Capturing black and white images is not as simple as putting a filter on a photo, but to achieve high quality black and white images you need to be familiar with the basics of light and shadow.
Black and white photography is one of the most challenging genres of photography. You can not call it black and white photography just by dropping a filter on the images. In this article, we will introduce black and white photography, also known as monochrome photography; You will also learn ways and techniques to improve black-and-white photography, including the correct conversion of B&W images into software such as Lightroom and Photoshop.
What is black and white photography?
Black and white photography is the art of using different shades of gray from white to black to create attractive images. This genre has a very long history and dates back to the invention of photography. Later, despite the invention of color photography, black and white photography retained its position. Color can be misleading. One of the tasks of photographers is to simplify the image and achieve the essence of a landscape. Sometimes it is necessary for this ink to be colorless. Ansel Adams says about the difference between color and black and white photography:
I can capture more emotion and get a better understanding of color with the right way and practice of black and white photography.
Of course, in today’s world, a large number of photographers take photos in color. Perhaps this means that man has lost the beauty and imagination of Ansel Adams. Fortunately, by learning the techniques, you can create beautiful black-and-white images.
The correct method of black and white photography
A good black and white photo is just a good photo. You can not save a catastrophic photo by dropping a black and white filter on it. What the general public usually does. There are seven essential elements to capturing black and white photos, which we will briefly discuss below. First of all, you have to have a reason for black and white photography.
Not all subjects look good in black and white. As a result, always ask yourself: Why do you remove the color from a specific photo? What is the reason for photographing the subject in this way? Black-and-white photos look good, but not always. So you have to think about why you are shooting in black and white instead of in color. If you can not find a good reason, it may be better not to take a monochrome photo at all.
Black and white photography versus monochrome photography
You may have come across two common terms that both refer to the same thing: black and white (B&W) and monochrome. However, although sometimes these words are used interchangeably, they are not really the same. The word monochrome means “monochrome”. As a result, monochrome photos have a color hue. See the photo below for an example. It has a brown tint to improve the letters but at the same time other colors have been removed from it. As a result, this photo is monochrome, not black and white. Real black and white photos have no color but are completely black, white and gray.
The good news is that you can use any term (monochrome or black and white) without confusion. But if you want to be precise, it is better to use the phrase black and white for completely colorless photos.
Black and white photography equipment
In general, for black and white photography, you can use the same camera that you use for color photography. However, you need more equipment that is important for black and white photography. We refer to them below.
Black and white camera
Some cameras are designed for black and white photography only. Among them is the Leica M Monochrome, which is a very expensive camera for $ 8,000; But why bother with black and white photography so much? Monochrome cameras provide black and white images with higher resolution and cleaner than color cameras. Most people, however, opt for a regular color camera because it is more practical.
Black and white photography versus color photography and its transformation
Most cameras have black and white shooting mode, which begs the interesting question: is it better to take images in color and then convert them to the final processing, or should we shoot in monochrome mode from the beginning? The simple answer is that it is always better to take pictures in color and then turn them into black and white in the final edit. Because even if you change your mind, you can still have a color version.
If you start with a color file, you will have a lot of flexibility. Because you can still change the colors even after turning black and white in the final version. For example, you can darken the blue channel to make the sky look darker in a monochrome image. This is not possible if you have a black and white photo.
JPEG vs. RAW
Many photographers shoot in RAW format, and RAW photographs taken with color cameras usually preserve color information. In general, RAW images have more information and image quality, while JPEG images are smaller files with less data. For obvious reasons, photographers are looking to capture RAW images.
As a result, if you shoot in RAW format, you can enable the camera’s monochrome mode and take photos. Images appear on the camera’s LCD screen in black and white, but appear in color when you open them in photo editing software. Because the raw file does not discard any data. You can use this feature to your advantage. If you enable monochrome mode in photography, you will see a black-and-white preview on the camera screen, which helps you visualize the image better. But the key point is that all of these photos are actually in color, and since they are recorded in RAW format, you can convert them to color format.
When you learn about black and white photography equipment, it is better to get acquainted with filters as well. With black-and-white film or digital cameras, you need to use lens filters to change the contrast and shadows of your image. For example, take a look at the photo below to understand the importance of the effect of color on the photo. These photos are taken with blue, green and red filters that attach to the lens in the form of physical glass filters.
As you can see, the choice of filter has a significant effect on black and white photos. The blue filter also blocks out red light and darkens objects such as leaves and the ground. The green filter also highlights everything that the small tree elements in the photo above illustrate well. Eventually the red filter darkens the sky and other blue elements of the photo while brightening all the red parts.
Despite the major differences above, current digital photographers rarely use color filters for black-and-white photography. The reason for this is that they have a great impact on color images, especially the possibility of reversing and achieving a proper appearance is impossible. You can also change many similar effects in the final editing process just by setting up independent color channels. Obsessive photographers still use color filters for black-and-white photography because it is not possible to achieve perfect effects in software. But the number of fans of this work is decreasing day by day and you no longer need to use a color filter system for monochrome photography.
