#7 Tips for Black & White Photography

Published on 28 April 2020 at 17:59

This is something that I have been thinking to write for sometime, but didn't quite get a chance. One good thing with the lock down is I managed to find some time for this. I hope this would be useful to many of you who love black and white photography. Without any further due, let's get started!

Black and White is not a Post processing work:

Yes, you heard it right!

This is the first thing I want you to realize. One of the mistake made by many is thinking black and white is a post processing job. No, it is not! As a matter of fact, the work flow for black and white photography starts at the time of shooting. That's in the field.  In other words, B & W is not a mere conversion of a color image in your software to B & W. So the first lesson is, if you are planning for amazing B & W works, be ready for it from the beginning while you shoot. 

Also remember that in B & W you don't have the luxury of a lot of colors to play with. So how am I going to make a B & W interesting? Here are few tips....

#1 Lighting:

Lighting is one of the main strengths of yours when it come to B & W photography. So, be attentive to your ambient light. Study the direction and the intensity. Sometimes lighting alone makes the difference between an ordinary snap shot Vs. a great photograph ! Lighting is very important for the things I am going to explain in a minute. 

#2 Highlights & Shadows:

One of the most wonderful effect of lighting is the creation of highlights and shadows. Remember if you over- expose a highlight, chances are that your image will go to the bin. So be attentive to the histogram while you shoot. (I will be writing a detailed blog on high contrast photography soon, for now let's look at the basics). When you compose, try to place your human element in the highlights. This will create what is known as a 'spot light effect' that draws attention of the viewer.

Shadows? Is it your enemy? Not at all. Make friends with the shadows. They often make elements of composition through their shapes and lines in your image. They may be shadows with some retained details or they may be pitch black. Either way they add texture and definition to the overall image. Below are some high contrast black and white shots using the the available light. 



#3 Contrast:

This is very important. For instance, let's think this way. A lady wearing dark red walks in front of a dark green wall. In a color image this will have a lot of contrast and the subject will easily pop out from the background. When you convert this to B & W both these colors are going to be tones of black, and you will realize that your subject is all of a sudden hidden in the background!

This is why I mentioned at the outset that the work flow for B & W starts with the shoot,  not in the post process. Therefore it is very important that your blacks should preferably overlap whites and vise versa.

In other words, you should train to see the world in Black & White! So practice, practice and practice....

This is a teaching shot. (something I noticed randomly in the streets). Just imagine.... if this subject had been with a darker jacket or with a white jeans, the contrast of this image would not have been there.

Study the following images, how a contrasting subject may stand out from the background. 


#4 Negative space:

Negative space is simply the area surrounding the main subject/ positive space of your image. This can be manipulated for your advantage to create a minimalistic effect. Remember, the shadows in your image can be used as a black negative space. Negative space adds mood and emotions to the image. 

In the above images both blacks as well as whites are used as negative spaces respectively. 

#5 Silhouettes:

Silhouettes are not an inherent technique for B & W. But I would say, in B & W silhouettes have a greater value. We could shoot the human elements inside the highlights as silhouettes. This is a very strong mode of expression in the right circumstances.

Another gain from shooting silhouettes is the 'curiosity gap'. By shooting in a way that obscures the identity of the subject, the artist generates curiosity in the picture. This leaves room for imagination in the viewer.

#6 Geometry, Shapes & Lines:

Pay attention to your surrounding. Note the geometry, shapes and lines. Note the architectural backdrops. These draw more attention in B & W than in color. You can incorporate these to your image and use them for your advantage. They can be elements of your composition (like the leading lines) and at times they will give the 'sense of scale' to the viewer. 



#7 'Fishing ' :

This is in fact a 'shooting style'. I would say that this style becomes more handy in B & W. What happens here is you identify the frame before the subject. Then you wait for the correct human element to enter the frame, hence sometimes called ' Fishing'. I frequently employ this technique if I notice interesting highlights and shadows.

Post process:

This is the last thing. I am not planning to talk about post processing in this post. At this stage, you could enhance the shadows or the highlights in the image. But, if you haven't got that right in the camera, you can never achieve them by sliding your 'contrast' slider in your software! So, pay attention to the above tips in the field while you shoot.

............Until we meet with another post, Happy Clicking !

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Eric F. Konohia
a year ago

Very good blog entry.