25 Black and White Photography Tips

Black and White Photography Tips

amazing examples bw photography

Do you feel like you need to get better at shooting black and white pictures? It seems simple, but in reality, black and white photography is rather difficult to get the hang of.

In this post, you will read all of my black and white photography tips and tricks that will definitely help you take perfect monochrome images.

25 Black and White Photo Tips for Beginners

Here are the most essential tips and tricks on how you can get the most beautiful monochrome images that evoke true and sincere emotions.

1. Watch Black & White Movies

black and white photography example

There is nothing that can give you a better inspiration than a film shot in black and white. At the time, filmmakers didn’t have the possibility to shoot in color, so, they had to be creative with what they had, i.e. light and shadows.

If you are new to this type of photography, an old movie will be a good way to learn how to use the light and shadow interplay in your images. I recommend you Some Like It Hot (1959), It Happened One Night (1934), Harvey (1950), Manhattan (1979), and Roman Holiday (1953).

2. Create a Strong Composition

black and white photo composition

The composition is the way a photographer arranges objects and other important elements in a shot. If you are going to take a black and white shot, think about the composition too, which objects are darker or lighter.

Perhaps, there are objects with an unusual shape or texture that will help you create additional contrast. Is there a way for you to change the background to make the objects stand out a little better? It is all about your creative vision, so try to think “irregular”.

3. Choose a Suitable Subject

monochrome photo

There are some things that only look good if the photo is in color. A good example of this is a picture of a sunrise, which is all about the explosion of different colors.

Another one will be flowers or tropical birds. A black and white image is not the best option in this case. There is a special nostalgic and a bit old-fashioned flair in a black and white image.

4. Evoke Emotions

monochrome photo

Your viewers should have feelings about your monochrome photo. The best way to do this is to shoot scenes that have life and motion in them, something that hasn’t been staged or created in a studio.

Keep your eyes always open for those genuine and relatable scenes around you, but also don’t forget about light and composition.

5. Use Scenes with More Colors

monochrome photo

A rookie mistake is to take photos of objects that are either monochrome (like a zebra, for example) or simply lack colors. One may think that something that is not too colorful will look great in a black and white image but it isn’t usually like that.

Unfortunately, you will only realize that when you start editing the photo, applying black and white filters. Here’s the principle: if there are only two or three colors in the scene, you won’t be able to get a good black and white image.

6. Look for High Contrast

monochrome photo

This is something that should normally be avoided when you shoot in color, however, a black and white image simply asks for a very sharp contrast to make all the elements visible.

How to take black and white pictures with a good contrast? You can do this by putting a dark object in front of a white or another light-color background (or vice versa).

The mixture of gray shades is what will show different details and depth in the image.

7. Edit in Color Before You Convert to B&W

simple black and white photography simple black and white photography
Order Color Correction $0.20 per photo

This method is my go-to when I work with a black and white photo. Before converting a photograph into a black and white image, I will edit the photo until I’m completely satisfied with its look in color.

The reason behind this is that after conversion, a lot of information is lost and if you start enhancing the photo after the filter has been applied, you will lose a lot of details.

Brightness, contrast, exposure should all be fixed in color. After the conversion, you will only have to make some minor tweaks.

8. Use Dodge and Burn

digital black and white photography editing digital black and white photography editing

With the Dodge and Burn tools, you can work on the highlights, shades, and mid-tones. The level of precision that these tools provide makes black and white digital photography more effective than film one.

Use the Burn Tool to make the highlighted area darker and Dodge to make them brighter. This way you can manipulate contrast in specific parts of the image. Use this technique to bring out the details and textures in your photograph.

9. DSLR or Film?

shooting black and white

If you are serious about black and white photography, at some point you will surely think about buying a B&W camera. The truth is that such devices are very expensive. For example, Leica M Monochrome costs $8000. In general, when you take pictures in black and white, you should purchase a good DSLR, like Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. Though, an average B&W camera is superior to the best DSLR camera many photographers manage to provide decent B&W shots using digital models. In fact, it all depends on your skills.

10. Use Filters

black and white photography filters

Black and white filters allow you to control the color being converted into the shades of gray. The five colors for the filters are blue, green, yellow, orange, and red.

You will use these in a different way and for different purposes. Red will help increase the overall contrast, green will make the green objects (usually, leaves or grass) stand out in a black and white photo, orange will help you get the smooth skin effect.

Keep these black and white tips in mind and use the filters accordingly.

11. Use a Flash

shooting black and white with flash

I cannot stress the importance of contrast in a black and white image enough. It can be achieved with the help of correct lighting and your flash is one of the tools that will help you produce that.

It can be the one that is integrated or you can get a budget-friendly model, for example, YONGNUO YN560 IV.

12. Avoid Taking Photos at Midday

black and white photography portrait

There are certain parts of the day that do not have good light for the black and white image. Midday is exactly that time. The light is usually too bright and that results in a lack of contrast and loss of details.

How to shoot in black and white outside? Choose the time when it is not too bright, early in the morning or in the afternoon (closer to evening). A cloudy day is also great.

