You might feel a little apprehensive if you’ve never tried Black and White Photography when setting up Photography Composition before. After all, where should you begin? Should you convert color photos to black and white or should you shoot in black and white with your camera? And how exactly do you make beautiful Black And White Photos?
Innovature BPO hopes to provide answers to all of those questions in this article. We’ll describe the importance of Monochrome Photography, how to accomplish it, and offer some advice along the way!
The Definition of Black and White Photography
The art of Black and White Photography involves using many shades of gray, from light to dark, to produce striking photographs.
Similar to the history of photography itself, this genre has a very long history. Monochrome photographs had been existing for 35 years by the time photographers obtained the first permanent color image in 1861.
Even though color is the new kid on the block, it hasn’t supplanted the art of Black and White Photography. Color may be distracting as well as boring and uninteresting. Simplifying an image and reducing a scene to its essential elements is one of a photographer’s jobs. That essence can occasionally be colorless.
An excellent Black And White Photo is likewise an excellent image in general. Even though it’s a common practice, applying a “Noir” filter won’t be able to save a bad picture.
You’ll soon notice that there are seven key components of excellent Black And White Photos. The most crucial thing to remember first, though, is that you must have a purpose for shooting in black and white.
Not every subject works nicely in black and white. Therefore, always consider why you are removing color from a particular image. Why is it crucial to capture your subject in that manner?
Although they don’t always, Black And White Photos can look fantastic. You must have a purpose before choosing to take a Black And White photo rather than a color one. Maybe your shot is not meant to be monochrome if you can’t think of a compelling reason.
Meaning of Black and White Photography
Some people prefer the traditional, “timeless” aspect that monochromatic photographs have, as demonstrated by photographers like Sebastio Salgado, Henri Cartier-Bresson, or Ansel Adams, whose famous photograph of the Tetons. Others want to draw the viewer’s attention to particular components like contrast, texture, and form. There are many reasons to pursue Monochrome Photography nowadays, but the style is still so entrenched in photography — it serves as the base and the very essence of photography — that there is never a need for an explanation.
This was not the case when color photography first appeared. Contrasted with its predecessor, the monochrome film, the color film had to establish its value, which it achieved. Black And White Photography convey the feeling of an experience, while color photographs show viewers how things looked.
Not that color photographs lack emotion. In fact, color can occasionally overpower the message a photographer is trying to convey since it evokes so many varied feelings across cultures. Shades of gray are preferable when the color starts to detract from the photograph’s intended message.
How significant is Black & White photography?
Black And White Photography is a distinct artistic medium. Some even contend that the best photographers only shoot in black and white. It’s a form with a long history; for some genuinely great examples, check out the work of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, or Henri Cartier-Bresson are displayed above.
Working in black and white can, more crucially, improve your photography.
How? It’s all about seeing.
Color has a lot of impact. It frequently takes center stage in photographs, making it difficult for new photographers to recognize other crucial components like contrast, texture, shape, form, and lighting quality.
Whether they shoot in color or black and white, seasoned photographers automatically notice these things. However, if you’re just getting started, you might need some help. Color is removed in black and white, allowing you to concentrate on the other important factors.
Naturally, there are some topics that tend to function better in black and white than others. Black and white works particularly well for landscapes and portraiture. These are wonderful beginner topics if this is your first time in Black N White Photography.
When comparing the two forms of photography, Ansel Adams stated, “I can get a far greater sense of ‘color’ through a well-planned and executed black and white image than I have ever achieved with color photography.”
Of course, in today’s society, color photography accounts for most images. This may indicate that we have lost part of the creativity and beauty that Ansel Adams hoped to capture in his photographs. Hopefully, the tips in this post will enable you to reclaim it.
Monochrome vs. Black and White
Perhaps you’ve noticed that black and white (B&W) and monochrome are two terms that are frequently used to describe the “same” thing. Although these words are sometimes used interchangeably, they are not the same!
Monochrome simply means “of a single color.” Therefore, provided it is only one color, monochrome photos can have a color tint. Look at the picture below. All of the other colors have been eliminated, yet it has a brown hue to emphasize the character. Despite being monochrome, this is not in black and white. True Black And White Photos are completely devoid of color. White, gray, and black are their only three colors.
