We have all seen black and white images that are intriguing and compelling; but how can we do it? There are a few simple rules that will help you succeed in creating a good black and white image (and it’s not a shot of a white building with black shutters!). A good black and white image removes distractions and reduces everything to its basic elements.
There are some important points to remember when photographing an image that will be converted to black and white:
- Dramatic color doesn’t mean a dramatic black and white image.
- Tonal contrast is key to a good image: absolute black with tonal changes to absolute white are your best shot.
- Form, shape and pattern are your friends.
- Study the masters: Ansel Adams and Edward Weston; there are a couple of excellent contemporary black and white photographers: Mitch Dobrowner and Cole Thompson..study their images for creative ideas.
- Practice shooting in Raw+B&W jpeg; or just shoot black and white Raw: the LCD on the camera will be B&W but the image will be in color on the computer.
- Try color conversion software; my favorite is Nik Silver Efex Pro. There are many others by other software manufacturers; also, Photoshop has a B&W converter that works well at times…Lightroom also has a B&W converter.
- The important thing to learn in converting to black and white is the use of the filters in the conversion software:
a red filter will lighten red and darken blue and green ( this is great for darkening skies)
a blue filter will lighten blue and darken red, yellow and orange in different amounts
Here are some examples of images converted to black and white:
The image on the left has good tonal range but very little color or drama; after converting to black and white, the sky has more definition and the whole image is stronger:
The next image has good light and shadow but something is lost in color. By converting to black and white there is more impact. And the distraction of the red gear drawing the eye is removed.
Portraits can be stronger in black and white since any color distractions are removed:
This busker in Scotland has so much color going on that it was necessary to take away all that distraction.
Good black and white images are difficult to make and require practice:
But the results, when they work, can be amazing.
When I shoot, I don’t go looking for black and white images, ever! I don’t practice shooting in black and white like a lot of photographers because the back of the LCD doesn’t seem to help me decide on a certain image. When I get home to review images, if there is an image with good tonal quality or strength of structure, I try a conversion. Sometimes trying an HDR image as a black and white can produce dramatic results. Mountains and storm skies are usually excellent for conversion since a red filter can be used to turn the sky almost black; you will feel a little buzz as you channel your inner Ansel Adams.
Do it! What have you got to lose?