Black and white photography: camera, settings and light

Always some of the most dramatic photographs, black and white photography can be a tricky style to master. The monochrome color base can easily create a dull image that has little or nothing to catch the audience’s eye. However, when done right, black and white photography can capture a viewer in ways that most other styles simply cannot.

Black and white photography: important Settings

In this way, the effective use of the monochrome palette in the composition can allow a more directed focus, but the same quality that can lead to captivating photos is also the same quality that can make the style so difficult to shoot effectively. Though, if you take the time to master the style of black and white photography, you will likely find your ability in any style is much improved.

Light is Your best Photography Ally

With the monochrome color palette, you will need to find other ways to make your image pop. In this case, light becomes the greatest factor for creating the drama for which black and white photography is known. However, this is not a simple matter of more or less being better. Depending on the composition and desired effect, both can drastically change the power of the photograph.

Still, the amount of light will heavily influence the other qualities of the photograph more than most other factors, and you would do well to pay attention to it—especially since it may not altogether be obvious during the shoot. Despite this, do not feel constrained by light when crafting your composition. Flat light can work just effectively, though you will have to be more careful and selective about your subjects.

Opposites Attract for special effects in your Pics

It may seem obvious, considering the style is called black and white photography, but the purer the neutrals the better. Since you are working exclusively with the greyscale, you will want to find a subject that allows the extremes of that scale to juxtapose with one another. An incredibly deep black paired with a pure—or as pure as you can find—white will make both neutrals pop.
Moreover, this will also allow one of the most highly sought after qualities of a black and white composition, contrast, to show up stronger. While color photos generally avoid high contrast to prevent a jittered, artificial feel, the monochrome palette of black and white photography allows high contrast to truly shine. To shift the contrast into further ends of the extreme, add a red filter to darken some of the shades of grey.

Falling back to the black and white juxtaposition, if you can find subjects which are naturally light and dark near one another, their proximity will not only allow the whites and blacks to pop, it will also increase the sharpness of contrast. Though not exclusively, the contrast of a black and white photograph will often drive the drama and generate interest for the eye.
Keep in mind, the less pure the whites and blacks, the “muddier” the image. The muddier the image, the less interesting it will be. Moreover, the distinction of line will also suffer—potentially to the point where parts of the composition are indistinguishable from others. If that occurs, the eye will have nothing to focus on and the audience will lose interest.

Controlling Technique: Filter, settings and colors

A couple ways for you to directly influence black and white photographs, beyond selecting the subject, is the application of exposure and filters. Since most people observe the world in color, it can often be somewhat difficult to envision how a black and white photograph will turn out. In this way, the settings which can improve black and white photography are not necessarily at the forefront of our mental checklist since they often have a completely different effect in regards to color photography.

For example, underexposure in black and white photography can create a contrast where there may not actually be one. If your image would otherwise fade through various shades of grey, creating the dreaded “muddy” effect, shooting with longer exposure will deepen the composition’s natural highlights. Of course, this means you will need a tripod to prevent blurring, but your contrast will thank you.

Another setting you can directly change is the filter. Of course, there is no “right” filter when it comes to any style of photography. If you are looking for a higher dynamic range, consider using multiple exposures. For a brightly lit shot, an ND grad can prevent the details from being washed out. While the red filter was mentioned prior, you will want to keep in mind that any color filter will brighten the same colors in the shot.

Edit the RAW pic with Photoshop or Lightroom

Finally, like all styles, black and white photography will generally need to be touched up with image editing software. If you are able to, it is advised that you shoot in RAW so that your images will have some flexibility. Sometimes, an image that was intended to be black and white simply does not work out. However, that same image may still make a wonderful color shot. Also, if you use Photoshop or Lightroom, Silver Effex will be the plugin you use most for black and white photography. This software allows you adjust the contrast, the brightness, and purity of the greyscale with sliders. This plugin can get a bit pricey, but after using it for a while, you will be able to tell without seeing the photograph whether it will be stunning or so-so ahead of time.