It is a common use of black and white editing treatments to make dull photos intended to be printed in color more interesting. While this does in need make for a more appealing photo in some cases, it wouldn’t necessarily be incorrect to say doing so is nothing more than a quick fix for improper shooting techniques. Like any kind of photography, the very best black and white photos are planned out well in advance of the editing phase. There are certain techniques and theories to keep in mind when shooting if you truly want to improve your black and white photography–not just try to remedy a boring color shot.
I encourage all my photography students to spend some time intentionally shooting for black and white photos, as it will teach them to “see” and compose their images in an all new way–that’s never a bad thing! With that in mind, I’d like to share with you some of my top tips for black and white photography. That way, you can start a black and white project of your own and improve your photography skills as a whole. Let’s get to it!
1. Understand How Colors Will Translate
It may seem counterproductive, but it’s really important to study color when you’re shooting for black and white. Since all colors will be translated to a shade of grey, you need to know just what shade of grey they’re going to translate to. This will help you pre-visualize things such as contrast, which is one of the most important things to consider in black and white photography.
2. Capture Mood That Fits The Essence Of Black & White Photography
There’s no question black and white photography has a certain mood and feel to it. Quite often that mood is one that instigates emotion, not necessarily sadness, but something similar to it. Somberness or seriousness, you might say. When you’re looking for a shot to capture with the intention to convert it to black and white, look for emotional moments that convey that mood. In doing so, you’re ensuring the mood of the photo and the editing treatment complement one another in all the right ways.
4. Separate The Subject From The Background
As previously stated, contrast is a big part of black and white photography. Without contrast, you’d just be producing a bunch of dull gray scenery. If you look at some of the works of the most influential black and white photographers, you’ll notice they all fully utilize the power of contrast. That is, having dark darks and bright brights that work together to draw the viewers eye exactly where it should be and create a certain level of dramatic impact that middle-of-the-road gray tones just aren’t capable of producing.
5. Shoot In Color
It can be tempting to set your camera to it’s black and white mode and let it handle all the color to monochrome conversion, but I would advise against it. While constantly improving, the processing abilities of your camera will lack the attention to individual detail that the human eye will be able to give. Don’t sacrifice your creative control to a computer. And on that note, be sure you are also shooting in RAW, not JPEG, to fully maximize your editing workflow and creative vision.
And on that note, be sure you are also shooting in RAW, not JPEG, to fully maximize your editing workflow and creative vision!