How to master black and white photography

In this black and white photography tutorial, we’ll show you how to choose your subjects, set up your camera and how simple but effective adjustments in Photoshop can make your images stand out.

Converting an image to black and white is pretty simple, but if you want truly impressive results it pays to think about how and what you shoot, and learn how to use your photo editing software’s powerful tools to get the most from your shots.

Along with our best black and white photography tips, we’ll reveal how to get creative with high-contrast graphic compositions and create moody landscapes, and show you how dramatic high- and low-key effects can be used to transform your still life photography and portrait photography.
How to see in black and white

Black and white photography how to see in mono

When it comes to black-and-white imagery, being able to ‘see’ how your final shot will look is a key skill. It’s important to understand how the color image you see through your camera’s viewfinder will translate into a monochrome image. To get the best results, you have to look beyond the colours, and instead try to visualise how a shot’s shapes, textures and tones will be recorded.

The success of your black-and-white shots relies on several different factors, but the main thing to look out for is a main subject that will appear in a significantly different shade of grey to the background. Then look out for subtleties of tone and texture that will add depth to your images.

Look beyond colors, and try to visualise how shapes, textures and tones will be recorded

It’s tempting to think that white balance doesn’t matter if you’re going to remove the color, but because the success of any conversion relies on successfully translating colors into attractive tones, it’s important to capture an image without any colour casts.

Recognising potential shots when out in the field can take practice, so why not try converting some of your existing images to black and white to get a better feel for what will work.
Good subjects for black and white photography

When you use photo-editing software to remove the color from an image you instantly lose one element that the viewer relies on to interpret the scene. So other elements become even more important for successful black and white images.

Here’s a run-down of the most common elements that you should look for when identifying a suitable subject for the black-and-white treatment. Remember that these elements can be used individually, or even combined to produce marvellous mono images with clout.
1. Contrast, shape & form

Black and white photography contrast shape and form

One of the fundamental aspects of black and white photography is that your whole composition relies on contrast (for on composing images, see our 10 rules of photo composition – and why they work). For this reason, look out for subjects that feature simple, strong lines and shapes. It’s often the shadows that define shape and form, so pay attention to areas of darkness, as well as light.
2. Tone

Black and white photography tone

Black and white photos actually include a whole range of greys, which add subtlety to your images. Normally, you look for subjects that will translate into a range of tones from black to white, but you can also get great results where the subject is mostly light (high-key) or dark (low-key).
3. Texture and detail

Black and white photography texture and detail

Fine detail, or strong textures such as weather-beaten stone, foliage or clouds, can help to give your black-and-white shots depth and interest. Strong side lighting is perfect for bringing out the texture in any subject. You can use strong natural light, or get creative with flash to create sidelighting on the subject.
4. Graphic composition

Black and white photography graphic compositions

Black-and-white images need strong compositions to really work. Keep an eye out for strong lines or features in your scene that can be used as leading lines, or positioned diagonally across the frame to create dynamic images.
Bad subjects for black and white photography

There’s no absolute right or wrong when it comes to choosing a subject for black and white photography, but you’ll come across subjects and scenes that rely on colour for their impact, and also lighting conditions that don’t work well in monochrome.

Here are some examples of what to avoid when looking for suitable subjects for black and white photography.
1. Blank skies

Black and white photography bland skies

It’s easy to think that because you don’t need bright colors you can shoot black and white photography in any light or in any weather.

It’s certainly true that with some skilful conversion and adjustment in Photoshop post-shoot you can add drama , but the sturdier the building blocks the better your finished image will be.

So, unless you’re trying to create a minimalist image it’s worth taking the time to capture maximum detail in the best lighting conditions possible.
2. Safeguarding mood

Black and white photography safeguard mood

If the scene you’re shooting relies on color for mood or impact, chances are you’ll be better off keeping the image in color, as in our mushroom image above. Sunrise or sunset shots are another good example; you should always ask yourself whether the image loses some impact without the subtle hues.
3. Color contrasts

Black and white photography colour contrasts

Subjects that rely on contrasting colors – such as a purple crocus against a green lawn – generally don’t work well in black and white. This is because the two colors will end up looking similar in tone when converted.

Try a graphic composition

Black and white photography graphic compositions

Simple shapes and a strong composition virtually guarantee striking black-and-white images. With their straight lines and dramatic angles, man-made structures are ideal for this type of shot, although for more organic shapes you can also try working with trees, rocks or foliage.

To make the most of graphic shapes, try to make your composition as simple as possible. Keep an eye out for plain backgrounds, and try shooting with the subject at an angle.

With their straight lines and dramatic angles, man-made structures are ideal

For the shot above we chose a composition that avoided including as much of the surrounding architecture and street furniture as possible, with striking results.

High-contrast lighting can really help to enhance graphic shapes, so make the most of strong side lighting from the sun. If you’re using your own lighting, position a single light to one side of the subject.

Strong, direct light creates crisp shadows, which make graphic subjects in their own right.

Here, a slow shutter speed of 30 secs has made the dark sky even more dramatic
Filter tips

Traditional coloured filters used for black-and-white film aren’t suitable for digital cameras, but you can still boost the contrast in your graphic black-and-white shots by using a polariser. By rotating the filter you’ll be able to darken blue skies, making lighter objects such as buildings or clouds stand out more clearly.

