In this black and white photography tutorial, we’ll show you how to choose your subjects, set up your camera and how simple but effective adjustments in Photoshop can make your images stand out.
Converting an image to black and white is pretty simple, but if you want truly impressive results it pays to think about how and what you shoot, and learn how to use your photo editing software’s powerful tools to get the most from your shots.
Along with our best black and white photography tips, we’ll reveal how to get creative with high-contrast graphic compositions and create moody landscapes, and show you how dramatic high- and low-key effects can be used to transform your still life photography and portrait photography.
When it comes to black-and-white imagery, being able to ‘see’ how your final shot will look is a key skill. It’s important to understand how the colour image you see through your camera’s viewfinder will translate into a monochrome image. To get the best results, you have to look beyond the colours, and instead try to visualise how a shot’s shapes, textures and tones will be recorded.
The success of your black-and-white shots relies on several different factors, but the main thing to look out for is a main subject that will appear in a significantly different shade of grey to the background. Then look out for subtleties of tone and texture that will add depth to your images.
It’s tempting to think that white balance doesn’t matter if you’re going to remove the colour, but because the success of any conversion relies on successfully translating colors into attractive tones, it’s important to capture an image without any colour casts.
When you use photo-editing software to remove the colour from an image you instantly lose one element that the viewer relies on to interpret the scene. So other elements become even more important for successful black and white images.
Here’s a run-down of the most common elements that you should look for when identifying a suitable subject for the black-and-white treatment.
1 Contrast, shape & form
One of the fundamental aspects of black and white photography is that your whole composition relies on contrast (for on composing images, see our 10 rules of photo composition – and why they work). For this reason, look out for subjects that feature simple, strong lines and shapes. It’s often the shadows that define shape and form, so pay attention to areas of darkness, as well as light.
Black and white photos actually include a whole range of greys, which add subtlety to your images. Normally, you look for subjects that will translate into a range of tones from black to white, but you can also get great results where the subject is mostly light (high-key) or dark (low-key).
3 Texture and detail
Fine detail, or strong textures such as weather-beaten stone, foliage or clouds, can help to give your black-and-white shots depth and interest. Strong side lighting is perfect for bringing out the texture in any subject. You can use strong natural light, or get creative with flash to create sidelighting on the subject.
4 Graphic composition
Black-and-white images need strong compositions to really work. Keep an eye out for strong lines or features in your scene that can be used as leading lines, or positioned diagonally across the frame to create dynamic images.