Since the landscape doesn’t move, you will find that the first hour and the last hour of the day let you take much more interesting photos. Google “golden hour” for more information.
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This possibly doesn’t sound like much of a challenge, and won’t be if you shoot mainly in black and white already, but for those of us used to color, it can be a real challenge not to cheat by shooting in color and converting later, or quickly switch settings back to color every now and then. I confess to failing the challenge pretty much every time, but the exercise has proven fruitful regardless.
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I’ve photographed this tie collection in the artists studio before in color, but this time without the distration of color, it became about the patterns and repetition and worked much better.
Black and White Photography Tip #5: Look for contrast. In my experience, the best black and white photos usually have some portion of the photo that is near to pure white, and some portion of the photo that is near black. This increased contrast adds interest to the scene.
Want a dark sky for architectural or fluffy cloud shots? Shoot during the day and kill the blue channel in post when you convert.
Because you will be less tempted to switch to color when you can always go back and shoot color next time. If you are constantly tempted to switch back, you will keep seeing and thinking in terms of color and the point of the exercise is to see your familiar subject differently and hopefully start seeing it in a way that will then help you out with your color photography.
Black and White Photography Tip #12: B&W isn’t a replacement for bad lighting, but it can soften the blow. The photo of the deer on this page is an example of a photo that looked terrible in color, but which looks nice in black and white. I shot the photo at high-noon. Because I used a polarizer, I was able to cut out the reflections on the leaves and mask the fact that it was shot in terrible light.
Black and White Photography Tip #1: Shoot in RAW. Many times when I shoot for black and white, the photo just doesn’t turn out right when I finally review it on the computer. By shooting in RAW, you’ll be able to change your mind later if the photo wasn’t as great in black and white as you’d hoped.
Is it better to take photos for intended black and white images during the daylight hours or in the evening? I really like landscapes that have a good contrast when it comes to the clouds and skyline compared to an image for example that has a more solid coloured sky.
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In Landscape/Nature, Post-processing by Jim HarmerMay 11, 201141 Comments
Black and White Photography Tip #13: Don’t get fooled. I confess to have made this mistake many times. Sometimes I have shot a photo that includes very little color. For example, a close-up of a penguin, or a night sky, or a dalmatian dog. When I see these photos in Lightroom, I often reach for the black and white tools immediately, but I am always disappointed. If the photo is practically colorblind to begin with, it probably won’t look as good in black and white as in color.