The good news is that using either term typically won’t lead to misunderstandings. For images without a tint, it is preferable to refer to them as “black and white” if you wish to be 100% truthful.
Black And White Photography: When to Use It
It’s kind of a misnomer to say “when” to utilize Black And White Photography. Some photographers only capture images in black and white, regardless of the circumstances.
However, there are some circumstances that seem to work well with the Black And White Photography style. Most viewers will easily feel impressed with beautiful black-and-white landscape photos or Black And White Portrait Photography. That being said… Great B&W Photography examples may be found in almost every type of photography.
The secret isn’t knowing when to use B&W photography, but rather knowing how to use the 7 foundations in your specific circumstance.
Develop the ability to “see” in tone
If you want to become an expert at taking better Black And White Photos, you must teach yourself to “see” in tone and disregard the colors in front of your camera. One of the easiest Black And White Photography hints for developing the ability to “see in tone” is to get either a monochrome viewing filter (also known as a “black and white viewing filter”) or a pair of dark-gray lensed sunglasses.
You can look through the sunglasses (or the filter) at the scene you want to capture in black and white. The background (subject) will look as tones of tone rather than colored colors thanks to the dark lens’s assistance in removing color.
Developing Ideas for Black and White Photographs
You’re not really “coming up with ideas” for monochromatic photos, let’s face it. Actually, what you’re doing is thinking of concepts for a photograph.
As a black and white photographer, your main priority should be… How can I get a shot that screams for the monochrome photography medium of this scenario, person, object, subject, or idea (that I have in my head)?
Some subjects require color, while others don’t. Once you’ve decided that color isn’t crucial to the artwork you’re about to create, you can move on to using the f7 cornerstones we’ll cover later, excellent lighting, and, of course, always keeping the final composition in mind.
How to Prepare for the Best B&W Photos
Below are several methods that would be used in the planning process. However, let’s organize it into a list so that it will be simple to remember.
1/ If you’re shooting digitally, use the camera raw format to ensure that your original image has a greater dynamic range than a JPEG file (the capacity to capture highlights and shadows). Shooting in raw format is usually recommended (if you can, shoot in both formats).
2/ To ensure that your final image has strong contrast and tonal separation, use the sunglasses approach. (This is crucial for B&W film photographers since there are restrictions on tonal separation once the shutter is released).
3/ Create a composition that makes use of as many of the 7 foundations as you can, while also taking the other compositional tools and lighting into account.
4/ Create a processing method that produces a wide range of tones, if that is your goal. You won’t have a wide range of tones if your style is high-contrast black-and-white imaging. Knowing what you want and then figuring out how to get there is the aim.
Black And White Photography Techniques: The 7 Elements
When photographing in black and white, you must “pull an Ansel Adams” and use only variations in light and dark to capture the essence of your subject, including its colors and other features. The best Black And White photographs do this by mastering the seven factors listed below.
When shooting in black and white, one of the first things to keep in mind is that shadows have a disproportionately large impact. They are now more than just shadowy areas in a picture; they are also frequently your topic and important parts of the composition.
In Black And White Photography, how you handle the shadows has an impact on every other aspect of the image’s appearance. Do the shadows have no details and are black? That conveys a sense of ferocity and emptiness. Or, on the other hand, if your shadows are delicate and intricate, it might result in a more intricate image in general.
It’s important to note that nothing in black-and-white photography—or pure white, for that matter—requires areas to be completely black in order to look nice. The idea that a black and white photo must have the full gamut of tones, from dark shadows to bright highlights, is somewhat unfounded.
Instead, just go with what you think looks best, but be mindful of your frame’s shadows. They frequently have more of a “pull” in black and white than in color, so you might need to adjust your composition.
Many individuals mistakenly believe that contrast only refers to the contrast between a photograph’s brightest and darkest areas. This soft gradient, meanwhile, exhibits great contrast by that criterion alone because it includes both white and black:
Instead, proximity is one of the elements of contrast. When two things are displayed side by side, the brightness difference between them is accentuated. The brilliant Eiffel Tower is in full view in front of a dark background in the picture below. In comparison to the gradient above, this image has much more contrast.
