© 2006 – 2018 Digital Photography School, All Rights Reserved / Disclaimer
It can be difficult to think in black and white to start with, but once you get your eye in you will start noticing images everywhere that would look better with no colour. Many cameras have a setting that will let you view a scene in black and white through the viewfinder, but it will still take a colour photograph when you press the shutter. This is a great way of getting the best of both worlds.
Before digital photography the only way to work in black and white was to use black and white film. Thankfully, now it’s much easier to work in black and white, just by switching your camera to Monochrome Mode (check your camera’s manual if you are unsure how to do so, look for Picture Styles settings).
In this post I run through a few do’s and don’ts for beginner photographers wanting to create stunning black and white images.
There is also a place for green filters, which can bring out more detail in green subjects like leafy forests. Those four coloured filters (red, orange, yellow and green) have made their way onto most digital cameras as black and white settings.
Sign up to the weekly DPS NEWSLETTER Subscribe All our best articles for the week Fun photographic challenges Special offers and discounts Your email is safe with us. We won’t share it with anyone
The model was standing in the shade when I took this photo. The light lacks contrast, and the black and white photo is flat.
Cropping to the square format emphasizes the shapes of the three pots.
Usually at this point I advise you to use the Raw format. In the long run it’s easier than using JPEG, and gives you better image quality. But I appreciate that if you’re new to photography you may still be working exclusively in JPEG. The rest of this article works on this basis.
Applying the Red filter setting makes the blue sky go much darker, creating a much more dramatic version of the same scene.
The free online editor Polarr lets you do fine-tuned black and white conversions. This tutorial runs you through the steps.
Naturally, there are certain subjects that tend to work better than others in black and white; two in particular are landscapes and portraits. If this is your first time shooting in black and white, then these are great subjects to try out.
Black and white portraits emphasize expression and quality of light.
The colour filter settings are left over from the days of film photography. Photographers would buy coloured filters, and use them to alter the tones in black and white photos. For example, if your scene includes a blue sky, then using a yellow filter will make the sky a little darker, an orange filter makes it even darker, and a red filter darker still.
If colour is critical to the image – to the subject, to the mood or to the composition – then don’t try and force that image into black and white. This image works well enough as a textured black and white image, but because the green and pink hues are the same tone in a black and white photograph, the impact of the colour contrast is lost:
Landscape Photography Tips Portrait Photography Tips Photo Composition Tips Beginner Photography Tips Photo Post Processing Tips Get Started with Cameras and Gear
It’s for complete beginners who want to learn once, and learn properly. Register here and get started today:
Sign up to the weekly DPS NEWSLETTER Subscribe All our best articles for the week Fun photographic challenges Special offers and discounts
The traditional advice is to avoid including white or grey skies in your black and white landscape photography, but if you plan the shot well, you can incorporate the blank canvas and create strong images:
If you have Lightroom, these 2 videos from Adobe show you first, how to convert to black and white in Lightroom, and second, how to add colour toning to your black and white images:
Black and white is a beautiful medium to work in, one which you will appreciate the more you practice. In the meantime – have fun and enjoy yourself. You are following a path trodden by some of the most famous names in photography. And of course, if you have any questions about working in black and white, please let us know in the comments.
Once in monochrome mode you will see some extra options. They help you set your camera up to produce the best results. Again, check your manual if you are not sure where to find them.
DPS offers a free weekly newsletter with: 1. new photography tutorials and tips 2. latest photography assignments 3. photo competitions and prizes Enter your email below to subscribe.
My ebook Mastering Lightroom: Book Three – Black & White goes into the topic of black and white in depth. It explains everything you need to know to make dramatic and beautiful monochrome conversions in Lightroom, including how to use the most popular black and white plug-ins. Click the link to visit my website and learn more.
Black and white emphasizes the textures of the rocks and sea in this landscape photo.
Are you ready to learn how to use your camera properly? A Year With My Camera is my flagship beginner’s photography course, and the email version is entirely free for a year.
