Black and white photography tips for beginners

Using black and white photography is a great way to create eyecatching images. The best black and white photographs are planned that way from the beginning, not created in an attempt to rescue a bad colour photo. 

In this post I run through a few do's and don'ts for beginner photographers wanting to create stunning black and white images.

Choose your subject

Subjects that make great black and white photos are those that are defined by their shape, form or texture:

The image should be defined by the overall composition, the interaction between the elements, the play of light, or a strong graphic presence - not by the subject itself. 

Taking the colour out

It can be difficult to think in black and white to start with, but once you get your eye in you will start noticing images everywhere that would look better with no colour. Many cameras have a setting that will let you view a scene in black and white through the viewfinder, but it will still take a colour photograph when you press the shutter. This is a great way of getting the best of both worlds.

In this colour image for example, the eye is drawn to the green splashes of colour which detract from the overall composition. It is much stronger in black and white:

Is colour critical?

If colour is critical to the image - to the subject, to the mood or to the composition - then don't try and force that image into black and white. This image works well enough as a textured black and white image, but because the green and pink hues are the same tone in a black and white photograph, the impact of the colour contrast is lost:

Grey skies

The traditional advice is to avoid including white or grey skies in your black and white landscape photography, but if you plan the shot well, you can incorporate the blank canvas and create strong images:

How to convert to black and white

Shoot RAW if you plan to try black and white conversions - you will have much more depth of data to play with. Read this post if you want help with RAW: What Is RAW And Why Do You Need It?

The free online editor Polarr lets you do fine-tuned black and white conversions. This tutorial runs you through the steps.

If you have Lightroom, these 2 videos from Adobe show you first, how to convert to black and white in Lightroom, and second, how to add colour toning to your black and white images:

1. How to convert images to black and white in Lightroom

2. How to colour-tone black and white images in Lightroom

My favourite phone apps for black and white photography are Provoke, and Enlight. Android users should try Snapseed.


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