LESSON 22: BLACK-AND-WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY

Whether you’re looking to evoke memories of a time long past, or simply play up the drama of a high-contrast shot, black-and-white photography is a medium that will challenge even the most experienced photographer.

But once mastered, it promises to benefit camera-wielders twofold. So, kiss the color goodbye for now, because we’re delving into the beauty of monochrome.

Digital photographers looking to add a little b&w to their shots shouldn’t forgo the cardinal rules of DSLR photography — always shoot in both RAW and jpeg to preserve important photo data that will make post-processing tweaks easier.

And while you can certainly edit photos to appear black and white in post, it’s easier to get the most dramatic shot when viewing the scene as it’ll be immortalized — without color. On mirrorless cameras or those with a large back sensor, consider altering the camera’s settings so that you’ll be able to see the scene in black and white before you snap the photo.

Because color is no longer a factor that you can use to your advantage, you’ll have to do a little extra work finding a composition with high contrast and other interesting elements, such as texture and lighting.

If you’re struggling to create a compelling photo without using the hues that you’re accustomed to, consider going back into your archives and revisiting some of your favorite shots. Make copies of the files and re-edit them in black and white to see if they have the same effect. If they do, identify which compositional principles you used; if they don’t, try to determine what would make each photo better. It’s often difficult to jump straight into black-and-white photography after relying on the nuances of color, so don’t get discouraged if you suddenly feel like you’re back at square one.

Just because you’re experimenting with a new, monochromatic art form doesn’t mean that you can’t use some of your old tricks, though. For example, a black-and-white photo shot in long exposure can be stunning, as it captures the changing world in various shades of gray. Equally compelling are b&w macro shots, landscape images, still lifes, or portraits.

A bird flies over a mosque at dusk in Istanbul.

Once you have a good sense of what you’d like to capture in black and white, shoot away!

Key Takeaways:

  • Always shoot in both RAW and jpeg.
  • Look back at your archives and edit your favorite photos in b&w to get a sense of which compositions are compelling.
  • Rely on interesting textures, composition, lighting, and angles.
  • Utilize techniques like macro photography and long exposure to bring b&w photos to life.
Header image by Rafael De Nadai
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Camille Danielich
Camille is a writer, traveler, and visual storyteller from New Jersey. She has lived in the Czech Republic, Thailand and in New York. She's always looking forward to her next adventure and probably won't stop instagramming her food anytime soon. Follow along on instagram