Love, hate, jealousy, admiration, depression, and elation were all narrated using light. If you are just getting started on black and white photography, these old movies are a quick way to understand what works and what doesn’t. Explore, learn and incorporate these techniques into your own photos.
At first, it can be a bit difficult to try to disregard the colours and look for dark and bright tones. However, if you consciously make a habit of spotting where the darkest area and where the brightest area is in the frame you will soon be able to spot whether a scene can make a great black and white photo.
However, by just being aware of a few key points, you can easily learn to use contrast to improve your black and white photography.
Flat light doesn’t have a large range of exposure so you are forced to examine the elements of the scene and focus on one or more deep tones that will grab viewers’ attention. It hides detail and skin imperfections which is one of the reasons flat light is widely used in beauty and fashion photography.
The second technique for capturing photos with impact and contrast when converted into black and white is actually to look for colours.
Yet, monochromatic photos eventually made a strong resurgence. That’s because, in many instances, these photos look even more captivating and stunning than their color equivalent. Color can be a distraction from the core story a photo tells us. Removing it helps draw the viewer’s focus on the subject and emotion of the image.
Where appropriate, arrange the objects in a way that brings out the most outstanding attribute of the different subjects. Patterns are particularly interesting because of their orderly repetition. You can see patterns in a wide range of everyday scenes including parking lots and rows of bushes.
A wide or high tonal contrast means that the photo contains areas with both black or very dark tones and extreme bright or white tones.
Ivan, the photographer working for Moose, explains: “I do commercial work in the photo studio equipped with to notch Profoto light and virtually infinite supply of the light modifiers. However, when in a studio, time is money. The whole team is waiting for you: the models, MUA, and post-production. You must be as efficient as possible. Therefore, sometimes I rent the light equipment to practice on my own. Also, I’ve purchased some cheap stuff, reflectors and chroma key backdrops, and spend a day once in a while trying to reproduce the results on cheap.”
Even when you think you have developed a signature style, there is no end to learning as a black and white photographer. Be your own harshest critic. Shoot half a dozen images every day. Even if you are not a full-time photographer, this is something you can schedule into your day since each photo will probably require only a couple of seconds.
Freeman, Michael. “Michael Freeman’s Top Digital Photography Tips.” Sterling Publishing, 2008http://books.google.com/books?id=JgEBkQfs3_kC&printsec=frontcover&dq=inauthor:%22Michael+Freeman%22&hl=en&ei=cZ4bTe73H434sAOHw8WmDw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CDQQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q&f=falseTeng, Denny.
Photoshop Tutorials. “Create Striking Photos With Good Color Contrast.” March 1, 2008http://photoshoptutorials.ws/photography-tutorials/techniques/create-striking-photos-with-good-color-contrast.html
These settings are the ones used for the photo of the yellow boat on blue water. Note, that it might be necessary to adjust several of the sliders. In the case of the boat photo, the boat was more yellow-orange and the water contained aqua and purple values as well.
Black and white photographs are typically composed of a range of gray tones. A strictly black and white photograph is an exception. Yet, absolute colors are an important starting point in creating a memorable photo.
It is only when you reach for your editing tools that you start to realize that it wasn’t a good idea in the first place. As a general rule, scenes that have just 2 or 3 colors likely won’t look good when converted to a black and white picture.
It is quite easy and straightforward to change how colours are converted to black and white in Lightroom.
1 Black and White Photography2 Black and White Photography Tips2.1 Watch Black and White Movies2.2 Choose the Right Equipment2.3 Where’s the Light?2.4 Experiment with Flat Light2.5 The Deeper the Black, the Brighter the White2.
6 Have Some Clean Black and Clean White2.7 Use Exposure to Visualize Black and White2.8 Use Filters2.9 Curves and Levels2.10 Choose a Suitable Subject2.11 Shape and Form2.12 Contrast2.13 Beware of Dead Spaces2.
