Black and White Photography, Take Two


The Digital Eye is my column  in What’s Up Yukon.  This article was published September 29, 2011.

This is the second of a two-part series on black and white (B&W) photography. The first was published September 15, 2011.

Let’s look at the techniques used in the creation of monochrome images.

We use some different methods and thought process than we do with colour as black and white images are a study in form, design and texture.

The first consideration is that if the image isn’t good to begin with, it can’t be made good.

When composing your images keep in mind the basic tips for composition such as leading lines, textures, patterns and the rule of thirds.

Learn to look at shapes, textures and tones in order to create your point of interest as you won’t be using colour to lead.

Highlights and shadows play a large part in the creation of monochrome images so the way your B&W photo is lit is critical.

Side lighting adds texture and depth often and creates drama and mood to your composition. Front lighting is flat.

The settings and exposure values you use to create the image may limit what you can do with the image during processing later.

Shoot in as low an ISO (sensor sensitivity) as possible to retain detail and resolution; higher ISO will add noise to the image.

Be careful to not overexpose highlights that are an essential part of the image as they cannot be recovered.

Slight overexpose of some highlights may be allowable to retain some shadow area if your choice is that the shadow detail is paramount but usually the viewer will forgive dark shadow quicker than non-viewable expanses of highlight.

Spectral highlights, the spots where there is a glint of light that is blown out, may be acceptable.

Contrast is the difference between adjacent lighter and darker parts of the photo; the greater the difference, the greater the contrast appears.

The type of light you are working with and how your subject reflects that light dictates whether your photo will be of high, medium or low contrast.

Bright sunny days will give high contrast while overcast days provide low contrast and broader tones.

Light and shadow are what capture the physical properties of the subjects in a B&W photograph. These are seen in the form of tone, texture and shape.

The number of gradations between the darkest part of the image and the lightest is called the dynamic range. Greater dynamic range creates broader tones and lower contrast.

Always shoot in RAW format as it holds all the digital information recorded during the initial capture and allows for a greater range of tones.

RAW contains the full RGB (red, green and blue) and retains all the colour information that you need to manipulate each colour channel to lighten or darken areas with those hues.

Monochrome captures can be wonderful even in situations that would otherwise not be ideal for photography.

Low contrast situations can provide a fresh result in your digital B&W photography. When you find yourself thinking the day doesn’t have “good light,” go do some shooting with monochrome in mind.

Colour often masks patterns and shapes in an image as the colour overpowers everything else. In monochrome it is those patterns and shapes that make the photo interesting so look for them in your scene.

Landscapes benefit greatly from having dramatic skies included in the image. They add intrigue and interest to an otherwise basic photo.

Ensure your image includes plenty of contrast, texture and dramatic elements.

Portraits are a popular way to use digital B&W photography. These images draw the viewer in and create feeling that is unencumbered by the influence of colour.

The emotions on a subject’s face can come through in a powerful way by using lighting and the subtle shades of gray to display their expression.

In B&W portraiture, side lighting can accentuate the features and character lines of your subject. Pay strict attention to the results to ensure you are getting what you want. Use front lighting to lessen the impact of those character lines.

In order to view your B&W images on your computer screen effectively, the monitor must be calibrated correctly. Use a grayscale to make sure your monitor sees the range of tones available. Search for “grayscale calibration tool” to find free ones on the internet.

Email questions to me or post them in the comments section below.

Happy shooting and remember to leave the environment as you found it.


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2 Responses to Black and White Photography, Take Two

  1. Pingback: Black and White Photography, Take One | Norm Hamilton's Blog

  2. Akor says:

    / (Totally not accusing you of anytnihg, I’m just frustrated.) This did NOT work for me. I’ve played around with the mono setting, and here’s what happens: I take a shot in mono (.RAW format), the preview is (obviously) in mono. I download the image to my computer, and my preview software shows me a mono photo. But then when I open the RAW in the appropriate software, it’s in colour, and the colour appears washed out rather than the great mono contrast I took time to set up. What the deuce?! Now I not only have to convert back to black and white, but I also have to basically recreate the great shot I took in the first place! I know the previews are often nicer looking than the unprocessed RAWs, but this is ridiculous. I want to practice taking good photos, not fixing up under/overexposed shots in hours of post processing. Is it because I’m shooting RAW? Would I need to downgrade my image quality from RAW to JPEG to take a shot that’s ACTUALLY in black and white? (I can’t test this out right now is why I’m asking you, lol.)

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