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Amazing Black and White Photographic Clicks by Priyanka ,  Sep 6, 2013

Black and white photography is a rewarding and challenging field of artistic photography. Even people who don’t care about photography can find themselves drawn to a great black and white image. As a photographer, black and white can allow you to discover a whole new character in a familiar subject. For many digital photographers, black and white photography is nothing more than colour photography converted by software. It is a matter for your own judgement whether this is effective for your photographs.

"The One Tree" captured by Colin Jennings

"The One Tree" captured by Colin Jennings (Click Image to Find Photographer)

Often the image you assume will convert beautifully to black and white will prove a disappointment; sometimes a photo you never imagined will surprise you. However, most serious photographers will tell you that the best black and white photos are taken when the photographer deliberately sets out with black and white images in mind. This creates an entirely different mindset in terms of how you choose and approach your subject. You may, for example, start to see potential in subjects you would never normally consider for colour photography.

If you have never had a serious go at black and white photography, here are a few simple tips to help you get started.

Black And White Photography Tip #1. Choosing A Subject. Some subjects lend themselves to colour but are not nearly so effective in black and white. For example, sunset photographs rely on the colour of a great sky for their impact, and rarely produce a good black and white image. Colourful birds, flowers, fashion…there are many times when the only logical approach is to shoot your subject in colour. On the other hand, some subjects are ideally suited to black and white photography.

Because this is an ‘old-fashioned’ medium, it often works well with old-fashioned subjects. Rustic items like old farm equipment, a tumble-down shack, an old wooden fence can all be great subjects for black and white photos.

When photographing people, age can also be a factor. A close-up portrait of an aged face showing all the lines and creases of their years on earth can have much greater impact in black and white.

This can only be a short article, so these examples are just the tip of the iceberg. You will find many great subject once you start thinking in black and white.

"Frosty Mornin" captured by Michael Edminster

"Frosty Mornin" captured by Michael Edminster (Click Image to Find Photographer)

Black And White Photography Tip #2. ‘Seeing’ Your Subject In Black And White. When you first approach your subject, you need to imagine how it will look without colour. Try to look at it in terms of lines and shapes, shadows and contrasts. You will begin to see your subjects in a whole new light. You may even find yourself zooming in on a particular feature, or photographing the subject from an angle you might never have considered in the past. One thing is for sure; once you get into the ‘black and white headspace’ your camera will express the character of the subject in an entirely different way.

Black And White Photography Tip #3. Use The Light To Enhance Impact. Because a black and white photo relies so much on shadows to define shapes and details, your approach to lighting can make or break an image. As a nature photographer, I often photograph black and white photos quite differently from colour photos.

You have probably heard the rule that the best landscape photography is done early or late in the day when the sun is low and the light is soft and even. Well, in black and white photography I often look for just the opposite. To create better definition in a subect I will often take my photos through the middle part of the day, to create heavier shadows to emphasise the lines and shapes in the composition. I am also more inclined to take photos looking directly toward the sun, to produce silhouettes that make the most of trees, windmills and other strong shapes against the sky.

Earlier I mentioned a portrait of a very old person. If it is the lines on a face that give the image its character, you need to make sure the lighting is from an angle that produces shadows in the creases. Thus you may be looking for lighting in a black and white photograph that would be considered unflattering and unsuitable for a colour photograph.

"Monk" captured by Ryan

"Monk" captured by Ryan (Click Image to Find Photographer)

So there you have three very simple tips for black and white photography. Notice that they are all about the creative approach, not about settings and camera techniques. In fact most of the time, black and white requires no different technical expertise than colour photography. To take better black and white photographs, you don’t necessarily need to change the way you use your camera. Instead, you are looking to change the way you see the subject, and how you can use light, shade and composition to capture the character that black and white photography has to offer.

If you love photography and want to stretch your horizons, I am sure you will enjoy experimenting with black and white. It may open your eyes to aspects of your world that have never turned you on before. Good luck and happy snapping!

Black and white photography is a unique way to invoke one’s imagination and drive one’s interpretation of the shooting. From documentary, landscape to portraits, it captures subtle texture, tones and lights, which attracts viewers to their subjects.

As someone who processes the majority of her work in black and white, I’m often asked how I know what will make a good black and white image. Sometimes I’m asked if I “see” in black and white before I shoot as well as how do I convert to black and white. So that’s what I’m going to talk about today!