Black And White Photography needs contrast because of the message it conveys. High-contrast images, like the one below, evoke a sense of dynamic intensity, frequently once more as a result of the deep shadows. This is why contrast is popular among photographers when creating monochrome images. It makes the images more distinctive.
Low-contrast photographs don’t draw as much attention, yet their softer, more subdued appearance can be just as effective. Only a few silver mid-tones can be seen in some of my all-time favorite black and white photographs, and their subtlety is what makes them so effective.
The important thing to remember is that a photo’s contrast level needs to make sense for your subject. You may fine-tune this aspect, at least somewhat, in post-production. Photographing a serene, springtime day with strong contrast that detracts from your mood can be a mistake. High contrast is also a natural choice when photographing a strong landscape in monochrome since it helps the subject stand out.
Photographers don’t all define “tone” in the same way. In this context, you can interpret it to refer to the undertones of an image’s brightness, darkness, and grayscale tones.
Each and every Black And White Photo is built on tones. You’ve probably seen examples of tones used excessively if you’ve ever heard the terms “high-key” or “low-key” in relation to photography.
Even though the majority of photographs fall somewhere in the middle of being neither particularly bright nor particularly dark, you still need to consider tones when taking a picture. This is due to the fact that tones, like contrast, can convey a strong statement about the atmosphere of your photograph.
Look at the two pictures down below.
Of course, this is the same image in two different variations—dark and light. The darker picture is more ominous and unsettling. The lighter image is happier and more etheric.
Although the aforementioned differences are stark, even slight variations in the tones you capture can drastically alter the emotions of a photograph. The optimum tones, though, will vary depending on the scene you are taking; in the image above, I like the lighter version better.
The most crucial thing to keep in mind is that your image’s tones, whether dark or bright, should complement the personality of the subject itself. Use them purposefully to convey the narrative you have in mind.
Every image is made up of various shapes, no matter how complicated. Shapes become even more crucial as a component of the tale you tell when color is taken out of your toolbox.
Look at the picture below. Yes, it shows a waterfall with trees and rocks in the background. On a more abstract level, however, it is simply a collection of shapes arranged on a canvas. A rectangle with lines and polygons surrounding it forms the waterfall. The big tree that’s rooted in the river has the appearance of a musical note.
Shapes automatically attract people. If an object has no color, the only way we can identify it is by its shape. Imagine a silhouetted lamp in a monochromatic photograph. White and black may be the only tones in the image. There are no textures or shadows to identify what the picture depicts. But there’s no denying that you’re staring at a lamp, right?
Shapes serve as an image’s compass and unify it. Every year, millions of people visit famous overlooks just to take pictures of the mountains or rivers that make up their landscape.
We don’t even need to emphasize the instantly recognized and intensely emotional human shapes.
There is no color in Black And White Photography to make an image seem more recognizable (or more abstract, if that’s your intention). Therefore, shapes are particularly crucial because they’re one of the main ways a viewer even makes sense of a photograph.
Shadows undoubtedly include shape. Shadows don’t necessarily refer to shape, though! Anywhere in the tonal range, the shape can become a key component of a highly effective Black And White Photo.
While shapes and shadows are related… Contrast and shape are frequently linked. The shape is useful because of contrast.
Keep in mind that color photography defies this rule since color can define the shape. As a B&W photographer, you must develop the ability to see “shape” through contrast and tone. Because it is a fundamental instinct for survival and training in our brains, the shape is one of the reasons it works so well in photography and other artistic mediums. We judge everything based on its shape.
An image’s “big picture” is made up of shapes, while the remaining space is filled up with texture. Additionally, the textures you capture have the ability to influence the mood and emotions of a photo, just like all the other aspects of Black And White Photography that we have discussed so far.
The texture is the cornerstone of an image’s identity, whether it be in the form of smooth pebbles, rough grass, gleaming aluminum, or dreary rust. For instance, a gentle stream presents a particularly difficult photographic subject due in large part to the delicate texture of the water. (However, if this were your intention, you would strive to increase contrast and capture deep shadows to counterbalance the smooth texture of the image).
