It could be argued that black and white photography is the purest form or photography, as it predates color photography by quite a few years. The process of creating black and white photographs has changed significantly since then, but the elements of a great black and white photograph have remained the same. Try shooting in black and white if you are a beginner, or just for a whole new experience in photography. Use these tips for black and white photography to get you started.
1. Why black and white?
Black and white photography helps us to focus on the building blocks of our art. Without color, we need to look more closely at composition, tone, contrast and quality of light. Most of us can see color, so learning to think in black and white changes how you see and opens up creative possibilities.
2. Shooting in black and white
When you have experience working with black and white, you can see what will work and what won’t before you snap a photo. Some cameras have a black and white mode that will allow you to see the final monotone image as you shoot. If you prefer to shoot in color and convert the images to black and white afterward, this can be done very easily in Photoshop or Lightroom. Both have a one-click convert, as well as options for adjusting the tone and contrast. You can even add in color filters to affect certain tones in the image.
3. More contrast
In general, a black and white image needs more contrast to provide visual interest than the same image in color. People love black and white images with punch: dark shadowy blacks and bright whites. If you take your images in a normal RGB color space and then convert them to black and white, you may find that you need to crank up the contrast. Some software plugins like Silver Efex Pro by Google will do this for you. Some black and white images have virtually no mid-tones, while others have very smooth gradations from black to white. Experiment with contrast to see how your images look best. Better yet, learn to see lighting situations that already have the contrast you are looking for and skip the post-production altogether!
4. Look for lines, shapes and patterns
Since a black and white photograph cannot rely on color for visual interest, you must learn to look for other ways of creating it. Leading lines, interesting shapes and unique patterns all make for interesting components of a good photo. Pay closer attention to the composition — how you crop it and how you frame it — to make it more compelling to a viewer.
5. Pay attention to lighting
The way light falls on or off of a subject or scene is much more apparent in a black and white photograph. The quality of light is easier to see. The shapes that form from light wrapping around a subject are more pronounced when the tones are clearly defined and contrasting each other. Look closely at the lighting when you are trying to make a black and white photo. Make sure that it gives you enough tonal range and contrast to make for an interesting composition.
One other thing to keep in mind with black and white photos on a digital camera is the noise. When shooting at a high ISO, whether in color or black and white, there is an amount of digital noise that is added to the photo. In a color image, the noise can be overlooked because of the sheer amount of tonal information a viewer is trying to process. While a black and white image does not have any more noise than a color image, it is more visible because the viewer has less visual information to process and can look more carefully at the quality of the image. Even with access to color photography, there is still something special about black and white images. [box type=”shadow”] Learn how to get the most out of Adobe Lightroom and unlock key skills of post-processing in Bluprint’s class The Essential Guide to Lightroom. These essential editing lessons will create truly impressive images!