HOW TO MASTER BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY

“Black and white create a strange dreamscape that color never can.”
Photo Courtesy Kevin Hou

Black and white photography is a unique type of art that depends on training your eyes to see the world’s monochromatic relations. A black and white picture can be stunning, captivating, fantastic, and certainly moody. Black and white photography is the practice of using different shades of grey to produce convincing images, varying from light to dark. Many people have this perception that taking back and white shots are easy but this isn’t true. Taking black and white pictures is not easy at all because the audience expects the photographer to showcase a clear as well as a beautiful composition. 

Photographers have been working with light and exposure to create black and white images ever since Louis Daguerre created the first “daguerreotype” picture in 1839. Advances in camera equipment and technologies allowed color photographs to be taken, starting with autochrome in the 1910s and graduating with full-color photography in the 1950s.

“Still Life” 
Photo Courtesy Louis Daguerre

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BLACK AND WHITE & MONOCHROME PHOTOGRAPHY

Although you may see the words “black and white” and “monochrome” used interchangeably, some major variations occur between these two styles of photography. 

  •  A monochrome picture indicates a ‘one-color’ shot. For example, it can be white, red, or blue.

“A monochrome image” 
Photo Courtesy Romilly Lockyer

  • Two colors already exist in a black and white photograph.

“Black and white photography” 
Photo Courtesy Denis Lomme

RAW OR JPEG: WHICH IS BETTER FOR BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY

There are various advantages of shooting black and white images in different file types. Professional photographers usually take their images in RAW format, but beginners may feel more confident exploring  JPEGs. Here’s a simple guide in black and white photography for JPEG vs. RAW picture files. 

RAW

RAW stands for Raw Image Format, this is a detail-rich, unprocessed digital file format. These files have a more flexible base for post-processing and editing as they contain more detail than other formats of images. RAW files, however, are still very large, ensuring they can take up more space on the memory card of your device. Additionally, some cameras can fail to take multiple RAW shots in rapid succession due to a large amount of information coming from your digital sensor. 

“Enable RAW to take detail-rich photos” 
Photo Courtesy https://cdn.photographylife.com

  • JPEG

JPEG is a popular format for compressed digital images, it stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group which established the file standard in 1992. These images are smaller and simpler for your camera to process. Like RAW, JPEG files can be edited using photography software; however, JPEG files compress content, meaning data such as lighting, white balance, and aperture can be lost, leading to poor quality or blurred images.

IMPORTANT COMPONENTS OF BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY

You will take the finest black and white images by perfecting the 7 components below. So let’s have a look at them!

  • SHADOWS

Shadows are not only the darker regions of black and white photographs, but they are also an essential element of the image and can even be the subject itself. In black and white images, the use of shadows influences every other aspect of how an image looks. Whether they contain detail or if they are dark, shadows play a significant role in your picture’s look and effect.

If your shadows are subtle and precise, it may make the overall picture more complex. On the other hand, if the shadows are black without any detail, a sense of intensity and void is indicated.

“An excellent example of shadows in black and white photography” 
Photo Courtesy Nadar Al Assy

  • CONTRAST

Eliminating color from an image provides a greater focus on tonal contrast, which is the difference between the shades of light and dark and their relationship to each other in a picture. If you take a picture in flat light (a portrait of someone standing in the shadow, for example) the picture can appear flat (two-dimensional). So, you can fix that by increasing the contrast. You can either do that after the shot has been taken in Photoshop or Lightroom, or you can do it in-camera with the contrast mode.

For black and white photography contrast matters because of the message it conveys. A picture with high contrast makes the picture stand out. Low contrast images do not draw much attention but can perform well with their smoothened and darker quality.

“A full tone and balanced contrast” Photo Courtesy Raphael Augustin

  • SHAPE

Without color, shapes will decide how we define and understand the objects and scenes in a photograph. The best photos in black and white use different variations of shapes and textures to help audiences understand their subject matter. The best silhouettes are those that have a distinct and instantly recognizable shape.

“Shape can help tell a story- such as the juxtaposition of crocodile’s teeth” 
Photo Courtesy Sandi Yanto

  • COMPOSITION 

Composition in photography refers to the positioning of objects and elements within an image. Consider the composition when selecting a black and white subject: how much is dark, and how much light? You can make a more appealing black and white picture by rearranging objects and combining them with space.

“This image creates a composition that is different.” 
Photo Courtesy https://cdn.photographylife.com

WAYS TO CHOOSE YOUR SUBJECTS & FRAMES EFFECTIVELY

Choosing the right subject is the first step to take black and white photographs.  Below are a few tips for selecting black and white photography subjects:

  • MAKE IT EASY

The Black and White approach to photography is essentially minimalist. Highly detailed photos, such as a farmer’s market with colorful items in a variety of containers, do not qualify as perfect black and white photographs, because the absence of color destroys the most fascinating part of the shot effectively. 

  • LOOK FOR LANDSCAPES


Landscape photography works with black and white because of the subjects’ natural dimension. Instead of sunrises or sunsets, which depend on gradients of color, look for geometric patterns, unusual constructions or shapes seen in nature or street photography. A single tree in a field with clear light from above, a rocky shoreline under a moonlit sky, or a highly angled building all function as stunning scenery when captured in high-quality black and white.

“Landscapes have dynamic elements that make black and white images pop”
Photo Courtesy https://www.photographytalk.com

  • CONSIDER PORTRAITS

Portrait photography provides one special chance to capture the originality of a specific subject. A clean backdrop like a lightly textured wall or a drop cloth hanging in a temporary studio will allow the person or pet posing to stand out for your image. Unique hats, clothes or textures create a good black and white portrait in the surroundings.