14 Shoot RAW2.15 Silver Efex Pro2.16 Black and White Can Mitigate Bad Lighting2.17 The More Colors, the Better the Black and White Picture2.18 Connect with the Audience2.19 Find Your Space2.20 Practice, Practice, Practice3 Conclusion
There will be times when after shooting a photo in black and white, the final product doesn’t turn out as well as you thought it would. For some photos, color is essential. By shooting it in RAW, you’ll have the opportunity to revert to color if the monochromatic image isn’t up to the expected standard.
Black and white photos can deliver a strong image that would otherwise look weak and average in color. Qualities like shadow, light, texture, and pattern are accentuated in breathtaking fashion when the attachment of color is eliminated.
Colours convert to different dark or bright grey tones when you change your image into a black and white photo. Per default, red, violet, and blue will convert to darker tones, while orange, yellow, and green per default will convert into rather bright tones.
The following are vital tips for creating memorable black and white photos.
More specifically, you should look for contrasting colours, which are also called complementary colours.
A histogram like this tells you that you have no bright tones in your image because there are no values or peaks on the right side of the histogram, which represent the highlights.
In the previous example photo with the yellow boat, I would push the yellow slider in the Black & White Mix to the right to make yellow colours convert into brighter tones.
You can still use physical filters to brighten some colours while darkening others, but I find that it is both easier and much cheaper to just do this in post-processing, using Lightroom or Photoshop.
Powerful photos are an aggregation of small subtleties. Take your photograph through Adobe Photoshop where you can make small tweaks that would be impossible to do using your camera. The tiny changes may include darkening a specific cloud, making whites sharper or changing the tone of a rock surface.
If you’re relying on natural light, you’ll have to be patient sometimes and wait for the elements to align perfectly. When that moment arrives, take multiple shots. You won’t always know at the time which specific image was outstanding; it’ll only become apparent later on as you work on identifying the best one.
Remember that you don’t always have to shoot for high tonal contrast. You can also use a lack of tonal contrast to capture a particular mood in your images. An underexposed, uniformly dark image conveys a somber or mysterious mood. Conversely, a uniformly bright image bursts with positive energy and life. Darker and lighter images are sometimes called low-key and high-key photographs.
If you find it difficult to spot the dark and bright areas that will result in a high black and white contrast, you can use the histogram as a support tool.
How to Apply a Colour Filter to a Black and White Photo in Lightroom
Change your shooting angle, rearrange the scene, or work with a different composition so that the photo will include a broader tonal range and thereby get more contrast. If your subject is bright, see if you can use a point of view or framing in which you have a dark background.
Once you have found an interesting subject that you want to capture and make into a black and white photo, you should pay attention to which bright areas and dark areas are at the scene and whether these can help you separate the subject or point of interest from the more unimportant elements.
Try to find a complementary colour to the subject in the background and see if you can create a composition where the complementary colour encapsulates the subject, making a better contrast between the subject and the rest of the composition.
In black and white photography, there is no color to bring out the sharp contrasts of separate elements on your photo. You have to rely on shades of grey to portray the distinctions. Use contrast to elevate your main subject by, for instance, placing a light colored item in front of a dark background. This also allows you to add depth via a variety of shades and tones.
Note that you will only get good results if you place two sliders opposite each other if they are also complementary colours. If you set the yellow slider opposite to the green slider, for instance, you will get some strange artefacts in your photo.
In this photo, the colours really help to separate the flower from the background because orange and green are close to being complementary, even though it is not a perfect complementary set of colours. The tonal difference between the darker snail helps to separate it from the brighter orange flower.
In a sense, black and white photography eliminates time from the equation. You can compare an image from the 1940s and one shot today without feeling a gulf in time except for changes in technology and style.
This histogram shows you that you captured tonal values both in the shadows and in the highlight because the histograms stretches to both the left and right side of the spectrum.
Pay attention to lenses and filters when choosing a camera. A good monochromatic photo heavily relies on sharp contrast and tonality. You’ll need a lens that can capture these attributes.
