The art of black and white photography is one that has stayed with us for centuries. When we think photography the first few images that go through our minds are those in black and white created by the masters of photography. While color is fun and has so much more to offer but I feel like the magic of capturing the essence of what we see is in the black and whites. It offers depth, mystery, magic and a story so deep that we are always drawn to the world of black and whites.
The quote above could not be more true – it is the essence of black and white photography especially when doing portraiture. But honestly, when all else fails I always fall on converting my images to black and white because it’s timeless. In this post I will cover a few ways to make your black and white images amazing, from what to shoot to how to edit. Always remember even when shooting black and white focus on the light. because lighting is key. Let’s get started:
Always shoot in RAW.
Use a small aperture as much as you can to eliminate highlights.
Always use a low ISO as low as you can go.
The rule of thirds is a great way to compose black and white images.
If you know histograms – do not shoot to the right.
Aim to underexpose when shooting in bright day light.
ALWAYS monitor the light – despite black and white needing to be dramatic LIGHT is what makes the magic.
Shadows are one of the best ways to create depth in your image, and if it’s black and white it adds mystery to your shot and tell a story that grasps the attention of the viewer.
When shooting indoors you can cast a shadow on to a wall or sheet by throwing light from behind your subject. I would recommend a fast shutter and a smaller aperture to get more contrast in the image which when edited contains more black then grays. With a wider aperture you can create a balanced grey scale with hints of black to add a level of interest.
When in doubt shoot textures! I say this because I absolutely love looking at images that I can’t immediately decipher. Textures look much more deeper and abstract once shot in black and white.
When shooting textures in bright day light you can keep your ISO at a low like 100 and under with your aperture between f/4.5 and lower, a faster shutter speed would also enhance the texture because it adds more depth to the blacks.Textures on top of subjects is also a fun way of adding interest to your image.
When looking for textures your best source would be to look in nature.
I love shooting textures on rocks, concrete, trees or leaves. There’s always so much to explore and if there’s shadow involved it makes your shot even more magical and abstract.
Whether shooting indoors or outdoors always look for patterns. In black and white images patterns look so much more interesting because once the color is eliminated the eye focuses on the motif vs the distracting colors. When framing patterns always be sure to frame them to take over the entire image. This way the viewer will not be able to tell the beginning or the end of the pattern and keeping their attention focused on where it’s leading the eye.
To be shot in black and white and have it hanging in my house would be a dream. Black and white portraits are so unreal because not only do they capture the essence of your subject but also adds soul to your photograph. While shadows and textures are more of abstract subjects for black and white photography, portraiture is the exact opposite.
Despite the subject being the center of your image it tells a story with a deeper meaning. Whether shooting in studio or outside with some landscape capturing a moment in black and white adds so much magic to an image. You can also combine shadows and textures along with your subject when shooting outdoors to tell a larger story.
Within studio I would recommend doing low key shots where there are more blacks vs white’s, to achieve this you use one source of light and dimly light up your subject. I always use a black background and have my subject look straight at me or hand them a prop that adds more to their personalities.
High key photography despite my best attempts is something I struggle with but here goes nothing. High key means more white than black in your shots. This could be a blown out sky or your subject against a white background.
Ideally you need more than one source of light to eliminate shadows. This is one of the most popular technique used for product photography so the focus is on the subject without any distractions. You could potentially create a fun portrait too but bumping up your ISO, shoot wide open and a fast shutter speed above 1/160 to grab details of your subject without having blown up highlights.
When shooting landscapes or abstract fine art images long exposure is the way to go for black and whites. To be able to capture movement as a blur and have it in a monochromatic image makes your image a wall worthy piece. Long exposure as discussed in X can be used to add hints of mystery to your shot. I would definitely recommend trying it with moving water to make the image look ethereal.For more details on long exposure visit our detailed post by Jen Davis which covers everything from finding subjects to settings.
Black and white images with bare minimum focal points in your image will definitely create a work of art. Either when shooting a lonely tree on a hill or shooting a single item against a plain background without distraction will result in a shot that would fall in the category of minimalism. Sometimes looking at minimalistic art takes the clutter away from the mind and helps you better your focus and thoughts.
This is a very experimental shot I did with car headlights and trying to keep minimal points of focus in my frame, it is also an example of low key photography where your source of light is minimal enough to create more darks and depth.
Last but not least we cannot finish a post about black and white photography without talking about capturing silhouettes. The mystery the magic that lies within the shot is absolutely fascinating.
You can always find silhouettes in nature or by posing your subject against the light. Ideally you want to have a shot with the least amount of distractions so the focus is solely on the silhouette and the rest of the atmosphere acts as support for the eye to see the image as a whole.
Even with all the above mentioned subjects there is a good chance that you will need to do more in post processing to further enhance the image. A few of the things that I love doing in my black and white shots after turning them to grayscale is to add more darks by playing with curves and I absolutely love adding grain to black and white images. When editing in Adobe Photoshop (Camera Raw) or Lightroom
Convert the image to black and white before editing.
You can increase your ‘shadows’ and ‘blacks’ by playing around with the slider. This will give you deeper blacks without adding grays.
You can use ‘curves’ to add darks to the overall image and if you wish to matte the image you can bring the curve line down vertically giving the image a vintage effect.
Add grain and see if it fits the mood of your image because everyone loves a little bit of texture – or at least I think they do
If you want to have more fun with your edits I would highly recommend using the burn and dodge tool.
A vignette will also add more depth to an image especially when trying to lead the eye into the canvas.
Channel mixers are a very fun way to work on your editing but it does take some training to be able to accomplish satisfying results. I am linking below a video that I think explains this really well.
All in all I think to be able to create eye catching black and white work would be amazing. As photographers we all aim to tell a story and black and white photography does just that for us without having to seek for much to add to our frames. I hope you have fun experimenting with the different subjects and techniques mentioned above and create some magical work.
Until then – Keep Creating!!!!