Basic elements for capturing the best black and white photos
When shooting in black and white, it is best to convey the subject’s essence, including colors and other features, through shadows of light and dark, such as Ansel Adams. The best black and white photos are created according to the following seven elements.
One of the first things to keep in mind when shooting in black and white is that shadows have a dramatic effect. They are no longer the darker areas of the image, but the main elements of composition and sometimes even the subject itself. Your approach to shadows in black and white photography affects other dimensions of the photo. Are the shadows black without details? In a way that conveys a sense of intensity and emptiness; Or, on the other hand, shadows are subtle and detailed and complicate the photo.
It should be noted that a black and white photo does not need to be pure black or white to look good. It’s just a myth that you just need a full range of intense shadows to get the perfect shot. Instead, you should see what shades are suitable for your photo, but also pay attention to the shadows inside the frame. These shadows are more effective in black-and-white photos than color photos, and your composition may change based on the shadows.
According to various definitions, contrast is the difference between the lightest and darkest parts of a photo. By this definition, the spectrum in the image below represents intense contrast and includes both black and white.
Instead, contrast includes a component called proximity. The difference in brightness between the two components becomes more pronounced when they are placed side by side. In the photo below, the glowing Eiffel Tower is set against a black background. This image has more contrast than the high spectrum.
Contrast is important in black and white photography because it carries a message. A high-contrast photo like the one above conveys a strong sense that is often caused by dark shadows. For this reason, photographers like to add contrast to monochrome photos. Because it helps them convey the message. Photos with low contrast do not attract much attention, but their soft spectrum can have good results. Some of the best black and white photos have a silver middle body.
The key point is that the contrast level of the image should be commensurate with the subject, to the extent that it can be changed in the final edit. It may be a mistake to photograph a mild spring day with stark contrast and to convey the wrong mood. Likewise, if you are taking monochrome photos from a powerful perspective, high contrast is a good choice for the subject to be seen.
Only (dark and light)
Not all photographers use the word “body” or color in the same way. Here you can mean light base, dark or shades of gray. Only ones are the basis of black and white photography. If you’ve heard phrases like high key or low key in photography, you are probably familiar with just a few examples. Although most photos are neither dark nor light and are between two spectrums, you still need to be careful when shooting alone. The reason for this is that only they can convey a powerful message about the photo mode. See the pictures below for an example.
Both images are the same but have different opacity and brightness. A darker photo looks more mysterious, while a lighter photo looks more subtle and happy. Although the differences in the photos above are great, even small changes in light shadows can dramatically change the emotions of the photo. The most important thing to remember is that only the image, regardless of the darkness or light, should be in harmony with the nature of the subject. Use them to create your own mental narrative.
Each photo is a collection of simple and complex shapes. When you remove color from your toolbox, shapes become the most important part of creating your narrative. Take a look at the photo below. Shows a waterfall with trees and rocks. But on a more abstract level it consists of a set of shapes placed side by side on a canvas. It is a rectangular waterfall surrounded by lines and polygons. The big tree is in the direction of the waterfall and looks like a musical note.
People are usually automatically attracted to shapes. If the subject has no color, the only way to tell is by shape. Imagine a monochrome photo of a silhouette lamp. The only ones inside the image are black and white. There is no shadow or texture to show the photo; But do you doubt it shows a picture of a lamp? Shapes help simplify the photo. Some famous landscapes are created by thousands because they simply include a beautifully shaped mountain or river.
On the other hand, the shape of people can be conveyed in images in a very emotional and recognizable way.
In black and white photography, no color makes the photo look familiar or abstract. In this style, shapes play a more important role and are the main way to understand the message of the photo.
While shapes can represent a large view of the image, textures do the rest. Texture, like other elements of black and white photography, has the power to influence the mood and feel of the photo. From smooth pebbles to rough grass and from glossy aluminum to matte iron rust, the texture is the basis of image identity. It is difficult to take rough pictures of the soft flow of water because part of it goes back to the soft nature of water; But if you have such a goal, you can achieve it by deepening the shadows and increasing the contrast. Take a look at the texture of the photos below and think about the mode of these images.
Irregular waves in the first image create a strong sense of ominousness. In contrast, the second image has repetitive and soft textures that convey a sense of harmony and balance. When you can not rely on color to convey the feeling of the image, the role of texture becomes more prominent. Texture has a great effect on the sense of black and white photography.
The best photos are created for a specific purpose. For example, an image photographer captures a landscape in a specific way so that the image has structure and order and is not just a snapshot. In other words, it has a strong composition. See this article to know the types of composition .
The key to composition in black and white photography is the difference between photo elements and color photos. For example, if you capture portrait images in color, the subject can have bright eyes that dramatically affect composition. The same is true in landscape photography where a golden sky can direct the gaze upwards. In both cases you will need a different combination of black and white.
At other times you may want to take advantage of the imaginative nature of black and white photography. In the following example, packet composition removes part of the context. The lack of colors makes the audience spend longer moments recognizing the photo narrative. Achieving such an effect is easier in black and white photography than in color photography.
