Black & white photography, for me, is one of the most interesting and inspiring aspects of this art form we call our hobby and passion. It’s raw & refined, natural & unusual, bold & subtle, mysterious & open, emotional & impassive, simple & complex, black & white & everything in between. The monochromatic image has been with photography since the beginning, but what began as the only way to capture images has turned into something much deeper.
1. Shoot in RAW
I know it can be daunting for some to think about shooting in RAW mode, but for the most control in the post production phase of converting your color images into black and white ones – you’ll want to shoot in RAW if your camera does allow it. If you don’t have the option to shoot in RAW, move onto the next step. you might be surprised by what it offers you in post production.
It’s really amazing how different a photo can look solely based on the post-processing, so it’s best not to limit yourself before the photo even makes it out of the camera.
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2. Shoot in Black and White if in RAW, Shoot in Color in in JPEG
If your camera doesn’t allow you to shoot in RAW or you would prefer to shoot in jpeg, – shoot in color and do your conversion to black and white later on your computer. While most digital cameras offer you the option to shoot in Black and White (and can produce some reasonable results) you have more control over your end results if you have the color data to work with in your conversion on your computer.
If you want to shoot in RAW mode, change your settings to Black and White shooting. This way, you’ll be able to get the benefits from RAW mode, but be able to get an idea what the black and white photo will look on the LCD. Best of both worlds.
3. Practice Practice Practice
An experienced black & white photographer can see the world without color. They’ve trained their mind to pick up contrast and tone while blocking the distraction of colors. This isn’t a skill that you can pick up in a short amount of time; it’s something that comes naturally in time. I can’t say that I’m gifted enough to have monochrome vision, but I have been able to notice certain scenes and subjects that would lend themselves to black & white.
One way to help train your brain is to make a conscious effort — in other words, practice. One way of doing this is to set yourself a challenge to only shoot black and white for a straight month. This should give you a chance to experiment with the medium and learn from your own work.
4. Focus on Contrast
Black & white photography is about the black, the white, and all the tones in between. The human eye is built to pick up two things: light intensity and color. When you remove the color, your eyes become more sensitive to the light intensity. We naturally pick out areas of contrast — it’s how we distinguish one thing from another. As a black & white photographer, your main objective is to make your point with shades of gray. Use contrast to show your onlookers what’s important and what’s not. Seek out scenes that naturally show signs of high contrast, and your black & white photos will be more compelling right from the start.
When post-processing a black & white image, the use of Photoshop techniques like levels, curves, and layer blends give you a wide variety of output options. In addition to these things, burning and dodging are highly effective methods of improving contrast. They work so well because they allow you to focus the edit on a localized portion of the image without affecting the surrounding areas.
5. Focus on Texture
Texture is really just a form of contrast, but it is perceived quite differently. If you think about it, texture is the regular or irregular pattern of shadows and highlights at various intensities. Black & white photos really lend themselves to texture because color generally add another layer of complexity, thus masking most subtle textures. Look for areas of interesting texture that can be photographed by zeroing in on specific surfaces and examining them for signs of patterned contrast.
The choices you make in post-processing can really make a difference in the texture too. During the black & white conversion, you can usually pull texture out of otherwise smooth surfaces based on your choice of conversion methods. In digital photos, blues and reds generally contain more noise than greens, so tools like the channel mixer and the black & white adjustment layer in Photoshop can really accentuate those embedded textures.
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