It took me a very long time to find my style. Frustratingly long! But between a few Clickin’ Moms courses over the past year as well as a lot of soul searching, I feel that I’m finally on the path to a distinct style. I have always loved black and white images and the majority of my images that I have printed and framed around my house are black and white. There is something so timeless about black and white and I love the way it removes the distraction of color and allows you to really get a feel for your subject and the emotion in the moment.

1. It’s all about the light

Before I pick up my camera to shoot, I like to observe the way the light is falling on my subject. Are they in evenly lit, flat light? Could I perhaps turn them so that the light falls across them in a more interesting way? This image of my baby pulling up on the bed is nice but the lighting is flat and her face lacks dimension.

black and white photography

I personally love shadows in my work. I love split lighting and the depth created by directional light. One of my favorite places to shoot is in a hotel room. There is usually lovely directional light to be found pouring in from the windows and you can often control the light by moving both the sheers and heavy curtains around. Some of my favorite images from last summer were of my daughter sleeping in our hotel room when we went to Disneyland. The room was nothing special, but the light was beautiful and allowed for some lovely shadows which gave the images depth.

black and white photography

shooting for black and white photographs

A hotel room is nice, but directional light can be found almost anywhere as long as you are paying attention to the placement of your subject.

The little girl is sitting on the stairs in even light. There is a window just above her and a wall behind the camera that is reflecting light back onto her.

shooting for black and white photographs

The image is sweet but it has a bit of a snapshot feel to me. In the next image the baby is sitting on the next step up from the little girl in the previous image. Light is streaming in from the window and illuminating this step creating beautiful directional light. In this case you want to properly expose for the brightest part of the skin. Note that the baby is perpendicular to the window. If she had been facing the window and I had been shooting from directly in front of her she would have been evenly lit.

black and white images

2. Contrast is your friend

High contrast images tend to make good candidates for black and white conversions. When I was first beginning my photography journey and learning Lightroom, I would view almost every image with a black and white preset applied just to get an idea of how it would look converted. I credit this quirk with helping me learn to see in black and white before I shoot. I’m always looking for contrasting tones and lights and darks in a scene.

For example, a field of light pink flowers lit by an overcast sky would not be my first choice for a black and white conversion. I loved the contrast in the next image of the house with the branch hanging down from above. I took this on Halloween and I exposed for the sky so that the house and branch were underexposed yet still retaining detail.

contrast in black and white photographs

3. Learn your processing software

I personally like to do my conversions in Lightroom 4 where I feel that I maintain a lot of control over my image. I will often use the Film Art Presets from Clickin Moms as my starting point. The sliders that I use the most when converting an image (either on my own by clicking “grayscale” or by tweaking a preset) include exposure, blacks, contrast and the tone curve where I play with the lights, highlights, shadows and darks individually. Sometimes if I want to add a bit of gritty contrast I will pull the image into Photoshop and add a curves layer set to soft light at about 20% opacity. Another Photoshop trick that I love is to “burn” the background a bit by adding a curves layer set to multiply, adding an inverted mask, and painting with a soft brush at 20% opacity on the background. I did just that in this image of my daughter on her bed. I wanted a melancholy feel to the image and darkening the background a bit helped bring about that feeling.

burning in black and white photographs

I challenge you to think about shooting for black and white images the next time you pick up your camera. Look at the way the light is falling on you subject, look for contrasting tones and work your post processing magic to bring about some lovely black and whites.

‘Like the words in a book, sometimes black and white tells a better story.’ There is something about black and white photography that can evoke more emotion and draw you deeper into an image than with it’s colorful counterpart.

There are three dimensions to creating breathtaking black and whites. The first is learning what to look for and include in your image as you’re taking the shot. The second is how to choose the best camera settings for the job. And the third is how to go about editing your black and white in post production to get the best results. When these three are combined successfully you get an image worth remembering, and this is how:

Dimension 1: When to Take Black and White Photography

1: When your focus is on elements of texture, tones, shapes and patterns. Including any of these elements in the composition of both color and black and white images can add a great deal to the effectiveness of your shot. However because black and whites have no color, your eyes are invited to focus on the fine detail within the shot instead.