The polariser will also remove reflections from non-metallic objects such as glass or water, which helps to produce more graphic image.
Try this… minimalist mono

One of the most popular ways to get simple graphic images is to use long exposures. This technique, used either after dark or with a strong ND filter, will render water and clouds as a smooth, soft blur, focusing all the attention on fixed objects in the frame. Use a tripod and expose for 5 secs or longer.

Light and shade

Successful black-and-white images don’t always have to contain an even mix of light and dark tones. Look for subjects that have mainly light tones to produce clean-looking ‘high-key’ images.

These images work best when you have a light-coloured background to work with, and also soft, diffused lighting to prevent too many dark shadows spoiling the high-key effect. Close-ups, still lifes and portraits – where you often have control over the lighting and background – make good subjects for the high-key treatment, but don’t discount the possibility of shooting high-key landscapes when there’s snow or mist, as these conditions are naturally dominated by lighter tones.

Successful black-and-white images don’t always have to contain an even mix of tone

Alternatively, try shooting scenes made up of mainly shadows and midtones. The dark tones give a sense of mystery, making it an effective technique for intense portraits.

For successful ‘low-key’ images you need to make sure that little or no light falls onto your background, so only the main subject is lit. This is usually achieved by controlling the lighting using flash or continuous lighting, such as a reading lamp, but you can achieve low-key results using daylight alone; you just need to search out areas of shadows to use.
Conversion tips
Image 1 of 2

Lighten the background

Even if your background is illuminated, you may still need to use a Curves adjustment layer in Photoshop to make it lighter. Do this by dragging the right-hand end of the curve upwards.

Sharpen the detail

To really draw attention to the sharpest areas of the subject, add a little extra sharpening using Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask filter. The lack of shadows makes noise much less noticeable.

Lighten the background

Even if your background is illuminated, you may still need to use a Curves adjustment layer in Photoshop to make it lighter. Do this by dragging the right-hand end of the curve upwards.

Sharpen the detail

To really draw attention to the sharpest areas of the subject, add a little extra sharpening using Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask filter. The lack of shadows makes noise much less noticeable.
Try this…minimalist mono

This technique involves using Photoshop to add one color to a shot’s highlights and another to the shadows, replicating traditional chemical toning.

While you can split-tone any black-and-white image, the effect is perfectly suited to minimalist high-key shots, like the snow scene featured above.
Low-key

For successful ‘low-key’ images you need to make sure that little or no light falls onto your background, so only the main subject is lit. This is usually achieved by controlling the lighting using flash or continuous lighting, such as a reading lamp, but you can achieve low-key results using daylight alone; you just need to search out areas of shadows to use.

To make the image appear even more low-key, we used a Levels adjustment layer in Photoshop. In the Levels window, we dragged the grey centre slider and the black left-hand slider to the right of the histogram to darken the midtone areas and the shadows. We then selectively masked out this adjustment to bring back detail in the model’s face.

Add essential mood and drama

Although it’s relatively simple to give any image the black-and-white treatment, creating the kind of dramatic, moody black-and-white images you see in the portfolios of many a pro is all about choosing the right subject, getting the lighting right and making subtle but effective adjustments post-shoot. When it comes to the right subject, you should look out for scenes that are packed with plenty of texture and detail, along with strong graphic elements.
Shooting secrets

It’s always best to capture as much detail as possible in your original image. We used a soft-edged ND grad filter to prevent the sky from becoming over-exposed.

The lighting needs to lend itself to the style of image. Dark skies are ideal, especially if they are combined with sunlight on foreground subjects to create maximum contrast. But any situation where you can capture plenty of detail in the sky and some contrast in the foreground will do; you may just have to work a little harder on your adjustments to add the atmosphere you need.

The Photoshop techniques you’ll need to use on shots like this aren’t difficult, but you will need to master local contrast adjustments on Curves adjustment layers, and use the Dodge and Burn tools to selectively lighten and darken the image.
Conversion tips
Image 1 of 2

Expert dodging

The derelict building is the shot’s main focus, but it’s been thrown into darkness during the black-and-white conversion. To fix this, we used the Dodge tool to reveal hidden detail in the building’s dark slate.

Boost contrast

Both the sky and the foreground lacked contrast in our initial conversion, so we used a Photoshop Curves adjustment layer to selectively increase the contrast in these areas.

Expert dodging

The derelict building is the shot’s main focus, but it’s been thrown into darkness during the black-and-white conversion. To fix this, we used the Dodge tool to reveal hidden detail in the building’s dark slate.

Boost contrast

Both the sky and the foreground lacked contrast in our initial conversion, so we used a Photoshop Curves adjustment layer to selectively increase the contrast in these areas.
Try this…infrared effects

Replicating the effect of using infrared film produces dramatic images with black skies, glowing foliage and lots of grain. It’s possible to capture true infrared images by attaching a special filter to your lens that only transmits infrared ‘light’. You can also get your camera converted to shoot infrared images, but both options are expensive.

The black-and-white conversion tool in Elements and CS has a preset infrared style, so try using this and then adding a little grain and contrast.

Source :
http://www.techradar.com/how-to/photography-video-capture/cameras/black-and-white-photography-how-to-make-monochrome-stunning-1320967

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