There is just something magical about black and white photography, isn’t there? The timeless beauty of black and white photos, the emotion that they bring, the different lighting contrasts that come to life.
For the longest time, black and white film photography was the only medium available in photography. While color photography has also been around for a long time (the first color photo was taken in 1861), it was not until the 1960s when color truly started to dominate the world, and it has been that way ever since. Some people might think that black and white pictures are antiquated and have no use in the modern world.
However, there is a reason why black and white photography is still popular.
Black and white creates a strange dreamscape that color never can.
Sure, shooting in color is great, but understanding how to shoot black and white pictures can bring a new perspective and aesthetic to your photos that can’t be expressed through color.
I’ve been shooting in black and white for a while, and here are some things I’ve discovered that can make your black and white photos even better.
Black and White Photography - Top 10 Tips for taking beautiful black and white pictures
- Get some inspiration from black and white photos
- Emphasize the contrast in your black and white pictures
- Shoot in RAW and Look at Your Camera Options
- Experiment With Exposure to create impactful black and white photos
- Black Makes White Pop
- Look for Patterns
- Experiment With Filters
- Use Software to Enhance Your Black and White Photos
- It's about expressing emotions through black and white photography, not just removing colors
- Don’t be Afraid to Use Flash
Tip 1: Get some inspiration from black and white photos
Here is an obvious one that many people forget to do. If you want to be good with black and white photography, you must look at old black and white photos and movies for inspiration. Back when people were limited with their coloring, they had to create some fantastic shots to get people hooked. Look at some vintage films and photos for some ideas. You can look at contemporary photos in black and white as well.
Best of all, these black and white images and videos are readily available. Old movies can be found online without many hoops to jump through, and old photos are just a Google search away. There is no excuse not to look at past black and white media, and in the present to get some inspiration.
Find a photo or a movie shot that attracts your eye. Why does it draw your eye? The contrast? The texture? Find the reason why and take note.
Tip 2: Emphasize the contrast in your black and white pictures
Since black and white photography is all about playing with only black, white, and shades in-between, always emphasize the contrast in the photos you take. When taking a photo, think about how it will look in black and white. A bright sky will look interesting when contrasted with a dark object. Having a silhouette of a person or object in front of a light background will create some stunning contrast.
Contrasts are also used in black and white fashion photography; the options for creative experimentation are limitless. Take a few photos and look for the contrasting elements. This can help you figure out how you can take the perfect shot. Here are some tips how to master silhouette photography.
Tip 3: Shoot in RAW and Look at Your Camera Options
RAW should be your go-to format if you’re a professional photographer, but it’s especially important if you’re shooting in black and white. With RAW, you can be able to tweak the photo to the best of your ability and be able to change it back to color should the image not work in black and white.
Tip: Your camera may have a black and white option as well, which can give you a good idea of what the photo will look like in black and white. If you are doing black and white flower photography and you want to understand the effect of light and the shape that is coming out, the black and white or monochrome option will help you better understand.
Tip 4: Experiment With Exposure to create impactful black and white photos
With photography in general, you don’t want to stay on “normal” exposure forever; black and white portrait photography is a good area to experiment with exposure. Sometimes, over or underexposing, your photos can add some dramatic effects. This is especially important with black and white landscape photography.
Whenever I find a shot I want to use for a black and white photo potentially, I always experiment with various levels of exposure and see which one turns out the best. Also, look at the exposure of natural lighting. Flat light, where there isn’t much exposure, can enhance your image by quite a bit. I recommend trying different levels of light.
Tip 5: Black Makes White Pop
When shooting black and white, the darks can never be too dark in most cases. If you shoot some dark darks (what a fun thing to say,) be it on your camera or editing them in post-production, you can be able to make the whites stick out more. In fact, the whites and the grays will pop even if they are weak.
Making your photos pop is essential. You want your viewer to eye a subject that pops out, and then look at the rest of the photo for any other details they may have missed. Black and white photos are really good at popping, but you need to take some extra care.
Tip 6: Look for Patterns
A good photo typically has some pattern to it. Something that makes the viewers’ eyes follow the pattern and look for more patterns. Patterns can be rocks on the ground, blades of grass, cars going from left to right, and any other repeating object, texture, or design.
For example, capturing patterns in black and white street photography can make your images distinct and make the main subject really grab attention. Patterns work really well in black and white photography because there are no colors to distract you. If you are interested in learning about car photography here is the guide.
