We live in a colorful world, and the warmth of a sunset or the intense blue of summer skies can automatically evoke strong feelings. But sometimes color can be dull or distracting.
Black and white photos allow the photographer to simplify a scene, and can make the viewer look beyond the obvious, focusing on shapes, textures, and mood.
After a recent trip to Morocco where I forced myself to mostly shoot in black and white, I gathered three important tips to dramatically improve your monochrome images:
1. Shoot in color
Most cameras have an option to shoot directly in black and white. Is it necessary to switch the settings?
If you shoot in RAW, it doesn’t matter since RAW files always retain colors. But if you shoot in jpeg, I highly recommended you shoot in color and convert to black and white during post-processing.
It sounds counterintuitive, and adds an extra step in your workflow, but color plays an important role in how a monochrome image will turn out. As a bonus, if you ever change your mind, you’d still have the original color image to use.
This photo was shot in color and converted to black and white. The subject looks underexposed because he was wearing dark blue colors.
Using Lightroom’s sliders, I was able to brighten the blues only and correct the exposure on his clothes.
2. Enhance the contrast
Obtaining a great black and white image is more than just converting to grayscale with the click of a button. To make an image pop, it needs good contrast with dark shadows and bright whites. The image of the dunes below was taken at dawn, with a very soft light. When converted to black and white, it lacks a lot of contrast and looks very dull.
Using Lightroom’s sliders and tone curve, I was able to increase the contrast between the darker areas and the brighter sides and create an image that has a lot more impact.
3. Bring out shapes and textures
When you remove color from the equation, your viewer starts focusing on shapes and textures to recognize the subject of the image. If you look at a photo of silky smooth desert sand, you can almost feel the texture, with the fine grains flowing through your fingers. If you remove the warm orange color of sand dunes, you start focusing on the shapes and curves sculpted by the wind. In a way, textures trigger different senses other than just vision.
In the example below, the brightly colored turban pulls the attention of the viewer away from the rest of the image and the beautiful patterns on the wall don’t stand out as much.
As you can see, once the colors are removed, the model is less of a distraction and the patterns take the spotlight.
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