Black and white (also referred to as monochrome) photography, is quite different from color photography.
You need to understand these differences if you want to seriously get into clicking good black and white pictures.
It is regarded by photographers as an art and the purest form of photography.
What I’m convinced about is that, for black and white photography, you need to pay special attention to texture, tonal contrast, shape, form and lighting for best results.
I have always been fascinated with B&W photography. It just has a unique feel to it which is difficult to explain.
So, when decided that I’d learn to capture the colorless world in my camera, I went into research mode and found a few useful articles on the internet.
Then, I decided to ask the experts in the field, some of the most acclaimed and creative photographers known in the world today.
My question to them was:
‘What’s your best tip for someone who wants to master black and white photography?’
Here is what they have to say!
Richard Bernabe is a famous nature, wildlife, and travel photographer having worked with National Geographic, The New York Times, The BBC and several other top organizations. Huffington Post named him among the “Top 30 Influential Photographers on the Internet”. He was also listed among the “20 Photographers Changing the World Through Social Media” published by Influence Digest.
“Don’t shoot black and white straight from the camera. You can visualize a scene in black and white but shoot it in color so you can do tonal separations later in Photoshop or Lightroom.
Once you use the B&W feature on your camera and throw away the color data, you have lost an extremely powerful tool when processing the image later.“
Philip Bloom is a world-renowned filmmaker who has specialized in producing incredible cinematic images. As one of the biggest evangelists for the use of Canon DSLRs in productions, his website became the go to place for up-and-coming filmmakers as well as experienced ones keen on the new technology.
“I would suggest taking a look at what’s out there from others and figure out why the image works better in B&W over colour photos.
Then I would recommend going out with your digital Camera and simply experiment, set your camera profile to black and white to help you see how it looks (don’t worry the raw is still colour it’s just the jpeg and preview that will be B&W.) In my experience, high contrast images work best.
I would also recommend digging out your old analogue slr or buy one on eBay and shoot some proper B&W film as this will help you get the discipline of finding your shot rather than just snapping away.
For me, B&W photography is not shooting 10fps and the sifting through hundreds of images. It’s about thinking about your shot and only clicking if you actually like the frame!”
Benjamin Von Wong
Benjamin Von Wong is a conceptual photographer who is famous for his hyper-realistic art style photography. His photographs capture the hearts and minds of viewers in a fusion of special effects and advanced concepts specifically designed to go viral and induce conversation.
“If you struggle to see patterns and compositions of light to create your black and white images, try squinting your eyes… pulling them just out of focus and try making a composition that way. It’s oddly helpful!“
When she was 9 years old, Bhumika Bhatia felt the need to find an outlet to translate her dreams and creativity. For her, it has always been about capturing delicate emotions, things which cannot be easily expressed, heard or felt.
“The best advice that I can think of would be that you should mostly adjust the settings in your camera before you take the shot so that you don’t have to do much work while editing.
When you finally transfer the photograph, make sure that you focus more on highlights and shadows and the clarity of the photograph. That’s what I usually focus on, just one certain part of the photo that is going to stand out.
Also, in the end, it all comes down to experimenting. The more you experiment, the better you will know your photograph and what works best.“
John Knopf is a global award-winning photographer whose work has been recognized by National Geographic, Red Bull, USA Today, and Google INC. and others.
“My tip for anyone trying to master photography in general is volumes of work. This really applies to anything.
It’s the struggle that makes us thrive, it’s in our DNA. When you struggle with something you see yourself improve. Watching yourself improve will give you the motivation to perfect what you’re doing.
So when it comes to photography, take as many photos as you can, all the time. The more you take, the more you will learn and the inevitable consequence is your talent eventually meets your ambitions.“
Kalyan Varma is a wildlife photographer, conservationist and filmmaker based in India. In 2017, he won the prestigious Carl Zeiss Wildlife Conservation award. He freelances with lots of the world’s leading magazines, environmental NGOs and television channels such as National Geographic and BBC.
“I just want photographers to think that a black & white photograph is not something to make a boring colour photo more powerful, but its the other way round.
Color, one of the main ingredient is missing and hence the composition and aesthetics must be even more powerful.“
Chuck Kimmerle is a black and white landscape photographer from Casper, WY. For 16 years, he worked as a newspaper photographer. In 1998, he was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography. He is currently freelancing as an editorial and educational photographer.
Connect with Chuck on Facebook
“Many black and white photographs are created because the initial image didn’t work well in color. It was Plan B (and W).
Those images are often mundane and lifeless because the photographer wasn’t looking at shape and form, the defining characteristics of a black and white photograph, but was instead working with a color mindset.
To create compelling and personal black and white photographs we must create with intent, because it will change how we see, and how we photograph a scene.
We will look for structure over hue, and contrast over saturation. We will learn to appreciate and use tonal juxtapositions such as light over dark, or dark over light.
Most importantly, we will begin to see color not for its intensity and beauty, but for it’s ability to alter tonal relationships, through filtration or conversion, within the resulting image. In other words, we won’t ignore color but we will see beyond it.“
Tarun Chawla got into serious professional photography in 2005. During the initial years, he focused on Street photography & Documentaries and later on moved on to professional wedding photography in 2009. He is a renowned wedding photographer in India and has many fans of his work.
“Stop shooting in digital and start with black and white film. Learn to develop photos on your own.
Black and white photography is not about only the camera, it’s about the process of building something.“
Rick Sammon is known as “The Godfather of Photography” and is among the most active photographers in the world. He is an award-winning photographer and conducts workshops and lectures on photography to help people.
“When it comes to black and white photography, contrast is king. I suggest to my photo workshop students, if you boost the contrast a little, you will like the picture a little more.