For lots more tips and information on film and digital photography, click the links below.
This is one mistake first-time black and white photographers often make. When you take a close-up shot of a penguin or a Dalmatian dog, the scarcity of colors may initially make it seem like an obvious candidate for the perfect black and white picture.
Improve Your Photos by Planning Black and White Contrast in Advance
Early movies were produced in black and white. Many films from the 30s, 40s, and 50s are available on YouTube. Producers at the time didn’t have the luxury of using color to draw viewer’s attention. Instead, they had to rely on varying lighting and shades to get their message across.
You can opt to take a test shot and look at the histogram to see if the dark and bright tones are there before deciding to compose and shoot, or you can just check whether you nailed it spot on after you’ve taken the shot you want.
But imagine for a moment that the man were dressed in grey work clothes and the woman in a dark blue dress. Or that they were wearing exactly the same color. Instantly, the image is sapped of much of its power. The original shot, with the cold black of the sailor’s uniform against the pure white of the nurse’s uniform creates a stunning tonal contrast that really pulls the image together.
So how can you create the same dramatic tonal contrast in your black and white photography? First consider some of the tips we’ve already mentioned:
Take a look at the set of photos below. It shows how different colour filters affect the same photo. The original black and white conversion gave a flat looking photo without impact. The boat became dark grey, and the water also contained a lot of fairly dark grey tones.
Black and white photos tend to be stronger if they have a good amount of tonal contrast.
Consistently seeing and thinking in black and white is a nagging problem for photographers. It’s understandable since, after all, we are surrounded by color at nearly every moment of our lives.
It’s not always possible to redeem a photo shot in bad lighting. Black and white can, however, give you an opportunity to do that. Color photos that may seem to be a disaster due to terrible lighting can be saved to some extent with the use of a polarizer. For example, you can eliminate the reflection on the leaves in your picture.
Digital Photography BasicsHow Cameras WorkHow Digital Cameras Work5 Black-and-white Photography Tips5 Tips for Photography Lighting
Remember that not all light, especially natural light, is created equal in photography. As a general rule, avoid taking black and white shots when the sun is at its brightest. The excessive lighting obscures detail and washes out the images. You are more likely to have a beautiful photo early morning, late afternoon and on overcast days.
The green is almost as dark/bright as the brown fur of the deer, so instead of focusing on the deer, your eyes move to the trees, where there is much greater contrast with the brighter grey tones of the grass.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography’s Photographer-In-Chief: Thank you for reading… CLICK HERE if you want to capture breathtaking images, without the frustration of a complicated camera. It’s my training video that will walk you how to use your camera’s functions in just 10 minutes – for free! I also offer video courses and ebooks covering the following subjects: Beginner – Intermediate Photography eBook Beginner – Intermediate Photography Video Course Landscape Photography eBook Landscape Photography Video Course Photography Blogging (Service) You could be just a few days away from finally understanding how to use your camera to take great photos! Thanks again for reading our articles!
20 Black and White Photography Tips for Monochrome Fans August 25, 2017
Thinking in black and white is crucial if you want to use filters successfully. It takes plenty of learning, practice, and failures to eventually get it right.
The quality is striking to the extent that individuals who have used this plugin for a while can actually tell most times if Silver Efex Pro was employed in the production of black and white art. While Google ended support for it in May 2017, it’s still available.
When you first look at an image, whether it’s a painting, charcoal sketch or photograph, notice how your eyes focus directly on the point of greatest contrast. In a black-and-white photo, that point of greatest contrast will be where the lightest and darkest elements converge. To create a truly striking black and white photo, the point of greatest contrast should also be the subject of the shot.
If you find that everything within the frame only contains dark tones or only bright tones (making it a low contrast image) try to see if you can frame the shot differently.
Look for tonal contrast Look for complementary colours and apply a colour filter either on location or in post-processing Approach #1: Tonal Contrast
To convert a photo to black and white, you first need to go to the Develop module (press ‘D’) and then in the Basic panel you should change the treatment to B&W.
