Photography & travel tips from an award-winning photographer, educator & wanderlust

Photography 101: Create better Black and White photographs

Lately the “7 days of black and white photography” challenge has been circling around Facebook like it’s 1839. The premise is simple: no explanations, no people, tag someone new every day. If you haven’t done it, it’s probably a matter of time…

When it comes to BW photography, it may not be as popular as the vivid and bright images of landscapes you scroll around on Instagram, but this type of photography is very popular among street photographers, portrait/wedding photography and definitely abstract. Basically, if done right, any photograph can be just as powerful as its color version.

Let’s take a look how you too can improve your BW photography game:

Shoot in color, then convert to BW

By shooting in color, you’re capturing a lot more information than if you shoot initially in Black and White. This allows you to have more control when you make your changes in post processing. Sure, setting your camera/phone to capture in BW is convenient, but the difference is striking, trust me.

 

Simplify your composition

Focus on your subject! Then, eliminate anything around it that distracts the viewer from it. Easier said than done, huh.

This can be easily achieved by getting in closer, zooming in, or cropping out some gunk later in post processing.

You can get away with more clutter in BW because everything is the same tone, but you probably will loose your viewer and possibly, their “Likes.”

Texture

Texture of something rough, soft, bumpy, spiky or smooth tends to truly stand out in black and white and lots of contrast. Lower those blacks and bump up those whites and voi la!

Contrast between highlights and shadows

While you can try to capture a highly contrasting scene (bright sun, dark subject) in black and white, it is better to err on side of caution. Expose well for the highlights (not too overexposed, histogram shouldn’t lean too much to the right) and do the same for the shadows (histogram shouldn’t lean too much to the left). Then, in post processing, bring down the shadows and bring up the highlights to give you more oomph and more contrast to your image.

What’s histogram? Google that baby and your images should see an improvement if you start analyzing this nifty little feature.

 

 

Emphasize emotion and expression

Black and white photography is perfect to showcase “the money-maker” and its exciting features. Naturally, if there is a human in the shot, we gravitate towards observing him/her rather than the distractions surrounding them. For the ultimate expression emphasis, get in close, even too close. Fill up the frame with emotion or challenge yourself and stay far, while still trying to relate joy/anger/fear/excitement/etc.

 

Keep in mind foreground, middle ground and background

A strong image, gives you that 3D feeling, where you feel as though you should step inside (like that girl from “The Ring,” but less creepy). To create this effect, keep foreground, middle ground and background elements in mind. What is at the bottom of your frame (the foreground)? Some rocks, grass or a path are nice!

What elements are towards the back of your frame (the background)? Usually, the mountains far-far away or the sky/the clouds would do the trick.

And everything in between usually serves as the middle ground – giving the viewer in focus elements to relate to, such as a boat on the lake, a flower in the field or a tree.

Lot’s of inspiration can be obtained by studying the master – like Ansel Adams. 

 

Strong composition (leading lines, repetition, balancing elements, patterns, etc)

My last point about a strong BW photography is a rule that should apply to all photography (as well as videography and painting) – study composition rules. Perhaps its the surest way to separate yourself from amateurs, but it is also the most complex. The rules are abundant and applying them is as easy as memorizing the numbers of  π.

Again, you’re only a click away from Googling it, but my favorites are featured below.


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One comment

  1. I loved your BW photos. Then somebody tagged me to do it aswell and you know, it isn’t as brilliant. I should have read this first!

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