While it’s quite simple to convert a color image to black and white, to obtain stunning results, it’s a good idea to plan ahead by taking into consideration your subject matter and how you’re going to photograph it. Not all colored images convert well to black and white but with some helpful tips, you can create dramatic black and white still life, portrait, and landscape images.
Seeing in black and white
When the goal is to create interesting black and white photographs, you need to understand how the color image seen through your lens translates into a black and white image. It can be challenging to look beyond the colors to see the textures, shapes, tones that make up a quality monochrome image. To create a successful black and white image, look for a main subject that will have a different shade of gray than the background and then seek out subtle textures and tones that add depth to the photo.
Black and white balance still matter in your shots, even though you’re going to remove the color in processing because you’re going to translate colors into attractive tones. For that reason, your shots need to be free of color casts that will interfere with the composition. To gain a better feel for how color images translate to black and white, take some of your current images and convert them into black and white images. In this way, you gain a working understanding of what type of color images transition successfully into black and white.
Good black and white photo subject matter
Using photo-editing software to convert a color image to black and white instantly eliminates a key element that many viewers rely on to interpret the image. Other elements then play a bigger role in the success of a monochromatic photograph. These elements include:
Shape, contrast, and form
The entire composition of a black and white image relies on contrast so pick subjects that possess simple shapes and strong lines. Pay attention to dark and light areas as shadows define the form and shape of the subject matter.
There’s much more than just two colors of black and white in black and white images as they include an expansive range of grays tones. The gray tones add subtle interest to your photographs so seek subjects with a range of tones or those that are mostly dark or mostly light.
Details and texture
Textures and details found in clouds, foliage and weather worn stone add interest and depth to black and white images. To enhance the texture of a subject utilize strong side lighting with either natural light or a flash.
Strong composition is a necessity for successful black and white images. Look for strong features and lines in the scene to use as leading lines or a way to add dynamics.
Bad black and white subject matter
Although there isn’t a right or wrong subject for black and white photography, there are some scenes that rely on color to make an impact. Things to avoid when shooting for black and white include:
Washed out sky
A washed out sky in a color photograph is fixable post processing with some clever tools, but in black and white, there’s not much you can do to make a bland sky interesting. Use the best lighting conditions possible unless you’re aiming for a minimalist effect.
A scene that relies on color for impact and mood won’t translate well into black and white. Good examples of this include sunrise and sunset photos that depend on the vibrant colors of the sky for their effectiveness.
Dynamic color contrasts such as a purple flower against a green background don’t translate well into black and white, as they appear too similar in a monochrome image.
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Featured image by Maciek Lulko