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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A 4-second exposure is much better than a 16-second exposure but then you will have to choose a wider aperture so depth of field will be smaller and more of the background will be out of focus. This could be a plus of course, depending on your intentions.
Black and White Night Photography -Tips for Digital & Film Photographers
If, on the other hand, you shoot in colour, you can convert to grey-scale later in Photoshop with a huge range of subtlety available due to the camera having captured all that ‘extra’ information.
Above: A Performer at 2007 Buskerfest in Toronto, Canada by Darren Tse
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.
This is potentially a problem if you are shooting in colour and converting to black and white afterwards in Photoshop. More about this further down the page.
In Landscape/Nature, Post-processing by Jim HarmerMay 11, 201141 Comments
Normal vision is called photopic vision which means the human eye uses cones to sense light. The eye is working in photopic mode during daylight. During photopic vision three types of cone receptors in the eye are used to sense light as three colours, red, green and blue.
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.
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.
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.
Canon Digital Rebel XTi, 1/20 sec, f/1.8, ISO 1600, lens focal length 50 mm
Reciprocity failure doesn’t happen with digital cameras but there is another problem then which is that digital noise increases with the longer exposures. The answer is to use a tripod and keep the exposure as short as possible.
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 #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.
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Also keep the ISO as low as possible, 200 or less, as the noise on many digital cameras increases rapidly about 400 and up. In my experience, Canon make the best cameras for dealing with noise. With Canon cameras you can shoot at quite high ISOs but keep the level of noise down to an acceptable level.
Above: Black and White Photo of a Bench in Elizabeth Park in West Hartford, Connecticut, at Night by Sage Ross
If you enjoyed this article on black and white night photography, consider taking some shots of the moon next time you are out at night. Click the following link if you would like to read photography tips for making moon photographs.
If you are shooting digital, your camera will record light of three different colours, red, green and blue, on a scale of 0 up to 255. The three readings combine to give a single reading for each dot on your sensor. Since each colour has a possibility of 256 readings, the total number of possibilities in a single pixel is 256 x 256 x 256 which is more than 16 million possibilities – so many colours!
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.
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.
The term reciprocity failure means that with long exposures, the film becomes less sensitive to light and results become unpredictable. This particularly occurs with long exposures such as those needed in the low-level light conditions that you usually have to work with in black and white night photography. Kodak Tri-X and Ilford HP5 and FP4 films work well at night but Ilford films in general have a greater tendency towards reciprocity failure.
Mesopic vision means a combination of both photopic and scotopic and predominates at dawn and dusk or in urban areas that are dimly lit. The combination of the higher total sensitivity of the rods in the eye for the blue range with the color perception of the cones results in a very strong appearance of bluish colours around dawn or other low levels of light. Mesopic vision is what most of us use at night as there is so much ‘light pollution’ nowadays.
So it’s important to realise that in black and white night photography, what you are seeing is not exactly what the camera will record. You have to learn ‘black and white thinking’ to allow you to make informed choices as that beautiful blue night scene will look different in the final black and white shot.
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.
Black and White Photography TechniquesNight Photography Tips Recommended Reading (for Kindle)
Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT, 1/5 sec, f/5, ISO 800, lens focal length 38 mm
As if dealing with mesopic vision wasn’t enough, there is another problem that awaits you in black and white night photography and that is a thing called ‘reciprocity failure’. This only occurs with film and it is more pronounced with black and white film than colour film.
Night vision is called scotopic vision which means the human eye uses rods to sense light. Scotopic vision cannot perceive colours and records light in terms of black, white and grey. But importantly, the sensitivity range of the rods makes the eye more sensitive to blue light at night.
For black and white night photography to be successful, it helps to think in black and white because the eye perceives things differently at night to during the day and you need to be able to compensate.
If you do decide to record in colour and convert afterwards, don’t make the mistake of converting your images using the desaturate option under the image/adjustments menu as results will be much better using the channel mixer. Just check the ‘monochrome’ box and play about with the sliders. Provided you make sure that the values add up to 100, the lightness won’t alter – unless you like a particular effect of course.
Although the colour temperature for night shots is actually the same as for daylight, the difficulty in believing this is because objects at night usually look blueish to the human eye.
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.
Seeing in the Dark: A Guide to Night Photography Seeing the Unseen – How to Photograph Landscapes at Night
If you set your digital camera to record in black and white, it ignores these possibilities and just records the strength of the light on a scale from 0 to 255. Pure black is 0 and pure white is 255 and everything else is shades of grey. In other words, by setting the camera to black and white rather than colour, you have just thrown away most of the 16 million possibilities and opted for 256 possibilities.
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.
Above: The Eiffel Tower at Night During the 1900 Exposition by William Herman Rau (American, 1855-1920)