Black and white photography was the only option for those working in the age before colour film and digital, so why would you bother limiting yourself today? It can be good to view the world in black and white every now and then, and restricting your options can really help push your creativity in the long run.
We've compiled some go-to tips to help boost your black and white shots.
Always shoot in colour I know, you're reading an article about black&white photography and the first point is to shoot in colour, but hear us out! Generally speaking, it’s always best to shoot in colour so that you have an original file to work from. That way, if you take a winner of a shot that looks great in colour, you’ll also have the option of transforming it into a black and white image too.
If you really want to focus on black&white photography, and see the results of your shots straight away, there’s no reason why you can’t just set your camera to monochrome. This option can usually be found within your camera’s shoot menu or settings. This method will make it easier to instantly tell what subjects work well when desaturated.
Look for interesting contrasts With only two colour tones to work with, black and white photography can rely on the contrast between light and dark to tell the story.
Find interesting areas of shadow or harsh light to produce some punchy tones and create depth in your image. Large areas of a ‘flat’ looking grey can sometimes make a photo look dull.
Why are you choosing black and white over colour? If you’re deciding to create a black and white image, it pays to think about why. What story are you hoping to tell, and why would monochrome work better than colour in this case? Sometimes we can be tempted to transform an average photo into black&white in an attempt to make it better, for example if it is very over-exposed, but it’s important to remember that the desaturation tool is not an instant fix!
Shooting in black and white is a great creative exercise to allow you to capture the world differently to how we would normally view it in its technicolour glory. Pushing yourself to explore the options within the very limited palette of black and white will eventually push your creativity.
Use details and textures Sometimes strong colours within a photo can distract attention away from the subject detail, so if there’s an intriguing texture it can be great to use black and white to really place all the focus on where you want it.
Shooting flowers in black&white means you miss out on capturing their bright, attractive colours.
Desaturating a subject such as a crunchy leaf can work well to show it's texture.
Although flowers generally photograph best in colour, capturing texture of an autumnal leaf, or tree bark can look fantastic when desaturated. Think about how you can use sunlight hitting the edge of a leaf to really highlight the crispy textures.
Strong light sources work best Photographing a soft, pastel coloured sky can look amazing when in colour, but transform it to black and white and you will likely lose the magic and impact of the image. This is all to do with how black and white can rely on contrast between tones to produce an interesting image.
Instead of photographing when the sky is overcast, try going out with your camera when it is scattered with dark, moody looking clouds, or in bright sunshine when there are strong shadows. Strong sources of light work so well, so you could experiment on a hot, sunny day, or with a lamp focused on a subject at home.
Use the dodge and burn tool when editing The dodge and burn tools found in editing programs are based upon the tools that film photographers would use when developing from negatives in darkrooms. The negatives were projected onto light sensitive photo paper, with dodging being used so that areas of the image received less light, making the image brighter in that part, or burning to allow more light onto a section to darken.
Image that has been transformed into black and white with no additional editing.
This version has been enhanced with the dodge and burn tools.
These actions have been simplified into two very useful tools that can be used like a brush across areas of a photo to highlight or darken details. This is very useful when you wish to create or exaggerate contrast in areas that need a bit of a boost.
Adjust the temperature Although your photo is in black and white, there are ways of adjusting the tone of the image to further suit your subject.
Original black and white photo - with cold, blue tones - with warm, yellow tones.
You can use the colour sliders on image editing software to create a warm or cold hues on your photo. This can help add an extra dimension to the black and white tones.
Some of the best photography in the world has been shot in black and white, particularly the work of photographers such as Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Irving Penn. Challenge yourself to look through your viewfinder and see photo opportunities without the world of colour.