Examine the textures in the two photos below, and consider how they affect the atmosphere of the images:
The first image’s erratic waves add to the menacing, dramatic atmosphere. The second image, in contrast, has softer, repeated patterns that promote a sense of balance and harmony. The texture becomes even more important when color cannot be relied upon to create the emotional core of an image. Simply put, it significantly affects how your Black And White images look.
An indication that the photographer purposefully chose to capture the scene in this manner as opposed to another can be seen in the greatest photographs. The picture is organized and structured. It’s more than simply a picture. In other words, it is composed well.
The important point in this context is that certain aspects of your shot will vary in black and white versus color, even though we have talked much more in-depth about composition in the past. For instance, if you’re shooting color portraits, your subject may have striking eyes that have a big impact on your composition. Similar effects can be seen in landscape photography, where a golden sky can lift the entire composition. These are just two examples of how you would need to compose your photo differently if you shot in black and white instead.
Other times, you might want to benefit from how much more imaginative black-and-white photography is. The condensed composition in the example below takes away some of the scene’s context. The feeling is intensified by the absence of color, which makes viewers take more time to comprehend what is happening in the picture. Black and white makes it simpler to get this impression than color.
Of course, whether your images are in color or black and white, they must be well-composed. The conversion of a photo has no effect on this. It still helps to view the situation through the lens of monochrome when taking black and white photographs. When you do, you’ll frequently discover yourself changing your compositional choices, which can transform a passable shot into a piece for your portfolio.
Emotion is, in some ways, the most crucial aspect of photography, so it’s the ideal approach to conclude this list. All of the previously covered parts are significant largely because they are emotive tools that enable you to define the atmosphere and message of your Black And White photographs.
Take a look at the two photos below, which show two entirely different scenes, as a case study. The first shows buildings, and the second shows mountains. But despite the striking differences in subject, these pictures convey similar emotions:
How come that? The answer should be clear from the fact that both images are crowded, in high contrast, with sharp textures and deep shadows. Both pieces have similar jumbles of tones and shapes. Who gives a damn if the topics are different? Each image must have a similar impression because of how similar their underlying components are.
Contrast it with the image below, which shows the complete opposite. The emotion in this picture is entirely different—isolated and lonely—as you could anticipate from the austere composition and lack of distractions:
Good Black And White Photography does not require you to master a different variable called emotion. Instead, it represents the conclusion of the other technologies we have talked about. When used effectively, the other six Black And White Photography components enable you to shape your emotional message in a way that connects with viewers and presents them with something worthwhile.
Inspiration and Ideas
Simply go outside and take some fantastic Black And White Pictures. Practice is the best method to get better at something, both in the field and in post-production. You’ll soon find yourself viewing the world in monochrome and picturing the exact appearance of the situation in front of you in black and white. Here are a few quick suggestions to get you started.
1/ Photography in Black and White for Portraits
Black And White Photography can be used to condense the emotions of your subject. If you photograph people in color, any clothing in the image might get more attention than it needs to, detracting from your message. Instead, monochrome allows you to concentrate on things like gestures and facial expressions.
But, it’s challenging to take portraits in black and white. Skin tone is the main factor contributing to this. The four elements of this portrait are shape, texture, contrast, and tone. However, take note of how crucial the skin tone is to each of those elements. Recognize how to properly assess skin tone. It should have some texture and contour and not be overly light or dark. Depending on the subject’s skin tone, these elements will alter.
2/ Landscape Photographs in Black and White
Pictures of the landscape in monochrome convey a sense of rawness that attracts viewers. They rely on the basic elements of the scene—light and land—to convey a narrative. Additionally, it is typical for landscapes with a plethora of colors to become chaotic and divert attention from the message you are trying to convey. Black And White Photography is frequently the best answer.
Even Nevertheless, there are times when a landscape’s colors are correct but the picture still looks better in black and white. This is due to the fact that, as a photographer, you frequently aim to capture a scene’s soul rather than merely an exact reproduction of what you observed. Sometimes, that essence is less about specifics and more about shadow, texture, shape, and contrast.
