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In this post you’ll learn about black and white photography. Black and white is a great tool to use in your photography. It can impact and really take your images to the next level. That being said, there are times when you should convert your images to b&w, and there are times when you should not. Have you ever converted an image to b&w and it just didn’t look the way you wanted it to? Chances are, that image just wasn’t a good candidate. So, let’s dive into what makes an image a good candidate to black and white photography.
You might also enjoy these black and white photography tutorials:
what makes a good black and white
Let’s really dive into what makes a good b&w. Because, believe it or not, not every image makes for a good black and white. I have 4 reasons images will make a good b&w.
- Light – if the light is good, the b&w will most likely be good
- Contrast – whether you have high contrast lighting, or your subject is dark against your background, contrast creates a good quality for b&w images
- Texture – converting a image to b&w that has awesome texture is a win!
- Color – when color isn’t an important part of the story, black and white it is!
reasons to not convert your image to black and white
I believe there are a few reasons why you shouldn’t convert an image to black and white. Not all of these are solid rules, they’re just general guidelines I like to follow in my own black and white.
- Flat light – I feel like sometimes we convert our images to black and white because the light isn’t interesting. This is not a good reason. It will leave your black and white looking very flat
- Distractions in the background – don’t take an image with distractions in the background, and convert to black and white to try and ‘cover’ up those distractions. You should be removing distractions before you ever press that shutter speed – this is important in any setting
- Color – when the color IS important to the story, don’t convert!
shoot with black and white in mind
I want you to consciously think about an image in b&w. Shoot for b&w. Think about ways an image will work if it’s in b&w. You can even turn your camera to a certain setting that actually only shoots in black and white. I’m so nervous to do this, but if you have the guts, do it! It will definitely improve your b&w images! When you shoot with black and white in mind, your images will turn out better.
Let’s discuss some ways you can shoot with black and white in mind. There are reasons why you might want to convert an image to black and white, but it’s also important to shoot with black and white in mind. And what I mean by that is while you are taking pictures, think about if you want to convert that image to black and white or leave it in color. By making a plan before you ever press the shutter of converting to black and white, your b&w images will improve.
1. when the light is pretty
I think we sometimes convert our images when the light isn’t beautiful. It should be the other way around! If you have beautiful light in your image, you can bet that the image will look good in b&w. When you are out shooting for b&w, aim to have gorgeous light.
That said, when there isn’t beautiful light, other factors could contribute to a beautiful black and white image that has dull light.
A great time to convert your image to black and white would be if the light is dramatic. I love converting to black and white when I have side light or backlighting. I really love bringing out the light by doing this. I feel it definitely helps bring out the light and add depth to your images when the light is good.
Convert to black and white when the light is dramatic or amazing.
2. look for the shadows
I really truly believe that shadows make everything better, but it’s especially true in black and white photography. It goes hand in hand with having good light in your images. If the lighting is good and you have nice shadows, then the black and white conversion will be really good.
I mentioned above, but I think side light looks amazing in black and white. That might be a total biased opinion, but I do recommend looking for side light when you’re thinking about shooting in black and white.
Shoot with black and white in mind by looking for the shadows.
3. look for a special connection
I think black and white photography adds a level of timelessness and a classic feel. When you put black and white images with a connection…it suddenly makes a masterpiece.
What do I mean by connection?
I mean, how do your subjects connect in the frame? Are they hugging? Are they connecting with the viewer? Are there hands? What type of connection is in the image? How can you add connection to your image?
Shoot with black and white in mind by looking for a special connection between subjects or viewer and subjects.
4. look to bring out the details
Look for the details in the scene. You don’t necessary have to shoot close up shots when you’re thinking about converting to black and white. But think about the tiny details in your scene that might be more interesting if they were converted to black and white. For example: hands, I think hands look amazing in black and white. You could bring out the details of wrinkles, too. Freckles is another thing that you could bring out in your black and white.
Water droplets on your macro work is a detail that you could bring out. There are a lot of different details you could enhance by converting to black and white that might have otherwise been lost by color.
Shoot with black and white in mind by looking for the details.
how to edit in black and white
When converting to black and white, you need to find your style just like when you’re editing in color.
I’ll lay down a few tips to convert your image to black and white. You can also watch me edit and see exactly the steps I take to convert all of my images to black and white.
shoot in RAW
If you’re not already shooting in RAW format, I highly recommend you do that right away. There are a lot of benefits to shooting in black and white. But don’t just take my word for it, do the research yourself. I found this awesome post about the benefits of shooting in RAW vs JPEG.
edit in Lightroom
It is so easy to convert an image to black and white in Lightroom and I even lay it out in my blog post on converting to black and white. But with Lightroom, it’s super easy to get the results you want.
When you’re editing your black and white image, don’t forget to add some contrast! It’s key to making your black and white image stand out against the others.
I always reduce the highlights a little in a black and white image.
This is a personal taste, but adding grain to a black and white can make it even better! I always play around with how much grain to add, if I add any at all. It really just depends on the image if I add grain to it or not.
pull blacks down
I told you earlier I like to look for shadows, and I like to enhance that in Lightroom by pulling my blacks down even more.
But I combat this with pulling my shadows up (we don’t want to clip blacks).
I always add sharpening to all my images, but I think it’s especially important in a black and white image. I usually go into my brushes tool in Lightroom and add about 20-30 sharpening and highlight important parts of an image (like a face or some detail that I want to bring out more).
use a preset
Use a Lightroom preset – but use caution. If you do use a preset (like the ones you can download below) make sure you tweak them to be your own style. And check for highlights and shadow sin your own images. Depending on how you expose your images, you might need to adjust exposure.
make use of your radial filter
I love using the radial filter to add my own vignette to my images. Don’t over do it, though. But I definitely would add a little bit to draw your viewer straight to your subject.
watch your skin highlights
When I’m editing in black and white (and color, for that matter) I make sure my skin tone is between 75-85 on the red balance side. You don’t want your skin to be overexposed in a black and white, or it will just look washed out.
don’t add color tints
I really recommend keeping all your black and whites the same color. What I mean by this is sometimes you’ll see an image that is black and white, but looks a little brown, or a little blue, or a little magenta. If you do convert one image and make it a little brown, then do that with all your black and whites. But don’t have a true black and white, and then more a sepia image also. Be consistent in your black and white edits.
white balance matters
One last thing to remember is that white balance does matter in your black and white images. If your white balance is drastically off and you convert to black and white, your image might not look as stunning or dramatic as you might have hoped. I always edit white balance and exposure first before converting to black and white, so keep that in mind!
That was a lot of information but I hope that it gave you a solid grasp on how to convert an image to black and white and how to shoot for black and white. I love black and white photography and I really think that it can add a powerful punch to your portfolio. Happy shooting.
Alyssa (sometimes going by Aly) is a hobbyist photographer who loves to teach. Her love of photography started before she ever had any kids. Now a mom of two, she loves to photograph her kids, flowers, and landscape. She specializes in capturing her everyday life. She loves to teach fellow beginner photographers how to take control of their cameras and get the images they dream about getting.