B&W Photography: 10 Tips for Shooting Amazing Black and White Photos

By Luke Montgomery in Art Tutorials > Photography Tips

I love black and white photography. . . it’s so simple and yet so powerful.

B&W photos tend to look more polished, classic and elegant without the distraction of color. Its easy to see why black and white photography is popular for weddings and portraits, as it expresses the romantic and forces the viewer to recognize the individuality and uniqueness of the subjects.

When shooting for B&W, keep in mind the following tips:

1. Shoot in Color

“Wait,” you might say. . . “I thought we were suppose be taking black and white photographs here!” Well, yes and no.

Many times you will still want to shoot in color because you have more editing power with color photography. Don’t worry you can still change your photographs to B&W later—with all the color information you will have better control over how they turn out.

2. Shoot in RAW

When you shoot in JPEG format your camera discards much of the important information that your computer can use to help develop tones and contrast.

Shooting in RAW does require more memory, but in these days of memory cards there’s no reason why you should be running out of room on your camera unless you’re using a very small card.

Of course shooting in RAW will also require extra editing time, but I find that it’s more than worth it for the extra control you’ll have while editing.

3. Use a low ISO

At higher levels of ISO, the noise, or “grain” on your pictures can become increasingly noticeable. B&W images rely on contrast more than color photos do, so a high ISO with a lot of noise may be especially undesirable.

4. Ignore color in your compositions

The rules of composition for black and white photography are very similar to the rules of composition for color photos—with a few small differences.

The main difference is that you are unable to use color to lead the eyes of your viewer around your photograph. Instead, train yourself to look past the colors and frame your shots with interesting shapes and values that will add interest to your photographs.

5. Emphasize contrast

Without color you must rely on contrast to bring out the different elements of your photographs. For example a light portrait shot against a dark background will really emphasize your subject.

You can also bring out layers of depth to a photo by including a variety of interesting tones and shades to your photographs.

6. Find patterns

Patterns, especially subtle ones, often go unnoticed in color photographs. This is because colors easily draw your attention and take the focus away from potentially interesting patterns.

Due to its simple nature, black and white photography is a much better medium for emphasizing patterns. Always look for patterns in your B&W phtography that you can use to direct the viewers attention and create more interesting photos.

7. Pay attention to shape and form

Because you will be discarding the color from your images you will want to pay very close attention to the overall shape and form of your subjects.

Focus on discovering the most interesting 2 or 3-dimensional aspect of your subject, and then find the viewpoint and angle that highlights it best and capture that on film.

8. Look for texture

In a color photograph, our minds immediately identify the important elements of the photograph by color. A bright blue sky, a dramatic sunset, lush green grass or any other combination of colored subjects can keep our attention and distract us from the hidden beauty of texture all around.

With black and white photography, texture can be a replacement for color. Our minds are much more willing to pay closer attention to textural elements, so as photographers we can use texture to add visual interest and emphasis to our photos.

9. Make use of lighting

Good lighting is absolutely key to taking excellent black and white photos. Lighting affects all of the elements previously discussed—shape, contrast, pattern and texture.

When thinking about your lighting, consider about how it will affect each of the factors you’re trying to include in your photo. Use light to create dramatic images and bring out patterns and textural details.

10. Practice

Finally, one of the easiest and most obvious ways you can improve your black and white photography is to practice at it.

As you take more pictures you will begin to see what will work and what won’t. Train your mind to look past the colors and see the simple beauty that lies within shapes, texture, lines, patterns, and contrast.


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