3/ Street Photography in Black and White
Street photography – perhaps the only genre of photography where people are more likely to shoot in monochrome than in color. Why would this be?
In some sense, it is down to the history of street photography. People like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Vivian Maier captured street life exclusively in black and white, and their influence has carried over to many people taking pictures today.
However, color can detract from street scenes in a deeper way that is less common in other genres. Splashes of color should be avoided if you want viewers to concentrate on an interaction or subtle visual pun that you have recorded (especially in cities where the placement of colors in the frame is sometimes random). Although not all excellent street photography must be in black and white, the fact that the majority of it is shouldn’t come as a surprise.
4/ Architectural Black and White Photography
When creating a building’s design, an architect considers where the structure will be placed on the land it will be constructed on. They also consider the illumination caused by the Sun throughout the year. The purpose of an architect can be beautifully captured in Black And White Photography. It is the photographer’s responsibility to ascertain the purpose and then emphasize it utilizing the cornerstones. Shape, texture, contrast, and tone are the cornerstones that are depicted in this architectural shot.
5/ Abstract monochrome photography
The photographer intentionally employed “high contrast” in this abstract monochrome image to emphasize its abstract quality. High contrast: What is it? High contrast means that the transition from dark to light happens quickly and that there are few intermediary tones. The image uses a lot of contrast while also making effective use of shape.
Because it can help remove distractions and reduce the image to its most basic elements, Black And White Photography can help create an abstract or semi-abstract photographic composition. How significant is the usage of color when assessing an image for probable conversion to black and white? Does the story and impact of the shot improve or worsen if the color is removed? It will be easier for your audience to understand your intent if you evaluate something on your own before showing it to others.
Generally speaking, you should just continue using the camera you already own for taking Black And White Photos; it will function just as well for monochromatic pictures as it will for color ones. However, there are still a few camera equipment factors, which Innovature BPO will cover below, that are important for Black And White Photography.
First off, it’s crucial to note that some cameras only produce monochromatic images. They frequently cost a lot of money and are of very high quality, like the Leica M Monochrome ($8000). Although it isn’t unusual to see people modify ordinary cameras so they can only capture black and white images, doing so is expensive and difficult.
Who would exert such effort for a camera that only captures Black And White Images? Well, the majority don’t. However, monochrome-only cameras do provide Black And White Images that are sharper and cleaner than those you can get from a color camera, so it’s not like there are no advantages. However, for the majority of people, a regular color camera is the obvious choice due to its practicality.
2/ Choosing between shooting in black & white and color then converting
The majority of cameras offer a black and white setting, which raises the intriguing topic of whether it is preferable to shoot color photos first and then edit them into monochrome images.
The straightforward response is that since there isn’t really a downside to shooting in color first and switching to black and white later in post-production, you should always do so. Additionally, you always have the choice to return if you decide later that you would prefer the color version.
Additionally, starting with a color file gives you a lot more flexibility because you can still change the “colors” after converting to black and white. To make the sky appear darker in your monochrome photographs, for instance, you may darken the blue channel. If your file from the camera is already in black and white, you cannot do this.
3/ JPEG vs RAW
Actually, the previous section contained a little bit of a false dilemma. Simply said, it doesn’t initially apply to many photographers. That’s because, hopefully, you’ll be shooting RAW files rather than JPEGs, and color information is always preserved in RAW photographs produced with a color camera.
However, the broad strokes are that RAW files are larger files with more data, whereas JPEGs are smaller files with less data. Therefore, it makes sense that photographers seeking to capture high-quality images prefer to shoot in RAW.
Therefore, you can turn on “monochrome” on your camera and start taking pictures if you are shooting RAW. On the LCD of the camera, the pictures will seem in black and white, but when you open them in editing software, they’ll change to color! None of that information is lost while saving in RAW format.
You can take advantage of this. Consider that when taking pictures, you intend to convert the majority of your RAW images to black and white. By turning on monochrome mode, your camera’s LCD will display a black and white preview that can aid in your understanding of the image. The important thing to remember is that because these images are all RAW files, they are all genuinely in color. As a result, you won’t lose any flexibility if you later decide you like the color version better.
