Black and white photography has remained popular throughout the ages. And, if you ask me, it’s with good reason! Whether shooting digital or film formats, black and white photos can strike a powerful chord for your viewer.
but, getting great monochrome photos takes some practice. Especially if you usually shoot in color. Fear not!
I have 5 super useful black and white photography tips to share with you. You’ll be capturing your own beautiful black and white photos in no time.
Tip #1: Focus On Your Subject
First things first–and I can’t stress this one enough.
Focus on your subject! Whether it be a person, place, or object make sure it’s cleary the intention of the photograph you’re taking.
Sounds easy, right? Well, it can be trickier than you think!
It really requires you to pay attention to the details of your subject. Because the image is without color, the viewer will be drawn to the expressions and emotions of your portrait.
And that’s why it’s so important to focus on the personality and individuality of your subject when shooting in black and white.
Give yourself a moment to really see the shapes, textures, and design of your subject. This is especially important in landscape photography.
In landscape photography, finding little surprises can change an image. Thus, black and white photography calls for complete attention and detail to your scene.
Find the most dynamic and interesting elements of your composition.
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For black and white photography of objects, aim to focus on the shape, design, and purpose of your object.
Here are two really important factors when shooting black and white:
- Find a background that gives a cohesive feel.
- Pay attention to light and the shadow or glare your object creates.
Tip #2: Work With Light & Shadows
The next thing to do is work with shadows and highlights. As we mentioned, taking out the color of an image forces us to reimagine our creative vision. This calls for a deeper understanding of light and its effect within our photograph.
When mixed together effectively, shadows and highlights create intriguing images. The proof is in the pudding. Just look at any of the example photos in this post!
Powerful stuff, isn’t it?
In black and white photography, we can use these lighting elements to create high-quality visuals.
- Shadows are the dark parts of your image.
- Highlights are the brighter, whiter areas of your image.
To work with shadows and highlights, determine your lighting setup or situation. Natural light and sunshine can create sharp shadows and bright highlights. While low light calls for more blacks in the shadows and decompression of highlights.
Think of shadows and highlights as the defining “colors” in your black and white photography. To create better photographs, mix them together in your scene. Capture images where the shadows and highlights are noticeable and detailed. Contrast is your friend!
Tip #3: Visualize Shape And Texture
Ok, time for black and white photography tip number three. Don’t let its position on this list fool you. This one is important too…Here goes:
When composing your image, visualize shape and texture.
These design elements create visual appeal in your images. Shape and texture can be added to your images in multiple ways.
In fact, some objects have their own natural shape and texture. This is evident in still life and landscape photography where our subject is in its original form.
Aim to discover these designs and draw attention to them.
Shape can pertain to the height and width of an object. It shows its curves, edges, or points. Texture refers to the material of the object. it can be shiny, satin, silk, coarse, jagged, and more.
When we discover ways to highlight an object’s shape and texture, we create interesting images.
Now, if you like to photograph people in black and white, shape and texture can be adjusted.
In fact, let’s talk more about that…
We can change shape by changing the way our subject poses, sits, or stands. We can have our subject sit tall, bend over, lean, lie down, and so forth.
Actually, the shape we create can infuse an element of human design.
So what about texture?
Well, we can add texture by including prop elements, fashion styling, accessories, and more. We can take away texture by omitting extraneous elements and adding a touch of simplicity.
If you really want to take it further, you can use lighting to change the texture of the skin. For example, bright light tends to soften and even out coarse skin. Certain light modifiers such as beauty dishes do an exceptional job at this. But, if you ask me, the natural texture of wrinkles and lines really add something special to black and white photography.
Therefore, in your own images, it is important to recognize the shape, texture, and overall design of the subject you’re photographing.
Tip #4: Imagine The Story You Want To Tell
Not to sound like a record on repeat, but… Color is not a factor in black and white photography. The reason I keep bringing it up is to inspire creativity. Particularly creative in the way we formulate our image’s intention.
Understanding how to tell a story is vital for any photographer. We take images to capture and recollect our life moments. We also take images to create our own individual and personal frame of reference.
In black and white photography, we experience a feeling of nostalgia.
Warm fuzzies anyone? 📸😊
The images we take have the touch of a past life. In fact, they give us a truly historical and personal context framing our societal understanding.
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In street photography, for example, we capture the world as it is in the exact moment. So, by creating such scenes in black and white, we focus less on distracting color elements and more on the people, places, and settings.
Black and white photography tells a story because we turn off all other conflicting elements.
We find our scene and we capture it. Simple as that.
Through this, we evoke emotion and intrigue to our viewer.
Yet, in order to create quality black and white photographs, we need to start with a story. We must find the underlying meaning and feeling of our subject. We can accurately portray a sense of pure emotion and interest to our audience.
Tip #5: Use The Right Film Or Editing Style
I know, I know, you’re probably itching to get out there and start shooting by now. Don’t worry, I just have one more tip for you before I send you out into the wild with your camera!
The fifth and final black and white photography tip is to choose the right film or editing style. If you’re a film shooter, do your due diligence on which film stock best fits your aesthetic.
Shooting digital? Use the right editing tools to accomplish the style of black and white photography you’re aiming for. Of course, these are both personal preference and left solely up to you, the photographer.
Shooting Black and White Photography on Film
For film photographers, choosing a black and white film stock depends on your intended vision.
Do you want the image to have high or low contrast? Coarse or fine grain? Dark shadows or bright shadows? White highlights or dulled exposure?
Ahhh! So many questions, I know! My best advice is to enjoy the process. Allow yourself to totally nerd out on all the options. Test different films and keep notes. Before you know it, you’ll have your go-to film stock.
RELATED POST: Why You Should Start Shooting in Film Again
So, once you’ve determined the look you want for your images, research which film stock is best for you. Additionally, another method is to test out different film stocks until you find the perfect formula. The only way to understand your style is to constantly develop it.
Shooting Black and White Photography With Digital
If you’re a digital photographer, you’ll be editing your images to make them black and white. Yes, it’s true… Some cameras allow you to shoot black and white.
Truth be told, it’s better to do the edits in post-processing. Editing in black and white calls for filters, tool adjustments, and more.
One way to effectively edit your black and white photographs is through dodging and burning. In this process, you use black and white brushes to carve out the details of your image by making the blacks darker and the whites lighter and brighter.
This technique will give your black and white images a more punchy and vibrant look. If you want to have a more dulled image, consider changing the contrast values and lowering exposure. Each of these choices are different and determined by your preference and are totally worthy of a blog post of their own.
Whichever way you decide to edit your images, is up to your creative style. Just focus on creating black and white photography that’s indicative of your personal photography vision.
More Stunning Black And White Photography To Get You Started
Okay, before I officially send you off, I wanted to give you a little more inspiration. If you want a little inspiration for your black and white photography, have a look at these inspiring features:
- Black and White Photographs Capture the Striking Appearance of Bare Trees Against Snow-Filled Landscapes by Colossal
- Artistic B&W Photos Reveal the Hidden Beauty of What Lies Under the Sea by My Modern Met
Each of these features highlights the five key black and white photography tips we just covered. These photographers focus on their subject, work with shadows and highlights, visualize shape and texture, tell a story, and understand how to choose a film stock or editing style for their images.
Okay, off you go! Get out there and start shooting. Although, I do expect a full report back on your findings. Post your black and white photography in the comments section for us all to admire. We can’t wait to see what you’ve been shooting!
Shannon Ciricillo is photographer working with digital and film formats, she is currently based in New York City.