Black and white photography allows you to step away from reality to set a mood, express emotion and focus on the elements of a composition in a way that color photography simply cannot. Color is conventional, meaning a black and white image has the potential to draw people in and make them look a little deeper.
That’s not to say that color isn’t a powerful compositional device in its own right – one that you can use to set a mood and emphasize a theme or story – it’s just that monochrome allows the viewer to step back and focus on the subjects and relationships between them consider elements differently.
You’ll notice that like many camera manufacturers, I use the terms “black and white” and “monochrome” interchangeably. In reality, a mono image doesn’t have to be black and white or grey, but let’s keep things simple! The first thing to decide when you start taking black and white images is whether you will actually be shooting in black and white or in full color.
The best cameras (opens in new tab) may offer some black and white options, including a mono “auto scene mode” that gives you some limited creative options, e.g. B. increasing or decreasing the contrast or adding a toning effect such as sepia. It will certainly have a monochrome picture style or film simulation that you can choose if you’ve set one of the advanced shots. Although niche, let’s not forget that some cameras also have black and white sensors, like the Leica M10 Monochrom.
ISO and Grain: Give digital images a cinematic look
While grain is often undesirable in color photography, it can lend a somber, film-like vibe to black-and-white images.
You can increase the ISO in-camera to add noise, but if you use a low ISO and instead add grain or noise in the software, you can adjust the intensity
Any scene that doesn’t rely on color for its success has the potential to be a great subject for a black and white treatment. Landscapes are an obvious candidate – take inspiration from masters of art like Ansel Adams, Sebastião Salgado and Michael Kenna. There are many different approaches you can take with scenes – from introspective minimalism and luxurious long exposures to dark, dense and moody.
Still lifes are another area where black and white lends a timeless quality, but portraits of animals and people, plant and flower detail, night photography, street photography, and architecture are wonderful subjects. You don’t have to travel to a famous place to take great mono photos either – there are plenty of opportunities around your own home. Why not photograph kitchen cutlery or food in a fine art style?
Or why not just go through your back catalog and experiment with black and white treatments? It’s a great way to develop your vision for future possibilities.
Black and white photography tips. You won’t go wrong if you…
- Capture RAW files
You get the best of both worlds when you save your images as RAW files – a black and white preview and a color image that you can later convert at your leisure. However, shooting mono JPEGs better captures the experience of shooting black and white film.
- Look for shape, form and texture
Color can be used as a means to draw the eye in a composition. Without the benefit (or distraction) of color, you have to use contrast, line, shape, form, and texture to make an impact. A mirrorless camera can display the image in its electronic viewfinder in black and white, making it easier to create mono shots.
- Shoot on sunny days
Black and white are more forgiving than color when it comes to “bad” light. Look for bold shadows and don’t be afraid to embrace pure white and black.
- increase contrast
Some subjects look flat in black and white. So use in-camera contrast adjustments and filter effects (when shooting JPEGs) or the color sliders in editing software to increase the contrast between colors when converting to mono on a computer.
- distort reality
Mono images remove the reality of the original scene, so push it further by experimenting with creative treatments such as B. very dark or very bright exposures, using a strong ND filter to blur moving objects or a tilt-shift lens to create just a sliver of sharpness.
If you want to improve your landscape photography, discover the The best cameras for landscape photography (opens in new tab). To edit your images and turn them into black and white masterpieces, you need the best photo editing software (opens in new tab).