How To Take Better Black-And-White Photographs

Yogesh Sarkar

Administrator
Black-and-white photography has become increasingly popular once again. When color photography first burst upon the scene, black-and-white photography fell out of favor. It was seen as "old" and "out." But in recent years, we are rediscovering the beauty of black-and-white, and today we admire the power and purity of black-and-white images.

Here are some important elements to consider in taking black-and-white photographs.

Subject

Choose your subject carefully. Some subjects that look interesting in color look dull in black-and-white. On the other hand, black-and-white can create an unexpectedly intimate portrait or transform a simple scene into a dramatic moment.

Photographs of people look especially good in black-and-white. More and more people are having their wedding pictures taken in black-and-white because it makes the photographs look timeless and therefore more romantic. Black-and-white photographs of couples on honeymoon or on vacation can be equally captivating. Whereas a color picture might be a mere record of a trip, a black-and-white photograph captures emotions and impressions with unusual power. When you're in a festive or exciting place, your first instinct might be to take color pictures, but if you've ever seen a black-and-white photograph of a man kissing a woman on a beach, you know how much more compelling a black-and-white photograph can be.

Black-and-white photographs of children and babies are also very beautiful and sentimental. Children grow up, and babies won't be babies forever, so the nostalgic atmosphere that black-and-white photographs create is especially appropriate.

When you're taking black-and-white photographs of people, it is better if they are dressed simply and in solid colors, not in prints. The fewer the elements in a black-and-white photograph, the more dreamy or dramatic it will be.

Buildings, landscapes, and other scenes are also valuable subjects in black-and-white photography. Keep an eye out for the unexpected. The way the light falls on a table, the shadow of a bicycle on the ground, or the swaying of a tree in the wind could be the subject of your next black-and-white masterpiece.

Background

Make sure the background does not distract from your subject. Sometimes moving your subject a few feet to the right or left is all that you need to eliminate unnecessary elements from your photograph. If that doesn't work, try taking the picture from a different angle.

Light and shadow

You could say that light and shadow are all there is to black-and-white photographs. That's why it's so important to use them to your advantage. Take pictures of the same scene at different times of the day and you'll see how important light and shadow are to the mood of a photograph. You can also experiment with different qualities of light. For example, take a picture of a fence on a bright day, and take another picture of the same fence on a foggy day.

Colors

Some colors that are eye-catching in a color picture can get washed out in a black-and-white photograph. The same thing can happen with color combinations. For example, red and green look striking together, but in a black-and-white photograph, the two colors are nearly indistinguishable. It all comes back to subject. Choose a subject that looks interesting or dramatic in black-and-white and does not rely on color for its beauty.

Shapes

Precisely because of its lack of color, black-and-white photography relies greatly on shapes and lines to provide interest. A black-and-white photograph that is all straight lines can look modern and architectural, but it can also look flat. A subject that incorporates slanting lines, crooked lines, or curves generally looks interesting in black-and-white.

Texture

Like shapes, textures are very important in black-and-white photography. The surface of a straw hat has more visual impact than the surface of a baseball cap. If you're taking a picture of your small son, consider dressing him in a cable-knit sweater instead of a T-shirt.

Perspective

In photography, perspective is one of your best friends. It can help you tell a story, suggest relationships, and bring a boring subject to life. The black-and-white photograph of straight lines mentioned above won't look flat if you take it from an unusual angle. If you're photographing a wall of windows, stand near the bottom of the building and point your camera up. If you're taking a picture of your new puppy, stand over it with your camera, and it will look very small and sweet.

Remember, black-and-white photography is beautiful because it creates images that are so personal and meaningful. Experiment with it and have fun with it. A few years from now, when your children are grown and you've moved to a different town, you'll be glad you made the effort to capture what was around you, when it was still around.

Source: Lee Dobbins
 

Salil

Super Moderator
Staff member
Nice topic, but how appropriate would this be in the current context? Are there many people here who still use manual cameras? And if you are using a Digital, would it matter if you clicked in color or B&W? In the context of digital cams, wouldn't it always be better to take any pic in color and then go the software way to change it to B&W?
 

Yogesh Sarkar

Administrator
We were discussing same thing in the last meet and even in the article it is mentioned that composition for a Color and Black & White shot would be different. Some photos look better in B&W, while others look better in color. So if you are purposefully looking for a B&W photo then it is always better to shoot it in B&W mode rather then in color to make sure composition and every thing else is spot on.
 
Yogesh Sarkar said:
We were discussing same thing in the last meet and even in the article it is mentioned that composition for a Color and Black & White shot would be different. Some photos look better in B&W, while others look better in color. So if you are purposefully looking for a B&W photo then it is always better to shoot it in B&W mode rather then in color to make sure composition and every thing else is spot on.
Nice tips!
I am not sure how this will apply to digital cameras because the software or rather firmware in the cam (given it has b/w mode) would block certain channels and filter it out to grayscale..which is what you'd do using editing software...correct me if am mistaken ?

On the other hand, in film cameras , you get specific b/w films like the apx200/100 etc ...might they be doing something different.
 

Yogesh Sarkar

Administrator
Vicky you are absolutely right, however there is a difference in capturing a B&W photograph and converting a color photo to B&W in post processing because it occurred to you during post processing that this photo might look better without colors. After all photography is not about who does the best job in post processing, it is about capturing the moment as an artist.
 

timetrial

New Member
yogesh...i am an amateur photographer myself and somehow do find BW pics more appealing with the right subject....why not post in a few sample pics
 

Praful

Guru
After all photography is not about who does the best job in post processing, it is about capturing the moment as an artist.

Very very debate-able point there!

Post-processing is an art as well, both post-processing and photography are works of art and go hand in hand.

If one is a purist then one goes by what you say i.e. SOOC. Else its photography+postprocessing that give the final look to the picture as per the artist (i.e. Photographer's) vision of the image.

IMO, if one is shooting with digital format it really does not make any difference if one goes for B&W in cam or later achieves the same result in post.
 

danrockd

DanFotoWorx
Nice article there !

And I totally agree with Praful on the above post. PP is a useful tool in photography, however it does not rule out the value of good composition in the first place. Post would provide many what they can't achieve in camera, maybe because lack of knowledge or the quality of device. Additionally, as said above, PP too takes some learning.
Imagine now the cameras are also coming with in-camera selective coloring option... so the PP applications will have some fight in near future :)

For me, as far as b/w in camera or through PP is concerned, i have yet to take a shot and compare the two.. i might as well do it soon and then see. I dont know how much of a difference would there be in two if we have to see it on the computer screen. But i know that i can make a color in b/w easily but can't simply do the opposite :)
 
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