13. Use Flat Light

black and white digital photography

You would normally want to avoid flat light because the image you get as a result may lack life or simply look boring. However, you can use flat light to your advantage while shooting black and white photos.

Just look at the scene closely and find which areas are deep enough to focus on.

14. Use Rembrandt Lighting

black and white photography portrait lighting

The lighting in portrait photography can be very different. You can take a backlit portrait, use loop lighting, etc. However, when you think about a black and white portrait, you should use Rembrandt lighting.

With this technique, you will highlight only a small triangle on the cheek, the rest of the face is dark.

15. Use Split Lighting for Dramatic Look

black and white photography portrait lighting

A split lighting method is used to achieve a dramatic look in a monochrome portrait. Direct light only at one side of your model’s face, the other side should be completely dark.

16. Shoot in RAW + JPEG

raw black and white photography

As I have already written before, it makes sense to do all the editing of RAW B&W files in full color, because they have maximum color information. However, you can also shoot in RAW+JPEG at the same time and use your camera’s monochrome mode.

This way you will be able to see what your image will look like when you convert it to black and white. This is one of the best ways to find a winning composition.

17. Shoot with Low ISO

black and white photography iso

The peculiarity of black and white photography is that all images must be clear, contrast and without noise. That’s why, shooting at high ISO is unacceptable, though in all other genres it is perceived as a nice film effect.

Since grain is more noticeable in B&W imagery, you’d better set ISO as low as possible. The best option is 100 or 200.

Frankly speaking, it is quite easy to add noise in picture post production if needed, but it is almost impossible to remove it if you happened to adjust your camera wrongly at the shooting.

18. Use Long Exposure

black white photography long exposure

Photographing with long exposure can give you very unusual and expressive shots. Think about using this method when shooting water or clouds that move.

If you have something that is standing still, you can get an amazing contrast with the blurred lines of the moving objects.

To make sure the image is sharp, you need to use a tripod. Another trick is to use a mirror lockup and a remote release, which will help you reduce vibration when shooting.

19. Shoot in HDR

taking black and white photos in hdr

A black and white HDR is a rare thing to see online. I personally think that it is underrated. What HDR photography has the best is the ability to capture the texture and show all the nuances of the lit and dark areas, which definitely helps create the mood in the photograph.

20. Look for Shadows

black and white photography ideas
black and white photography ideas

If you want to achieve impressive results in black and white photography, learn to notice shadows, as they aren’t dark parts of the shot anymore, but key elements of the composition. There are cases, when shadows even become the subject of your picture.

21. Incorporate Negative Space

black and white photography ideas

Some negative space in a photo is a way to actually bring the viewers’ attention to the story itself. You can simply hide a part of the picture in the shadows. This way the viewer will be able to focus on what is important but at the same time imagine what could be lurking in the dark.

22. Create Silhouettes

black and white photography ideas

A silhouette in a black and white image always looks mystical and emotional. To take a silhouette monochrome photo, you need to shoot your model against a light source.

It can be directly behind your subject but it is not crucial if it is a bit shifted to the side. What you need is to have most of the light behind.

A great time for taking photographs like this is late in the afternoon when the sun is quite low and you can take photos against it without any problems.

23. Be Mindful of Textures

black and white photography ideas
black and white photography ideas

Pay attention to textures if you want to create beautiful black and white photography. They can greatly influence the atmosphere of your image and the emotions viewers have.

In fact, textures help evoke tactile feelings, so that people want to touch your images to “feel” this object in their hands.

24. Look for Patterns

black and white photography ideas

A repetitive pattern looks attractive and pleasing to the eye. You can’t fully enjoy the pattern when it is in color.

We can find patterns literally everywhere around us (trees in a park, a row of windows, cars in the parking lot, etc.).

25. Shapes

black and white photography ideas

Different shapes attract people. In digital black and white photography, a recognizable shape is the only thing that will help viewers understand what is in front of them.

Make sure you always pay attention to the shapes around you when you are out in nature as well as in an urban setting.

Freebies for Digital Black and White Photography

If you like the mood of classic black and white photos, but don’t know how to transform your ordinary color pictures – use these B&W actions and presets. They were designed by professional photographers and retouchers, so they correspond to all the standards of black and white photography.

Soft Black and White

freebie for black and white photography editing freebie for black and white photography editing

Apply it to boudoir or nude pictures to give the skin gentle and soft look. It also helps add pastel touch to the shot.

Hard Contrast

freebie for black and white photography editing freebie for black and white photography editing

Has been tested on many photos, this action works great for backlit images, giving them magic and brilliance.

Black and White HDR

freebie for black and white photography editing freebie for black and white photography editing

Adding the HDR effect has never been easier! Just use this preset and enjoy the gorgeous result.

Classic Black and White

freebie for black and white photography editing freebie for black and white photography editing

Give your photos a classic B&W look with this action. They will become slightly mysterious, with highlighted contrast between blacks and whites.

Brighten Monochrome

freebie for black and white photography editing freebie for black and white photography editing

This preset is ideal for portraits, architecture and street shots. Use it if you want to remove distracting colors.

Ann Young

Hi there, I'm Ann Young - a professional blogger, read more