If you’re going to create high contrast black and white photos, the best advice is to add it with light, not in Photoshop. Small global adjustments are okay and won’t hurt your images, but definitely do not crank the contrast slider to 100. Try to limit it between +15/-15. For local adjustments, use a dodging and burning technique of your choice. The key point in this, and all post-production, is subtlety.
For many photographers, black and white is more than a creative choice at the post-production stage; it’s a mindset. If you can start the creation of an image knowing that you intend it to be black and white, you can take steps to ensure that all of the elements of a good monochrome image are in place before you press the shutter. Things like contrast in tonality, contrast in lighting, and appropriate expressions from your subjects are all elements that are difficult, if not impossible, to fix after an image is taken.
That’s also one of the advantages of the poor dynamic range. The contrast on neutral colours is boosted.
Black and white film photography is all of this and more. Normally, when I take black and white photos, I shoot in colour first and convert it afterwards. This gives me more options in post production.
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That is my favourite reason for shooting on black and white film. You’re forced to hone your skills much faster.
Hopefully, you can see that even though bold colors can make for vivid imagery, their absence can as well.
Had I shot the photo above on colour film, you’d be able to see the subject with no problem. When shooting on black and white film, it’s important to determine where the light illuminates the subject and work around that.
This added pressure of wasting money on the film and development means that you become a much more careful photographer. You consider how else each photo could be taken before actually taking it.
If you’re working on an image that you feel isn’t up to scratch and you ask yourself if it will work in black and white, the answer is probably no. A black and white treatment will often emphasize the flaws that made you question the image in the first place, and a bad photo is a bad photo regardless of its color scheme or lack thereof.
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You need to be really careful about this. You’ll find that even landscape shots don’t come out properly, let alone photos of people indoors.
If you have trouble imagining how an image may look in black and white, try setting your camera to a monochrome setting. While it isn’t recommended to do this for a final image, as long as you shoot in RAW file format, then all of your image’s color data will still be present in the file, and Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw will reset the photo back to color once it’s imported. Doing this will allow you to have an idea of how an image will work in black and white, while still providing the highest amount of versatility in post-production.
Why would you choose to create black and white photographs in the era of digital cameras that are capable of accurately capturing millions upon millions of colors? Black and white photography seems to be a constant in the history of the medium, with color technology only propagating itself into wide use around halfway between Nicéphore Niépce’s first heliograph and today.
In my post on film photography, I talk in detail about how shooting on film helps to hone your skill. You think a lot more about what you’re doing before taking each photo, rather than wasting a piece of 35mm film.
One of my favourite things about shooting on film is how good skin looks.
The first thing you’ll notice when you get a roll of black and white film developed (particularly with the brand of film that I use: Ilford HP5 Plus) is that the dynamic range is a lot worse than what you’re used to with digital and colour film.
Certain subjects scream out to be shot in black and white. Other subjects may not be so obvious. Bright, punchy colors obviously make for vivid color photos, but by removing the color element you can completely change how a subject or scene is perceived. When you want to ensure your viewer is focused on a particular element, color as a graphic element, can become a distraction. Try removing it.
I urge everyone to start shooting on film as soon as possible. There’s a good chance you won’t be able to experience it in the future.
If you’re new to black and white photography, do remember that these are guides and not rules. If you need to stray from them to get the result you’re after, do so without hesitation.
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Like the eyes, other facial features become more prominent in a black and white portrait. You can use this to your advantage by conveying emotion in your images. Even tiny changes in your subject’s expression can make a difference. Things like a raised eyebrow, a twitch at the corner of a mouth, and smile lines under the eyes can all be used to great effect.
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35mm film and development is becoming increasingly scarce. This is because some of the major developers are getting rid of their wet labs, only doing digital printing.
This can be a difficult concept to understand without seeing it, so I have included an example of a color version of one the images above. Ask yourself: How did your perception of the photos change? What did you notice first in each of the images? Do you feel differently or think differently of it when you view it in color than in black and white?
This really bothered me the first time I got my film back because I didn’t know about it before I shot. I hadn’t adjusted my shooting style to match it.
You rely much more on composition, texture, shape and form to create a good photo, so you have to look for this before you shoot, not after.
Once you understand how the film reacts to the light, you can use it as a creative tool in your photography.
My nearest lab that will actually develop it in-house is about 25 miles away. This isn’t really a lot of use as the development process itself takes a while. Instead, I take mine to my nearest major lab, who send off for it.
Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of articles this week featuring black and white photography tips. Look for earlier ones below and more daily over the next week.
We have a great post on how to digitize film photos you should check out. Or how about trying our black and photography challenge to keep improving your work!
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This still takes about 2 weeks or longer. I’m there regularly for printing anyway so it’s not too much of a problem.
Take the photo below for example. I knew when I shot it that the left-hand side of the photo was going to be underexposed and that the right would be overexposed. This actually worked out really well.
There’s a lot of debate on both sides of the argument, but for me and many others it’s a simple matter of aesthetics. A good black and white treatment has a way of stripping unneeded information from an image, helping you to emphasize specific elements to your viewer without the distractions color can provide.
I’ve written about film photography and I’ve written about black and white photography. You’re probably wondering why I’m writing about black and white film photography.
Here is an exercise you can do with your portrait subjects to get a mixture of great expressions. Prepare a list of words or phrases and ask them to react to how they feel to each one. The words you choose can be simple descriptors of emotion like: love, sad, joy, angry and melancholy. For more diverse expressions try more abstract words, or funny ones like: cheeseburger, politics, Teletubbies or Hulk smash. As a bonus, this sometimes works extremely well to lighten the mood when you have a subject who’s tense or nervous during a sitting.
I have noticed over the past 2 years that development is getting more expensive. It’s also taking longer to do and film is becoming harder to find. If we take that as a sign of things to come, it doesn’t look too good.
Mistakes can get pretty expensive if you’re not sure what you’re doing with your film camera. This forces you to quickly learn what you’re doing wrong.
Finally, if you try black and white and you like it: welcome to the addiction!
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5 Simple Ways to Create Expressive Photos in Black and White Tips for Black and White Wildlife Photography Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category
When it comes to lighting a black and white portrait image, there are no hard and fast rules. If you like high contrast images with hard gradations in tone, then choose a harder source of light. If you like soft tones and subtler images, then you want a softer light source.
You don’t have this option when shooting on film. So you really have to pay attention to what it is that you want to capture and how it’s going to look in black and white.
The most important part of the majority of portraits are the eyes. They are usually the focal point that the rest of your image is built around. This is especially true with black and white. With the omission of color, a black and white image often breaks down into graphic forms and shapes. Eyes are shapes that everyone recognizes and they draw immediate focus from your viewers. Make sure that your subject’s eyes are well lit, and focus is critical.
The light is harder to control but, when you expose a photo correctly with the light in the right places, the results can be much more dramatic.
The answer is simple – there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.
Black and white film in particular makes the skin look great. The natural grain adds texture and detail, while the lack of colour emphasises the tone of the skin.
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That being said, there are still places around that do it at a reasonable price to a good standard. But black and white is a lot harder to get done.
The effects produced and the parameters you have to work within are very different from any other type of photography. This can produce some very interesting results – results that you may associate with a much older style of photography.
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It’s all about personal preference here. If you’re not sure what yours is, try finding the first ten black and white portraits that stand out to you the most and see if you can deconstruct them in terms of lighting.
I particularly like how the light shining on the back of the subject’s head is emphasised by the dark figure behind him.
Portrait photography is a genre where black and white images can really shine. Like any technique, there are considerations that you should regard that can help to make sure your images have the most impact.