Wildlife Photography - Macaw in Black and White by ESP Photographic

The original image has fantastic colors in the feathers but converting the image to black and white has shifted the focus to the patterns and texture of the beak, feathers and skin.

2: When your color image lacks…color! This tip is debatable among enthusiasts because some say that it’s the presence of color that creates a good range of gray tones in the image, creating visual appeal. While this is true to an extent, if the photo has some of the elements listed in Tip 1, or a strong focal point (like the eyes in a portrait), it can become stronger when stripped of it’s weak color range.

Girl with Hat Black and White by ESP Photographic

This image from my studio didn’t have a lot of color. Converting to black and white works because there is strong focal point on the eyes and good contrasting lights and darks, not to mention the texture of her hair and hat.

3: When stong contrasting lights and darks are present. If you’re looking at a scene you intend to photograph and there are heavy contrasts between light and dark areas (shadows and highlights), these opposing elements can add immense visual impact to your image.

4: When emotion is evident in the shot. This is effective because the lack of color in your image directs the attention of the viewer more heavily on what is happening in the photo.

Protester G20 Summit by ESP Photographic

I took my camera along to the protests at the G20 summit in London. There was so much emotion flying around it seemed quite appropriate to shoot in black and white.

5: When you want to add a feeling of timelessness, elegance or drama. Black and white photography is fantastic at adding new dimensions into your image.

6: Compose, compose, compose! And of course I can’t miss out the composition of your image. Brush up on your composition here. When you combine that with the elements in Tip 1, you’re on to a winning black and white image.

Bournemouth Parish in Black and White by ESP Photographic

I took this photo of a cathedral in Bournmouthe England. There wasn’t a lot of color in the original image but there was loads of texture in both the sky and architecture.

Dimension 2: How to Take Stunning Black and White Photography

1: Lower your ISO. Higher ISO settings equals the inclusion of more digital (fake) light. This is much more evident in black and white photos because of the prevalence of heavy dark areas. In the words of the popular dance track, “How low can you go!…”

2: Give your photo the RAW edge. As outlined in a previous post called RAW vs JPEG, RAWs give you more data to compute. This means that the ability of your photo editing software to manipulate tonal ranges etc… is enhanced greatly. There is more information in the lights and darks of your picture and that is a huge benefit when it comes to the editing process.

3: Using lens filter. When you are taking a photo with a black and white result in mind, there are filters that can seriously enhance the outcome of the photo. A red filter will dramatically deepen the color of the sky for instance and a polarizer will saturate the colors more. (Even though we’re not going for color in the end, richer colors means richer tones in your B&W.) Polarizers also can remove distracting reflections from water and wet surfaces. An Neutral Density Graduated filter (ND Grad) can create a stunning gradient in the sky…amazing in black and whites. (The digital version of some filters can be applied in your editing software after the fact.)

Dimension 3: How to Edit your Black and White Photography Successfully

1: Desaturating is not enough. Simply moving the slider on the desaturate tool can give you a good idea of what the black and white can look like, but please don’t stop there. Converting an image to black and white unleashes several editing techniques not possible in color. If you were to do the following edits to a color image, they would look horrible but to a black and white…they really make the image pop.

2: Tweaking the shadows and highlights. Either with your levels or curves tool, (its possible in both) make the darks/shadows a bit more dark and the highlights a bit more punchy. Be careful not to overdo the highlights especially as you don’t want to blow them out. (Unless intended of course.)

3: Raise the contrast. Too much contrast in a color image can ruin the shot, but black and white images have a much higher threshold.

4: PRO-tip – Playing with colors and white balance. Instead of stripping the color out, use the tool in your editing program that allows you to tweak the different color channels in a black and white adjustment. Raise the yellows and reds to create more vivid and smooth skin tones. Play around with the sliders and you’ll be amazed at what can come of it.

Also, raising the temperature of the white balance dramatically would look horrible in a color photo but can add a great new dynamic to a black and white.

5: PRO-tip – Mixing Layers. If you have created a black and white layer over your original back ground image that remains in color, change the blending mode for a mixture of color and black and white. Selecting ‘Overlay’ will give you a harsh effect and ‘Soft Light’ will give you a toned down effect. You can also reduce the opacity of the layer to fine tune the exact effect you’re after. Play around with different blending modes and you’ll be surprised what you can come up with!

So there you have it. All you ever needed to know about black and white photography and more!

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