When increasing the contrast, keep an eye on the shadows and highlights. Don’t boost it to the point where the highlights are blown out and shadows become too blocked up.“
Jassi Oberai is a self taught creative photographer. His passion and love for photography has taken him through the length and breadth of India and across the planet. He is into photography training and has helped many budding photographers.
“Black and white photography to me is nothing less than a work of art. We see in color and that makes it challenging to create compelling black and white images. Here are a few tips that will help you create good Black and White images:
Visualise your images in Black and White
We all know that every image does not look good in Black and White, SEEING and VISUALISING how your image will look in black and white before you press the shutter button is the key. Even while you are shooting in RAW, put your “Picture Style” to Monochrome. This will give you some idea how the image will look in Black and White. But never shoot actual Black and White using JPEG in camera. These images are dull and do not do justice.
Why Black and White?
In the digital age the standard image is a color image. For me when color is not adding in any way to the overall feel and composition of the images, it can be a great image for black and white. Sometimes the light is harsh and most photographers tell you not to shoot in harsh light because it is bad. I have come to understand that no light is bad light. Harsh light helps you create some breathtaking black and white images.
What to shoot in Black and White?
Some subjects form a good subject for black and white imagery. They are:
– Portraits specially character portraits
– Street and/or Reportage
– Subjects with Texture and Details
– Low light high contrast landscapes
– Long Exposure landscapes
– Subjects or scenes where there is strong play of light and shadows
Post Processing is one of the most important steps in creating black and white. SOOC images are flat and lack in contrast. Its extremely important to work on different color and light tones in your image to bring out your subject and separate it from the background. Without this step Black and White images will just not work.“
Rosh Sillars is a seasoned photographer with a background in photojournalism. He is the owner of The Rosh Group, Inc. and is a retired university instructor. Sillars owns and consults for Rosh Media, his promotion and social networking company.
“Black and white photography is about light and shadow. Light is extremely important, however, success in black and white photography requires understanding the value of shadows in your image.“
Himanshu Khagta is an Indian photographer who is famous for documenting life in the mountainous areas of India. His photographs have been featured in several publications including The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, BBC Travel, Condé Nast Traveler and Outlook Traveler.
“For black and white photography, the most important tip is to look for contrast in your compositions while shooting.
Also, shoot in RAW and convert the picture into BW in post. This way you’ll retain the quality and also have a colour image if you need it later.
And to master BW or any photography, practice by taking a lot of photographs and learn how to see.“
Barbara Weibel said goodbye to her 36-year corporate career and set out to see the world. Several years later, she is still traveling full-time without a home base. She shares photographs and stories about the places she visits and the people she meets on her blog, Hole in the Donut Cultural Travels.
“DSLR technology, while excellent, has not yet advanced to the point where it can adequately capture the high whites and dense blacks in the same photo. As a result, photographers expose for mid-range and hope to capture the best possible range.
This issue is exacerbated in black and white photography, so I always find it better to shoot in color in a RAW format and then use post-processing software to change the mode to black and white (grayscale).
A color RAW image provides more data to work with, ensuring that the post-processed B&W image will have the widest and richest range of gray tones, from the blackest black to brilliant white.“
Jim Zuckerman is a reputed photographer in middle Tennessee. He has been featured in leading photo magazines, books, DVDs and blogs for several years. By leading photo tours and workshops, he shares his creative techniques and visions as an artist and photographer.
“The most important aspect of good black and white photography is contrast. Too many photographers show black and white images that are low in contrast.
The idea is to have rich blacks, clean whites, and dynamic mid-tones. At the same time, in most instances, highlights must have detail and texture as opposed to being solid white, and shadows should similarly show detail as opposed to being solid black.
Use good exposure techniques, including HDR, to capture as much detail in a subject or scene as possible. Shoot only in RAW mode.
In post-processing, work with the highlight and shadow sliders as well as clarity, contrast, and the whites and blacks sliders to add enough contrast to make your images really stand out.“
Laurent Baheux is a nature and wildlife photographer who is famous for stunning black and white photographs. He is a Goodwill Ambassador for the anti-poaching initiative of the United Nations Environment Programme. He has been part of many awareness campaigns for reputed organizations such as Good Planet Foundation, World Wildlife Fund and United Nations Environment Programme.
“I’d say work. And then work more and work some more.
I did not start out as a photographer because I was at first attracted to journalism but rapidly discovered a penchant for getting behind a camera and framing shots.
I worked hard and did my best to develop my own style. Technique, skill and equipment all come later. Work is the essence of photography. If you put in the work, you’ll develop.“
Julia Anna Gospodarou
Julia Anna Gospodarou is an internationally acclaimed, multi-award-winning fine art photographer and architect, founder of (en) Visionography™, best-selling author and highly sought-after educator, leader of the new wave of the 21st century black and white fine art photography, teaching workshops and creating photography around the world, pushing the boundaries and innovating with her work, in search of a new aesthetic in photography.
“The most important thing for a black and white photographer is to trust and use his imagination. Black and white photography is about reinventing reality, and imagination is the best tool one can use to do this.
By taking away the color from the world, what you are left with is light and lines and it is the imagination of the photographer that gives him the power to re-create the world in his images by using light and lines.
After imagination, there are 2 things that help tremendously in black and white photography: learning how to use composition and learning how to manipulate light, both by capturing the best light when you take the photograph and by learning how to manipulate it and sometimes even re-create it in postprocessing.
In Photography Drawing, the method I’m using and teaching, light can be used to completely transform the scene into something that matches the vision of the photographer, and the principles this method is based on are the principles of working with light used in drawing and painting.
We can adapt these principles to photography and they are extremely useful in black and white photography, to replace the power of color with the emotion of light.“
I thank all the experts who have contributed to this roundup!
what is your favorite tip that you are going to apply it next? Let me know in the comment section below.
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