When peering through a viewfinder, it’s hard to tell which photos will look good in monochrome. This is why you should take advantage of black and white photography tips before you get your images home. By utilizing these suggestions before and during your photo shoots, you’re much more likely to wind up with images that make you proud.
Without further ado, let’s dive into some tips on black and white photography.
1. Shoot in Color
If you have a modern digital camera, it probably comes with pre-programmed options for shooting in black and white. Don’t use them! Shoot in full color and convert your photos after the fact. This will give you three separate RBG channels to play with in post-processing, so you’ll be able to heighten reds or diminish blues for a more dramatic effect when they’re gray.
2. Set Your Camera to “Raw”
If you’ve ever browsed black and white photography tips and wondered why everyone keeps talking about “raw” mode, it’s because this mode gives you clean and unprocessed photos without any filters. Since you’ll be editing your photos anyway to make them monochrome, it’s worth the effort to shoot in raw and adjust everything at once.
3. Ignore Colors
The human eye is naturally drawn to color, so all of your photographer’s instincts will want you to focus on a vivid blue sky or bright yellow bee. Once you strip the color out of the image, however, the sky and the bee will look pretty much the same. It’s a hard habit to break, but if you really want to create high-quality monochrome photographs, learn how to ignore the colors of the landscape.
4. Focus on Contrasts
So if colors are off the table, what should you be focusing on? The answer is contrasts. Look for dramatic plays of light and shadow that will really pop out of the photo once it’s converted to black and white. You can also look for black and white elements in the landscape itself; they won’t change in the final product, so they’re good benchmarks for the rest of the photo.
5. Adjust Your Lighting
Brighten it. Bury it. Bounce it off the walls. One of the sacred maxims of black and white photography tips is that light can always be modified, so if you’re struggling with dull grays and flat contrasts in your monochrome images, play with your light sources until something improves.
6. Experiment With Flash
Speaking of light, an external flash unit can be very helpful in manipulating the shadows and contrasts of any given subject. You can also purchase flash tools to customize your lighting even further. Look into things like diffusers, soft boxes and photo umbrellas that will make it easy for you to achieve the photography effects that you desire.
7. Emphasize Any Textural Elements
Maybe the wool blanket has a fine fuzz around it. Maybe the wooden chair has sharp little grain patterns. You can get a lot of mileage out of the textural elements of a scene, so many black and white photography tips will tell you to focus on them. Just make sure that you’re following macro photography guidelines as well.
8. Invest in the Right Software
You’ve probably seen this repeated ad nauseam in black and white photography tips, but it’s absolutely critical that you have the right post-processing software for monochrome photos. Many people use Adobe Photoshop, but you can also try programs like DxO OpticsPro and CyberLink PhotoDirector Ultra. Brand names matter less than the fact that the software provides lots of options.
9. Put the Light Behind Your Subject
One of the easiest tips for black and white photography involves putting your light source behind your subject. This will throw it into sharp relief by creating shadows and contrast all around it. A backlight will also emphasize its edges and give you a clearer look at any fine details, so if you’re focusing on textures, it’s a great way to highlight them.
10. Wear Sunglasses
This is one of the funnier tips for black and white photography, but it works! By wearing sunglasses as you shoot, you’ll filter out some of the more distracting elements of your subject and focus more on what really matters. This is a helpful trick if you regularly struggle with the “ignore colors” technique that we talked about above.
11. Look for Patterns
Without a dazzling array of colors to delight the eye, you’ll need something else to create visual interest in your black and white photos. Patterns are one such option. Whether it’s polka dots on your model’s tights or raindrops forming rivulets on the window, look for patterns that you can emphasize with your monochrome work.
12. Lower Your Shutter Speed
When you slow down your shutter speed, you create “long exposure” photos that are deliberately blurred. Most people use this technique to create action and motion shots, but you can also use it to give your greyscale images a spooky, dramatic and almost ethereal quality. As a bonus, it’s an effect that you don’t have to manufacture in post-processing. It can be done naturally and in the moment.
13. Use a Polarizer
Polarizing filters are used to reduce reflections and glares from the sun. They’re a common refrain in black and white photography tips because sunspots usually look terrible in monochrome, so consider purchasing a polarizer for your next photo shoot. They’re especially useful for outdoor photography where you’ll be shooting lakes and rivers.
14. Watch Out for Noise
It’s common for the black parts of a photo to have a lot of noise in them, especially if they were captured in a low-light setting that you’re now trying to brighten. While it’s easy enough to strip the noise from digital images with photo editing software, it’ll save you a lot of time if you just avoid the noise altogether.
15. Go Bold
Black and white photography isn’t the place for subtlety. Throw out all of your conventional wisdom about moderation and color balance; when you’re shooting in grays, you need dramatic effects to make them stand out. Go bold with your lights and contrasts, and get wild with your angles and depths. Black and white photography is experimental by nature, so embrace it!
16. Think About Your Subject Matter
Technically, anything can be photographed in black and white. But what kind of image will truly shine in monochrome? There’s a reason why most black and white photography tips assume that you’ll be shooting chain-link fences and solitary swings. These subjects pair well thematically with the grays of a diminished color palette.
Capture a world without color when you use these black and white photography tips. There are many more techniques that you can play with, of course, but everyone has to start somewhere, and these should give you a basic foundation for further experimentation.
What do you think, shutterbugs? Do you have any other black and white photography tips and tricks worth sharing?