You’ll get the best results if you start out knowing that that you want your image to ultimately end up as a black and white photo. This way you can plan to have contrast and compose your frames accordingly.
From left to right: Original color, Neutral BW (no filter), Green Filter, Red Filter, Blue Filter, Yellow Filter, Orange Filter. Note how applying a yellow filter results in a greater contrast between the boat and all the other elements within the frame.
Some photos lend themselves to color but are not as eye-catching in black and white. For instance, sunset photos depend on the color of the sky to deliver the required impact. It’s therefore difficult to have an impressive black and white image of the sunset. Colorful flowers and birds are other examples where shooting in color is the most feasible option.
Back in the old film days, you would have to use physical colour filters attached to your lens to make a specific colour appear bright in black and white when the film was developed in the dark room and turned into print.
And even when you don’t achieve it fully in camera, you can still work with optimising the tonal contrast and how colours convert into greyscale in post-processing.
Flat light is the antithesis of directional light. It produces little to no contrast between shadows and highlights and is often viewed as making pictures appear boring, lifeless and dull. Yet, flat light can make for a pretty impressive black and white art.
Stunning Images Win 2016 International Drone Photography Contest
Mastering contrast is one important step in improving your black and white photography, so the next step is to try it out for yourself—try to be aware of both tonal values and complementary colours to achieve the best black and white contrast when you capture your shots.
When you get rid of color from an image, you can no longer use it to provide emphasis or make a certain scene the center of attention. Removing color eliminates one of the more distracting aspects of a photograph. When looking for a great black and white shot, ignore the colors and set your sights on the shapes.
Patiently learn the ropes as you work your way toward crafting a perfect image. Make slight changes to similar photos or frames. Don’t get too lost on one photo though. Adhere to a timeline by, for example, giving yourself no more than 5 minutes to edit each photo. If need be, you can come back to it days or weeks later to see if there’s anything you may have missed.
Photographers will use flat light to realize a near perfect image then add contrast during post-processing using dodge and burn, and other techniques.
For instance, if you attached a yellow filter, you would make blue, and violet colours appear darker than without a filter. This is because blue and violet colours are opposite to yellow on the colour wheel.
When composing your photo frame in readiness for the shot, steer clear of large areas of white or black. Viewers often perceive these parts of the photo as dead spaces that are a distraction from the primary subject.
Few things play as important a role in the quality of a photo as the light. To set the stage for an exceptional black and white picture, start with looking for finding and understanding the light.
Go to the B&W tab in the Colour/HSL/B&W panel to change how colours convert into black and white to use the colours to get more contrast in your photos.
This is one of the core principles of black and white art i.e. deepening the dark hues so whites and lighter colors appear strikingly brighter. It’s a play on human perception where the sight of dark tones creates the impression that every other element in the scene has to be brighter.
To Get Better Colour Contrast, Use Physical Filters or Adjust in Post-processing
Next, you should make the appropriate corrections to the other basic settings like exposure, contrast and so on. Note that you can use the shadow and highlight sliders to enhance the tonal contrast in the photo.
Study the work of seasoned black and white photographers. Thanks to social media, many of them share their images on major platforms including Instagram, Facebook, and Flickr. Use hashtags such as #bwportraits, #bwphotography and #blackandwhitephotos to see the work of multiple photographers. Some of them respond to your questions and are ready to explain the idea behind the picture.
In black and white photography, success is contingent on paying great attention to tonality, lighting, composition, process, and equipment. Nevertheless, choosing the right gear and developing the necessary technique places you on the path to creating unforgettable monochromatic images.
Remember that just having dark and bright tones or having complementary colours in your composition is not enough. Now that you understand how they work, you should also seek to use them actively to separate the important elements in the composition from the unimportant elements or the background.
When colored photos became the norm, black and white photography was initially considered bland and old-fashioned. After all, why would one limit themselves to varying shades of gray when they had the entire color spectrum at their disposal?
