Since the earliest days of taking pictures, producing stunning black and white photography has required a combination of shooting and darkroom skills. For the best results, you need to hone your photo composition to be able to visualise the world in black and white. But you also must know how to manipulate an image for maximum impact.
Despite the many changes in how we shoot and manipulate images having moved on from film photography, many of the basic skills are still the same. The real difference is the time it takes. The shooting and developing process that once took days can now be mastered in a few hours.
So in the new installment of our ongoing Shoot Like A Pro series we’ve come up with a set of tasks to help you master the art of black and white photography. From simple shooting to controlling contrast and tones, these tasks will take between 30 minutes and a couple of hours.
Follow these tasks, and by the end you’ll be shoot professional-quality black and white photography in no time at all!
We’ll start at the shooting stage of making black and white photography.You can save time and effort by getting your results right in-camera, so the first task will be visualising and composing a world without colour.
How to pre-visualise and compose for black and white photography
We are so used to seeing the world in colour that it can be difficult to get to grips with how everything will look when converted to black and white photography.
So, if you are struggling to see in mono, try setting your camera’s picture mode to black and white, then simply get out and take some photos.
Using this picture mode will give you the ability to instantly review your images in black and white to see if they work or not, and how the different colours convert into monochrome tones.
For even quicker feedback you can also view the scene in black and white by switching to Live View mode. If you don’t like what you see, you can just find a different subject and try again.
Good subjects for black and white photography
Your local town or city is a great place to start experimenting with black and white photography, as there will be plenty of subjects – from the varying shapes and patterns of the buildings, to graphic details and wider street scenes.
The aim is really just to get yourself used to finding scenes and subjects that work in black and white, rather than colour.
While there aren’t any rules about what to shoot, there are certain elements and subjects that work perfectly. Just keep an eye out for tones and contrast, rather than colours.
Stuck for ideas? Here are some of the things to look out for when shooting in black and white.
1 Graphic shapes and contrast
Simple and graphic shapes are always very effective subjects for black-and-white images. You should look out for high-contrast subjects, which contain strong blacks and bright highlights that will provide maximum impact.
2 Detail and texture
Both of these elements can produce subtle images that maintain the viewer’s interest. Soft, diffuse light in shady or cloudy conditions will allow you to capture the maximum amount of detail in the subject, while harsh, high-contrast light (such as direct sunlight) will reveal more texture.
3 Simple and strong composition
As there are no colours to help add impact, black and white photography is often more successful if you use simple compositional elements such as leading lines or foreground objects in your images. Also look out for scenes with a strong focal point, but remember that its impact will rely on contrast, rather than colour.