“Living & Non-Living Being in Black and White”
Photo Courtesy Chiiz Photography Magazine

SUBJECTS THAT DOESN’T WORK IN BLACK AND WHITE

Before taking a shot one has to think about the images that will not work in black and white. For instance, you captured a magnificent sunset. Does this scene look amazing when there is no color and the image is captured in black and white? No! 

Certain subjects may even blend in with their surroundings. Think for an example of taking close-ups of flowers. If you capture such shots in black and white, you will lose the most impactful element of the image. All those greens, blues and reds will create a common grey tone, meaning the entire scene will blend together. The audience will not have any focus.

Composing your images in the monochrome mode of your camera can be useful in giving yourself a rough picture of how your scene could look like when you do black and white photography. 

CREATE BLACK AND WHITE IMAGES IN CAMERA

Every camera has a Black and White, Monochrome, or Film Simulation modes. By triggering one of these modes, you instruct your camera to create black and white or monochrome images at the time of the shooting. In this way, the camera takes the shot in color. Then it passes the image into the internal processor of the camera and transforms it into black and white.

The advantage of this black and white photography approach is that you automatically have a black and white photograph, and no further conversions are needed in post-processing. The disadvantage of this approach is that if you are not satisfied with the final shot, you cannot convert it back to the colored version. 

CREATE BLACK AND WHITE IMAGES IN POST-PROCESSING

This approach to black and white photography includes shooting in color in an uncompressed RAW format, then converting the color image to black and white in a photo editing software like Lightroom or Photoshop. You can generate the same picture in color & black and white versions, plus you can make an infinite number of variations in black and white & monochrome. 

The drawback here is that creating a black and white image requires an extra step, and you need to master photo editing.

HOW TO EDIT BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOS IN LIGHTROOM CLASSIC CC

There are a couple of ways to edit black and white photos and they’re all just easy.

  • ONE-CLICK CONVERSION

Perhaps the most common way of converting digital files to black and white is by simply clicking the “Black and White” option in the Basic section of Lightroom’s Develop module. It will transform the picture into black and white automatically. 

“Convert photos with B&W tab”
Photo Courtesy www.digital-photography-school.com

  • DESATURATION

There is also an option to simply desaturate the image by sliding the Saturation slider. This is a good option if you want to control your image’s saturation. 

“Set treatment to B&W in basic panel”
Photo Courtesy www.digital-photography-school.com

HOW TO EDIT BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOS IN ADOBE PHOTOSHOP

  • CONVERT TO GRAYSCALE

There is an option of ‘Convert to Grayscale’. Although this will definitely turn the colored image to black and white, it will also permanently delete all color information from Photoshop’s imported image. This ensures that the different color channels in the picture won’t be suitable for subsequent manipulation later on. Therefore, this is the best-recommended option as of now. 

“Grayscale option in Adobe Photoshop” 
Photo Courtesy https://www.photoshopessentials.com

COMMON MISTAKES TO AVOID

The most common mistakes to avoid in black and white photography are listed below:

  • NOT HAVING ENOUGH CONTRAST

If the picture includes only intermediate greys, the photograph would be very plain. That doesn’t mean it has to be a super-contrast shot, but the various shades of the grayscale can make it even more appealing to the eye. 

  • ADDING TOO MUCH CONTRAST

After a simple grayscale transfer in Photoshop, black and white images appear to look dull. So you have to add at least a little contrast to that. But going too far and adding too much is easy to lose subtlety and detail in both shadows and highlights. 

  • NOT SHOOTING RAW

The JPEG format results in a compressed file leaving plenty of information on the way. If you’re shooting with a mobile or a compact device, you won’t have any other options than this, but if you’re shooting with a DSLR, you’ll have the opportunity to work in RAW, which is like saving the entire scene on your camera. Shooting in this format is a little difficult but if you want to shoot a beautiful scene, try shooting in it. It is a way far flexible than JPEG. 

  • HAVING BAD COMPOSITION 

Stripped of its color, a black and white picture relies more on having strong compositional elements. The best black and white photographs use elements such as lines and curves, patterns and shapes, negative space, and dynamic range to generate the value of the scene. Bad compositional decisions will be reflected in the full screen and will have a negative effect on how the people will interpret the image. 

So, keep these ideas in mind the next time you’re out shooting and capture eye-catching black and white images. Have enough contrast, do not shoot in JPEG and add strong compositional elements to have better results. 

CONCLUSION

Black and white photography is about presenting a simple but beautiful composition that will leave the viewer with an indelible impression. In reality, black and white do not require any professional skills just like color photography. It has a special place in art and photo-making. When done with full focus, it imposes a certain view on the universe.

You don’t really need to adjust the way you use your camera to take proper black and white photos. If you really love photography, you won’t regret doing experiments to take great black and white shots. Those who have worked with this form of photography have been able to convey the true emotions to the whole of humanity by using only one photograph. 

Best of luck and you can also use the comments box below to leave your feedback! Also, do not forget to check our new release at magazine.chiiz.com and do check out blog.chiiz.com for more blogs related to photography. 

About the Author:

Pratiksha Sharma is our desperate writer. She is always asking for more articles to write on. She has the energy of a teenager. Well, she is a teenager. But, her writings are way more forward. She is pursuing English Honours since she is a bookworm. Her hobbies are writing, playing video games and travelling. She wants to excel in writing with perseverance, hard work and dedication.

 

 

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