Do you wonder why your photos appear flat and uninteresting when you convert them to black and white? If you do, it is probably because your photos lack black and white contrast. A photo lacks contrast when it doesn’t have both dark tones and bright tones, instead having only a limited range of greyscale tones.
Black and white photos are at their most interesting when distinct textures and patterns dominate the image. Elements like trees, fences, roads, and people draw viewers into the photo and lead them to the subject matter.
Applying an orange filter also gave a fairly pleasing result. The filters were applied using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, but you can get similar results by using inbuilt Lightroom controls.
Consider again the famous kiss caught on film by Alfred Eisenstaedt on V-J Day. Eisenstaedt wanted to capture the unbridled elation of the moment when America first heard that its troops would all be coming home. The subjects were two strangers, a sailor and a nurse, iconic representatives of masculinity and femininity.
Next, I would pull the blue slider to the left to darken make the blue colours convert into a darker tone.
If you keep this in mind when you compose your shot and seek to include colours that convert to both dark and bright grey tones, you will already have a good amount of contrast in your photo as soon as you hit the button to convert it to black and white in post-processing.
Understanding the core principles of good photography is fundamental but shouldn’t stifle your own creativity and style. You’ll likely develop an over-arching technique to your black and white photos which may vary slightly from one photo to the next depending on the picture’s subject.
A low-contrast scene can result in a photo like this, where it is difficult to separate the subject from the rest of the scene.
One way to avoid dead spaces is to use the rule of thirds. Divide the photo frame into horizontal and vertical thirds. As opposed to having the desired subject at the center of the photo, place it at the intersection of any two of these dividing lines.
Almost all digital cameras can display a histogram on the back LCD screen. The histogram shows the spread of tones in the photo, with the dark tones to the left of the histogram and the bright tones on the right side.
Take a look at this photo above. You will find that the deer almost blends in with the high grass in the photo when it is converted into black and white. This is because the brown colours of the deer and the high grass have similar tonal values.
You can do the same when you use colours to create more black and white contrast in your photos. If you have no dark tones in the background, look for colours instead.
You can also take a journey through time by visiting a local bookstore or library to discover the works of past photographers. One artist you may want to pay special attention to is Ansel Adams. His approach was so refined that he’s considered one of the best photographers of all time. Other notable black and white picture artists are Arnold Newman, Duane Michals, Vivian Meier, David Bailey, Paolo Reversi, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Jerry Uelsmann.
If you use colour filters, you can actually control which colours will convert as bright tones and which will convert as dark tones.
Many of the best black and white photos are a result of editing RAW files containing full color. Even when set to RAW, many camera models have a monochrome simulation mode that will give you an early indication of how the final black and white image will look like.
Finding your own style is never an overnight event. That wouldn’t be desirable even if it were possible. Taking your time allows you progressively develop depth and character.
A quick glance at the histogram once in a while will show you whether you have a photo with low contrast, medium contrast, or high contrast.
When possible, you can change your camera’s point-of-view and try to compose the photo so that a bright subject is completely surrounded by a dark-toned background. This will give you a cleaner composition.
Seeking to include both dark and bright areas is the easiest way to get more contrast into your black and white photos.
One thing you’ll notice about these 20 tips is the emphasis on a creative approach rather than camera techniques and settings. Black and white pictures require the same technical expertise as color photography. If you are already adept at taking color photos, you won’t have to significantly change the way you use your camera. What you’ll need to reevaluate is how you view the subject.
Looking for shadows and highlights and complementary colours from the outset when composing photos will give you a chance to get shots which have a great amount of contrast when you convert them into black and white. This will make your photos stronger and much more interesting.
Your photo should make persons viewing it feel something. One of the best ways to do that is to identify scenes with moments that are alive and authentic. Look for that intersection of composition, light and a life micro-moment.