Shoot RAW if you plan to try black and white conversions – you will have much more depth of data to play with. Read this post if you want help with RAW: What Is RAW And Why Do You Need It?
If you’ve never tried black and white photography before, you may be wondering what the appeal is. After all, isn’t it a little like black and white television or silent movies – an anachronism in our modern, high-tech age?
Finally, you may have the option to tone your images. To be honest, unless your camera lets you apply toning affects subtly, I wouldn’t bother with these, as the effect is usually too strong.
My favourite phone apps for black and white photography are Provoke, and Enlight. Android users should try Snapseed.
Using black and white photography is a great way to create eyecatching images. The best black and white photographs are planned that way from the beginning, not created in an attempt to rescue a bad colour photo.
If you take a photo in flat light (for example, a portrait of somebody standing in the shade) the photo may look flat (two dimensional). So, you need to compensate by increasing the contrast. You can either do this in Photoshop or Lightroom after the photo has been taken, or you can do it in-camera with the contrast setting.
The answers to all the questions about lenses you’ve been afraid to ask
Receive a FREE SAMPLE of our Portrait Photography Ebook Subscribe Guaranteed for 2 full months Pay by PayPal or Credit Card Instant Digital Download GET DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS Feed Receive a FREE SAMPLE of our Portrait Photography Ebook Subscribe Guaranteed for 2 full months Pay by PayPal or Credit Card Instant Digital Download GET DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS Feed Receive a FREE SAMPLE of our Portrait Photography Ebook Subscribe Guaranteed for 2 full months Pay by PayPal or Credit Card Instant Digital Download GET DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS Feed Sign up to the free DPS PHOTOGRAPHY COURSE Subscribe Guaranteed for 2 full months Pay by PayPal or Credit Card Instant Digital Download GET DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS Feed Sign up to the free DPS PHOTOGRAPHY COURSE Subscribe Guaranteed for 2 full months Pay by PayPal or Credit Card Instant Digital Download GET DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS Feed Sign up to the free DPS PHOTOGRAPHY COURSE Subscribe Guaranteed for 2 full months Pay by PayPal or Credit Card Instant Digital Download GET DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS Feed
Black And White Photography – What Subjects … 12 years ago
Subjects that make great black and white photos are those that are defined by their shape, form or texture:
Most modern cameras let you change the aspect ratio. The reasons why you might want to do that are a little complex, but the main one is that it lets you shoot in the square format, something you may already be used to if you use an app like Instagram on your smartphone. If your camera has an electronic viewfinder, it will display a square image for you, making composition much easier.
Cameras with electronic viewfinders automatically display the image in black and white, helping you see how the image will look, before you press the shutter. If you have a digital SLR you will get the same effect in Live View. This may be useful if you are working with your camera on a tripod (for instance, taking a landscape photo).
In this colour image for example, the eye is drawn to the green splashes of colour which detract from the overall composition. It is much stronger in black and white:
This scene works quite well in black and white, but it’s not nearly as dramatic as it could be.
The image should be defined by the overall composition, the interaction between the elements, the play of light, or a strong graphic presence – not by the subject itself.
Just as importantly, working in black and white can help you become a better photographer. How? It’s all to do with composition.
Colour is very powerful, and tends to dominate the photo so much that it’s difficult to see other elements like tonal contrast, texture, shape, form and quality of light. Experienced photographers instinctively see these things, regardless of whether they work predominantly in colour or black and white. But if you’re just starting out, you may need some assistance to do so, and working in black and white photography will help you.
Sign up to the weekly DPS NEWSLETTER Subscribe Guaranteed for 2 full months Pay by PayPal or Credit Card Instant Digital Download
The answer is no, definitely not. In the photography world, black and white is considered an art form. Some would even say only the best photographers work in monochrome. It’s a medium with a rich history, (look at the work of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston or Henri Cartier-Bresson for examples) and a bright future.