When taking a shot, look for patterns. If your eye follows a pattern, this may be a good sign that you should take that shot. Give it a try and see what you come up with.
Tip 7: Experiment With Filters
Using filters, you can control the amount of light entering your camera. This can be a great asset to use in black and white landscape photography to make the picture a bit darker or add even more contrast. For example, I put a polarizer on my camera and shoot a black and white landscape photo, the brights will become a bit darker, and this can contrast even better. Partial filters on your camera can help out as well. If one corner of the frame is bright, try darkening it with a filter. Experiment with the filter on and without it. This will allow you to see what photos will look better with a filter and which don’t. A photographer can’t succeed without some experimentation, so make it happen.
Tip 8: Use Software to Enhance Your Black and White Photos
With black and white photography, you need to think about the post-production. Photoshop and Lightroom can definitely help make your black and white photos even better, but there are programs designed specifically for black and white photos. There is one program called Silver Effex Pro 2. This is a plugin for Photoshop and Lightroom that enhances your black and white photos. It streamlines your post-production photographic process and makes it much easier to make a good photo. It’s a great little tool to have.
Smartphones today are also capable of handling an intensive photography workflow thanks to intuitive apps like Instasize. Instasize can help you adjust the levels of light and shadows in your black and white photo while also sharpening important details. It also has a free BW filter. To access the complete set of filters for desaturated images, you can subscribe for only $4.99/month. Instasize is available for download in both the iOS and Android app stores.
Tip 9: It's about expressing emotions through black and white photography, not just removing colors
There are some photos that you may think will look great in black and white because they lack color, to begin with. A photo of a black and white checkered floor. A close-up of a zebra. A dark, gray sky. You may think that these photos will benefit from a black and white filter, but the truth is that great black and white photography is all about telling a story, highlighting a subject, and expressing emotions, without the distraction of colors. It is not about shooting subjects that lack color to start with.
“One sees differently with color photography than black-and-white… in short, visualization must be modified by the specific nature of the equipment and materials being used.”
Tip 10: Don’t be Afraid to Use Flash
Flash is a bit of a taboo when shooting natural photos, isn’t it? However, photographing black and white, a flash may be essential. See, flash creates varying shades of gray when you turn that photo into black and white. This allows for more contrast. You may not think much about it as you’re shooting, but in post-production, that flash can add some contrast to your photo by showing off all the varying shades of gray. Give it a try and see what you can come up with.
In summary, black and white photography is all about searching for a new perspective and creating a visual that’s better told without the use of colors.
Here are a few reasons why a black and white photo needs special attention:
No distracting colors.
Colors are great, but they can add some distractions to your photos. The magic of black and white photography is that it lacks those distracting colors and allows you to see contrast and patterns that you may not have seen in a color photo.
It can bring out emotion.
When you look at a black and white photo, you may think of timelessness. That photo could have been shot currently or 50 years ago. Also, black and white photos can make you feel many different emotions that a color photo may not be able to. Bleakness, happiness, awe, the list goes on.
It can require extra equipment.
Black and white photos do require some extra equipment and care if you want to get a good shot. If you are starting out in photography and want to know which camera will be a perfect fit for you, check out the best DSLR cameras for beginners.
Filters, experimenting with exposure and lighting, and special tools in post-production may be needed. While you definitely want to experiment with color photos as well, black and white photos require even more experimentation.
“To see in color is a delight for the eye but to see in black and white is a delight for the soul”
Black and white photography artists have created visuals that span various photography genres. Whether it's black and white street photography, black and white erotic photography, black and white photography portraits, or even black and white animal photography - all of these photography genres have been enriched by photographers shooting from a different perspective and expressing their viewpoint without colors.
Black and white photography is here to stay. Have you tried your hands on this visually artistic and satisfying technique? If not, then do try to look beyond the colors and see the exquisite beauty of the world in black, white, and greys. Here are some more BW Tips you can read on
Even as you continue to learn and inculcate the skills of professional black and white photography, you must not forget to showcase your work. Build a professional photography website to showcase your photos. Curate your best work and regularly update your portfolio website by adding work from recent travels. Your website is your showcase window to the world and the first point of contact with potential clients and collaborators. Here’s a great article on how to create a photography portfolio website.
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