If you have a contrast control setting on your digital camera, bump it up to +1 or +2Seek out or create “contrasty” lighting, perhaps a dark room with a single strong light source or the shadows created by a bright noon-day sunShoot close-ups of people or objects against a pure white background, like a hanging sheet
On the image with the boat, I ended up pulling the yellow slider to +77, but also setting the orange to +49.
There’s no magic workflow of a template that will work for every black and white image. Varying black and white depth, and shades of gray means you cannot apply the same technique to all black and white photographs. How you treat landscape photos isn’t the same as how you’ll handle landscape pictures.
The important thing, however, is to be aware of the colours you include in the photo at the time of capture. If you have no complementary colours in your photo, you will not be able to save it by just adjusting the black and white colour mix in Lightroom.
As you can see it is very easy to create a contrast in your images, as long as you shoot with colours in mind. By knowing the colour wheel and which colours are complementary, you are on your way to creating more impactful black and white images.
There are a lot of inviting scenes around you that are good candidates for a great black and white picture. You’ll pick them out more if you visualize them in the context of underexposure. By underexposing, you can push the colors to black, white and gray, and lead the viewer’s eye through the frame.
The red filter made the boat look darker making it difficult to clearly see the details on the boat. Because yellow and blue colours are so dominant in this photo, I find that the most beautiful conversion comes from using a yellow filter, giving the boat a bright tone.
Part of Google’s Nik Collection photo editing suite, Silver Efex Pro is an Adobe Photoshop plugin that makes black and white images look breathtaking. In theory, you can use Photoshop to do all that Silver Efex Pro does; it’ll just be more difficult and manual.
Black and white pictures have that old-fashioned feel so work best with rustic subjects such as old fences and rundown farm equipment. A portrait of an elderly person showing the creases and lines on their aging face has a greater visual impact in black and white than in color.
Whether you are a professional photographer or a hobbyist, black and white pictures are artistic, therapeutic and take you to new depths beyond the decorative role of color.
The areas with black or white tones don’t have to be large, but having them in your photo will make your image much more appealing compared to similar photos that lack either end of the tonal spectrum.
In a very dark or very bright scene it is not always possible to use shadows and highlights in the composition to create more black and white contrast in your monochrome image. In cases like these you should try to use the colours present at the scene to create the contrast.
There isn’t a perfect choice when it comes to cameras; it depends on personal preference and intended purpose. Hobbyists will probably be happy to settle for a decent phone camera. However, if you are going into black and white photography for professional reasons or are otherwise interested in commercial quality shots, you’ll require a higher end camera.
By identifying the main complementary colours in your photo and positioning the sliders accordingly, you can achieve a better contrast.
You cannot realize your full potential in modern black and white photography if you fail to harness the power of filters. Use the polarizer, for instance, to darken skies and create a dramatic ambiance. You can also use a split grade for similar purposes.
Since your photos might have colours that have both orange and yellow, you might have to adjust several of the sliders in the black and white mix panel in Lightroom to make the black and white photo display more contrast and therefore produce the best impact.
If all the elements in your photos only have bright colours like bright red, bright green, bright yellow, and so on, you will end up with an image with only bright tones of grey. This will make it a low contrast black and white photo, and it will end up looking flat and dull.
When it was first introduced to the market, Silver Efex Pro was a fairly expensive program going for as much as $500. Google acquired it, slashed the price to $137 before eventually making it available for free. Since it doesn’t cost you anything, it’s always a good idea to tinker your images in Silver Efex Pro if you intend to shoot professional black and white pictures.
For nearly two decades, digital cameras replaced film cameras and dominated the photography industry. With the advent of affordable smartphones and tablets featuring increasingly good quality inbuilt cameras, many enthusiasts have found a convenient tool for their photography hobby.
Your entire photograph doesn’t have to consist of black and white only. You’ll, however, want to have at least some elements in these colors. It helps anyone seeing the photo notice the image’s texture.
If you want to capture a photo with high black and white contrast, you can use two approaches: