Photography originated in black and white — so why does black and white sometimes feel so hard? When you see the world in color, it’s hard to make the mental transition to determine what would make a great black and white shot. Some great shots just don’t look so good when you lose the color. So how do you master monochrome? Here are five black and white photography tips to get you started.
How does each color translate into a shade of gray? If you shoot RAW, you can make that decision yourself. Working with a RAW file and a photo editor like Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom allows you to choose just how light or dark each color becomes in the final monochrome. Shooting in RAW is actually simpler than it sounds — inside your camera menu, change the file type from JPEG to RAW, just make sure you have a photo editor compatible with RAW files (most of them are). Then, when you open the RAW file, you’ll see the option to adjust each color individually (in Lightroom, that’s in the HSL panel).
Learn to “see” in black and white.
Shooting better black and whites starts before the image is even shot, however. Knowing how each color will convert helps you decide what would make a great black and white shot as you compose the shot. That takes experience — but there is a trick for beginners to get a jump start. While shooting in RAW, switch your camera’s color profile to black and white. Since the file type is a RAW, you’ll still capture all the color data so you can do the conversion yourself for more fine-tuning (or if you change your mind and want the shot in color). But, by switching the color profile, the shots you see on the back of the LCD screen will be in black and white. Seeing the shot in monochrome right away helps you develop that eye for good black and white.
Look for contrast.
What makes a great black and white shot? Often, the answer is in contrast. While there are some lighter black and white conversions, often, a good black and white has both a true black and a true white, instead of being all shades of gray. When you are out shooting, look for scenes with a lot of contrast to help the shot stand out in black and white. Backlighting, for example, often looks great in monochrome.
Black and white film photographers use filters to adjust how each color converts. Now, that color conversion is done digitally — but that doesn’t mean filters are obsolete. Using a polarizing filter when outdoors will help add contrast to the shot. Graduated neutral density filters to darken the sky and full graduated filters for long exposures also works well with black and white shots.
Think shapes, patterns and texture.
When you convert to black and white, you are removing one of the interesting elements of an image: color. But when you remove color, other elements tend to stand out — like shapes, patterns and texture. As you are composing your black and white, look for shapes, patterns or texture to emphasize with the lack of color.
Color may be new when compared to black and white, but there’s still a few tricks to getting better black and whites. Take these black and white photography tips to master monochrome — and head out with your camera to practice.