The monochromatic image was the way photography started, but has now turned into something of an art form. With experience, one can eventually see the world without colour. You need to train your mind to pick up contrast and tone, and block out the distraction of colours. With a lot of practice this can become natural in time.
One way to help train your brain is to make a conscious effort when photographing. Set yourself a challenge to limit your photography to B&W for an entire month. This will give you a chance to experiment with the medium, editing, and learn from your own work. As you are shooting, you will start conceiving the shot and see the potential impact of the composition in black & white.
6 Tips for photographing in B&W
- Shoot in Raw:
You will have more control in the post production phase when converting your colour RAW images into black and white.
- Shoot in colour:
Most cameras allow you to shoot in B&W, but you have more control over your end results if you have the colour data to work when converting in your editing program. However, if shooting in RAW and using the Black and White mode on your camera, you will see your results on the camera in black and white. The camera actually records all of the information (including colour) for post processing – the best of both worlds!!
- Use a low ISO:
Shoot with the lowest possible ISO. This is particularly important when it comes to B&W where noise created by ISO is more obvious.
- When to Shoot:
It’s best to shoot images for B&W in low contrast situations. So an overcast day can be a great time to shoot outdoor B&W shots!
Your usual compositional tips apply to B&W photography as well. However, the obvious difference is that you’re unable to use colour to lead the eye into or around your shot. This means you need to train yourself to look at shapes, tones and textures in your frame as points of interest. Pay particularly attention to shadows and highlights which will become a feature of your shot.
Underexposing your images by 1 or 2 stops will help avoid blowing out highlights on landscape photos.
Contrast & Texture in B&W Photography
Contrast: B&W photography is about the black, the white, and all the tones in between. Our eyes pick up two things: light intensity and colour. Without the colour, our eyes become more sensitive to the light intensity – we naturally pick out areas of contrast to distinguish one thing from another! Therefore emphasise your focus with shades of grey.
When post-processing a black & white image, use techniques like levels, curves, and layer blends to give you a wide variety contrast. In addition, dodging and burning is effective in improving contrast. This works well because it allow you to focus the edit on a localised portion of the image without affecting the surrounding areas.
Texture: Texture is really just a form of contrast – it’s just the pattern of shadows and highlights at various intensities. Look for areas of interesting texture that can be photographed by focusing in on specific surfaces and examining them for signs of patterned contrast.
In post-production when converting to black & white, you can usually pull texture out of otherwise smooth surfaces. In digital photos, blues and reds generally contain more noise than greens, so tools like the channel mixer and the black & white adjustment layer in Photoshop can really accentuate those embedded textures.
Use of filters in B&W photography
Black & Whte film photographers traditionally make use of colour filters to change the tones in their photographs. Using a colour filter with a digital camera has its merits, but it’s not completely necessary. Photoshop has the ability to apply non-destructive colour filters. It can also produce the same results as a colour filter during the B&W conversion. The B&W adjustment dialog has several preset filters that can be applied and modified to suit the photo.
Filters will help to separate colours that look similar once changed to monochrome.
For example, the colours red and green look very similar in tone, once changed to black and white.
- Graduated filters keep detail in the sky and clouds.
- Red filters darken the sky, creating a moody atmosphere.
- Green coloured filters are useful for landscapes as they create a contrast between different shades of green.
- Blue filters are effective for haze or misty conditions.
Spend some time in your favourite RAW editing software and have a play with all the sliders to see what’s possible.
Piezography Pro B&W Printing
At Print Art we have a Piezography Pro Printer where we can print high-quality fine-art monochrome photographs for you! Have a look on our website for more detail!