Of course, you need to combine your photos regardless of whether they are in color or black and white. However, when taking black and white photos, you may make different decisions about composition.
Sometimes conveying emotion is the most important part of photography. All of the elements we’ve covered so far are important as a means of conveying emotion and helping to convey the mood and message of black-and-white photographs. For a case study, take a look at the two photos below that show different perspectives. The first shows architecture in Paris and the second shows a mountain in New Zealand. Despite the completely different subjects, the two images feel quite similar:
But why is this feeling the same? The answer is obvious. Both crowded photos have high contrast with intense textures and deep shadows. Both combinations show the same fusion of shapes and shades of light. As a result, what is the difference between the subjects? The sense of the images is similar because its basic elements are very similar to each other. In contrast, the photo below conveys a completely different feeling. Due to the scattered composition and lack of distractions, the following photo feeling is completely different and conveys a sense of isolation and loneliness.
Emotion is not a separate variable that you can adjust in black and white photography. It is the result of a set of tools that we have already described. If you use the other six elements correctly, you can convey your feelings well.
Final editing of black and white photos
Here’s how to finalize black and white photos using image editing software such as Lightroom, Photoshop and other software.
How to make a black and white photo in Lightroom
There are several ways to convert black and white photos in Lightroom; But the easiest way to activate the Black & White feature is at the top of the Basic panel or by pressing the v key on the keyboard. You can also turn the image black and white by reducing the saturation to -100 or by changing the profile below Camera Calibration to monochrome; But these methods are not very efficient because they eliminate some of the HSL tab options for setting independent colors in the black-and-white combination.
Although the HSL tab is very important for creating black-and-white images, be careful with edge settings and adding high levels of noise to the images. These can be reduced in the noise reduction panel (especially color noise reduction) but it is best to minimize the changes.
How to make black and white photos in Photoshop
Photoshop has more flexibility to convert color photos to black and white. You can use the Camera RAW filter, which has lightroom editing options and is applied as a filter to the image. There are several other options in Photoshop. One method is to use the channel mixer layer, which allows you to control the red, blue and green channels in black and white photography.
You can also add a layer of black and white glass that reduces the saturation of the image completely, or open the image in a plugin that converts black and white. In short, there are several ways to get a black and white photo in Photoshop, and you can find the method you want.
Convert photos to other image editing software
These days, there are several proprietary software for converting color photos to black and white. The most popular software is Nik Silver Efex Pro, which is used by many photographers. This software works independently or as a Lightroom and Photoshop plugin.
However, in general it is better not to use Silver Efex Pro or other software because saving the black and white version will remove the color information, which means that there is no way to return the color photo. However, you can always re-edit the RAW file. However, software such as Silver Efex can apply sharper settings without adding noise to the image, making it useful for some images. Also, such plug-ins have more flexibility than the built-in Lightroom settings.
Inspiration and ideas
If you want to create unique black and white images, go outside and start taking pictures. The best way to improve your field training skills is to practice final editing. Very soon you can find yourself in the world of monochrome and see what the landscape in front of you looks like in black and white. Here are some ways to get started.
Black and white portrait photography
Since portrait photography is one of the most accessible genres of photography, it can be the best way to capture black and white images. Pay particular attention to the exchange of light and shadow when creating monochrome portraits. You can use precise lighting to shape the subject’s face and draw attention to specific parts of the face, such as the look or texture of the hands. If you do it right, you will get good results.
You can also capture the emotions of the subjects. If you create colorful portraits, any outfit can attract attention and prevent the message from being transmitted; But monochrome photography directs the audience’s attention to the subject’s facial expressions and gestures.
Black and white landscape photography
Monochrome landscape photography conveys a sense of virginity that helps to capture the audience’s attention. These photographs depend on the basic features of the landscape such as light and earth to create the narrative. In addition, color landscapes usually prevent the transmission of messages. In such cases, recording black and white landscape is the best method.
However, sometimes the landscape colors may be perfect, but the photo will look better in black and white. For this reason, you, as a photographer, have to pull out the essence of a landscape. Sometimes this essence can be shadow, texture, shape and contrast.
Black and white street photography
Street photography is perhaps the only genre in which people look better in monochrome than in color; But what is the reason for this? This approach goes back to the history of street photography. Photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Vivien Meyer captured street life in black and white, and over time influenced other photographers.
But on a deeper level, color can be a distraction from street views. If you want to draw the audience’s attention to a particular subject, you certainly should not be distracting by using large amounts of color. Because usually in places like cities, the color position in the photo frame is very random. Of course, not all of this means that street photography does not have to be black and white.
Black and white photography is a difficult genre. However, when you remove the color, not many variables remain, you face another challenge: capturing powerful images without highlighting tools. If you do color photography on a regular basis, you may depend on bright clouds at sunset for the beauty of the photo, or you may capture attractive colors for your eyes, hair and skin in the portrait genre.
None of the above is possible in black and white photography. Instead, you need to work with light, shadow, and other compositional elements to create the narrative so that you can convey the emotions you have in mind. Although it takes practice, it’s worth the effort. Some messages are only transmitted monotonously.
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