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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That is my favourite reason for shooting on black and white film. You’re forced to hone your skills much faster.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of my favourite things about shooting on film is how good skin looks.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
20 Black and White Photography Tips for Monochrome Fans August 25, 2017
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 answer is simple – there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.
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.
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.
This still takes about 2 weeks or longer. I’m there regularly for printing anyway so it’s not too much of a problem.
I particularly like how the light shining on the back of the subject’s head is emphasised by the dark figure behind him.
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.
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.”
Once you understand how the film reacts to the light, you can use it as a creative tool in your photography.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The following are vital tips for creating memorable black and white photos.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That’s also one of the advantages of the poor dynamic range. The contrast on neutral colours is boosted.
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.
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.
Photographers will use flat light to realize a near perfect image then add contrast during post-processing using dodge and burn, and other techniques.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.