8 Tips for Outstanding Black & White Images


August 9, 2021

8 Tips for Outstanding Black & White Images

Black & white images are some of the most emotive, captivating and intriguing images you'll come across. When done well, a black & white image can convey even more depth than colour images. But what image makes a good black & white image? And why?

We've compiled 6 of our favourite tips for taking and creating black & white images. We hope you enjoy! Don't forget to hop over to the Learn Photography Community to share YOUR black & white images!

1. Look for contrast

One of the best things to look for when you're assessing a photo for it's black & white potential is CONTRAST. Images with amazing light or colour contrast generally lend themselves to better black and white images. Why? White pops against black, so when you're editing a black & white image, the ability to increase the whites and decrease the blacks helps to add contrast to your image, which helps your subject to pop. Without this level of contrast, your images may lose a clearly defined subject - grey on grey does not "pop" in the same way. 

For example, this image lends itself well to being converted into a black & white image as it has great light contrast:

Whereas an image like this one, doesn't lend itself well to black & white as there is not as much contrast between our subject and the background:

Here's the best part though team, contrast isn't just about light and colour, it's about subject and space as well. Images that have a good deal of contrast between the subject and the background in terms of subject and blank space can create incredible black and white images. For example: 

2. Look for texture and patterns

This is a big one. Images with great texture and patterns lend themselves wonderfully to black & white images, particularly when combined with point #1: Contrast. The consistency and repetition of texture and patterned images means that when the conversion to black & white happens, those light and dark elements draw the viewers eye in. Without the distraction of colour, the story is easier to tell. Here are some examples of patterned and textured black & white images: 

3. Play with exposure

Using your exposure compensation is a brilliant way to help bring out the contrast that makes black & white photos so spectacular! Underexposing (in particular), helps to darken your image, emphasizing the contrast between bright and dark. As you may have figured out by now, contrast is a great way to draw viewers into your images. 

4. Don't process to black & white in your camera 

This is a big one. Many of our cameras have the ability to convert your coloured jpeg into a black and white image in camera. However, this is restrictive because in the process, your camera makes decisions about editing the image that you may not. Stick photographing in RAW, so you retain the most amount of information in your image, and use a post-processing software to edit your image as a black & white. This way you have the MOST amount of flexibility and creative licence to edit your image exactly the way you see in your mind's eye.

5. Use your whites and blacks sliders

Most editing programs have a blacks and whites sliders. These are brilliantly useful sliders to use when editing black & white images. Increasing your whites, and decreasing your blacks helps to accentuate the contrast in your image, adding wonderful interest to your already spectacular photo.

6. Use your colour channels

But wait... We're photographing black & white images right? There is no colour??! Well yes, and also no... Cryptic much?

Black & white images operate off a grey scale, which means that each colour has a different intensity of grey - reds are a darker grey than yellows for example. So the colours in your image form the basis for your black & white photo. Which means that you can edit your black & white photo using the colour saturation sliders in your editing software. Increasing the saturation of a particular colour brightens that colour (makes it more white). Decreasing the saturation of a particular colour darkens that colour (makes it more black). This is INCREDIBLY cool to try on a brilliantly blue sky filled with fluffy white clouds. Decreasing the saturation of the blue channel drops the sky out, creating even more contrast between the clouds and the sky. Very, very fun.

While this works well with skies, feel free to try it with other colour channels as a way to experiment with very cool results.

7. Don't forget composition

I'm sure you've experienced this before... You are so excited to try something new, you completely forget about everything else you've ever learnt. The same thing goes when we're excitedly trying to find opportunities for black & white images - we tend to forget about everything else we've learned about our rules of composition. So don't forget about all of your other rules of composition such as rule of thirds, framing and leading lines. Just because your photo has no colour, doesn't mean it shouldn't still be eye catching and captivating. 

8. Have fun and give it a go!

Last, but most definitely not least, is to have FUN with this! You have nothing to lose by switching a photo to black & white and seeing what happens (you can always reset it!). Sometimes the most unexpected images create the most beautiful black & white transformations, so go wild and have fun. Remember to keep your original image when you take it (don't process your image to black & white in your camera), so that you can simply revert back to your original shot if it doesn't work! 

Now it's your turn! Don't forget to join our Learn Photography Community on Facebook so that you can share your favourite black & white images, and be inspired in the process!

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