You might find some information on filters when researching camera gear for Black And White Photography. It’s crucial to place filters on the front of your lens when using black and white film or a monochrome-only digital camera to change the contrast and tones in your pictures.
View the comparison below to see how different color filters impact an image. These images were captured using blue, green, and red physical glass filters that were fastened to the lens.
As you can see, each black and white shot is significantly impacted by the filter selection. Red light is blocked by the blue filter, making the ground and foliage darker. Everything that is green (which, in the example above, includes small tree elements) is brightened by the green filter. The sky and other blue components of the image are darkened by a red filter, while anything red is somewhat brightened.
Today’s digital photographers hardly ever employ color filters for Black And White Photos, despite the stark disparities illustrated above. The simple fact is that they have too large of an effect on color photographs, possibly making it hard to convert back and obtain a pleasing result. Additionally, by modifying individual color channels in post-processing, you can reproduce many of the same effects.
Since the effects cannot be perfectly duplicated in software, purists still use color filters for their Black And White photographs. However, it is becoming less and less common, and you probably don’t need to spend money on a color filter system if you plan to take monochrome photographs yourself.
Let’s take a look at how you can post-process color images to black and white using Lightroom, Photoshop, and other software.
1/ How to Convert an Image to Black and White with Lightroom
There are a few ways to convert photos to black and white in Lightroom, but the easiest is just to toggle the “Black & White” treatment at the very top of the Basic panel, or just press “v” on your keyboard.
You can also convert a photo to black and white by reducing the saturation to -100, or (with some cameras) by changing the profile under “Camera Calibration” to monochrome. But these methods are not optimal, since they eliminate some options under the HSL tab to adjust individual colors in the black-and-white mix.
Although the HSL tab is excellent for perfect Black And White Photos, you should be aware that making extreme adjustments often results in your images having a lot of noise. It is better to just keep your tweaks small. This can be slightly lessened under the noise reduction panel (particularly the “color noise” reduction).
2/ How to Use Photoshop to Convert an Image to Black and White
Since everyone has a different preferred method, you have even more flexibility when converting a Black And White photo in Photoshop than in Lightroom. For me, the “Camera RAW Filter” in Photoshop CC is a useful tool because it offers the same editing options as Lightroom and applies them as a filter. That’s because I really enjoy Lightroom’s HSL tweaks for monochrome images!
However, you also have a lot of other choices. Making a “channel mixer” adjustment layer, which gives you control over the red, blue, and green channels in your black and white image, is one well-liked technique.
Alternate options include using a black and white adjustment layer, completely reducing saturation, or even opening the image in a plugin that converts it to black and white. In conclusion, there are various techniques to create a Black And White image in Photoshop, and it can be useful to try out a few of them to see which one you prefer.
3/ Converting Pictures Using Different Post-Processing Software
Using specialized, third-party software to turn a picture black and white is quite common these days. The most widely used program is Nik Silver Efex Pro, which many photographers already have as it was offered for free for a number of years. Due to DxO’s acquisition of it from Google, it now costs $70 as part of the Nik package. It functions both independently and as a plugin for Photoshop and Lightroom.
Since saving the black-and-white version removes color information and makes subsequent color conversions impossible, you should avoid using Silver Efex Pro and other third-party conversion software. (However, you can always make changes to the RAW file to create a color version.) However, for some photos, software like Silver Efex can be very helpful because it handles extreme adjustments noticeably better without introducing noise. Furthermore, there is no denying that compared to Lightroom’s built-in options, plugins like this one offer much more flexibility.
Black And White Photography is surprisingly challenging. When you eliminate color, you don’t have as many variables to balance, but you do introduce a new challenge: taking potent pictures without a crucial tool at your disposal! You might be able to count on bright clouds at sunset to capture an outstanding shot if you snap regular photos in color. Or, in the case of portrait photography, you can give your subject a more realistic appearance by accurately capturing the hues of their eyes, hair, and skin.
You have to use compositional aspects like light, shadow, and composition or texture to tell a story and convey the feelings you want to convey. Although it has some challenges, the effort is worthwhile. Monochrome displays are simply the best way to express some messages. It’s enjoyable and satisfying to produce stunning Black N White Photos.
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