If you love black & white photography, why not set out to shoot with the express intention of creating a black & white series of images. Before you pick up your camera and head out, you need to know what makes a good black & white photo… good.
Firstly, any black & white photo is simply an image with all the colour removed. And when you do that, you’re left only with tonal range, texture, lines, shape, pattern, and fine detail. If you have lots of those elements (or even just one)… you’ve more than likely created a good black & white photo.
But if you have none of the above – assuming it was a great photo in colour – then chances are the colour might have been the sole hero of the shot. This image is a great example – in colour it’s powerful in its simplicity. The subtle tonal range inside the roses provides contrast, highlighting the layers and wilting detail.
Related: Black & White Photo Essentials
But take out the colour and it’s flat and lifeless. Why? There’s not a lot of tonal range – the greens and pinks contain about the same depth of colour, and that results in a lack of contrast so a lot of the detail we see above is now lost. The petals don’t contain enough texture to appeal to our tactile senses, and the lines and shapes are not powerful enough to stand alone as a subject.
Learn to see those elements in subjects and you’ll know at a glance if it will make a beautiful monochrome image when you remove colour, before you even take the shot.
So to summarise, this is what you should be looking for (and it can be one or more):
And today I’m going to share 5 subjects that will make great black & white photos, so you can head out camera in hand, excited to create a powerful B&W photo series!
Contrast between light and shade provide shadows, and when it comes to black & white photography, the stronger the better. Expose for the highlights so you don’t blow them out, and let the shadows fall away.
Walk around your house and look for shadow patterns falling on walls and floors.
Related: What is Metering
Intentionally create hard light scenarios, using reflective objects from around the house. Place them near a strong light source and maneouver the light or the object until you get a light pattern that appeals to you.
For the strongest results, set up with a white wall or surface, or a sheet of project paper. This image below was created by placing the glasses on a sheet of A4 printer paper on the floor of a darkened room, then turning on the overhead lightbulbs.
Related: Hard Light Still Life Photography
Try shadow portraits using sheer fabric with well defined patterns. The stronger the light source, the stronger the shadow patterns. Whilst you could do this with natural light, it would work best when it’s strong, undiffused natural light (as in, the opposite of softly diffused light which most of us tend to lean into). You can also use an artificial light source such as a table lamp or torch.
Once again, always expose for the highlights when shooting this kind of photo.
Look for shadows created by man-made objects out in the world. This car park scene would not get a second glance without that fabulous light pattern created at a certain time of day.
Related: Capturing Mood in Monochrome
When we think of landscape photography we tend to picture torquoise waters, sapphire skies stretching out for miles, a range of green backdrops and deeply orange cliff faces eroded into an art work by time. And certainly most of the time when we’re faced with scenes like that, we immediately think this has to be colour. It almost feels a crime to remove it.
But some scenes can look even more powerful in black & white due to certain elements such as a stormy sky… a building creased with 200 years of sublime texture… or a seemingly barren landscape overloaded with more than its fair share of texture and fine detail.
And in fact some landscapes might not even garner a second glance until you really look, like the one below. Notice how much more depth, mood, texture, movement and interest it has once it’s converted to black & white. There is movement in the grass and trees beyond that we don’t notice in the original version, and there is now a sense of mystery in the hills.
In this next image, that bare tree, alive with fine lines and anchored among dry textured grass, and backdropped against a stormy sky (check out that tonal range!) was just screaming to be converted to B&W.
You might set out to edit this in colour when you first shot it. But in B&W it enhances that sky and the expansive use of negative space, further highlighting the sheer vastness of this environment relative to the surfers walking along the shoreline.
In this image by removing the colour, Angela removed distraction and highlighted the texture in the tree, the fog, and the storm clouds rising up.
Architecture has it all. Texture, strong contrast in tones, patterns, lines, shape.
This image below had to be B&W right? Colour would detract but in monochrome you find your eye wandering around, taking in the imperfections in the bricks, the moss growing on the side building, the design of the windows, the door within a frame, within a frame, within a frame… and so much more.
When it comes to street photography the subject options are endless. But I want you to narrow your focus to finding strong graphic patterns. Then wait for someone to enter the scene. It’s as simple as that.
In these shots, the person in the scene provides an interruption to pattern, which is a strong compositional tool and naturally pleasing to the human eye.
Nothing sings when converted to black & white more than a good detailed macro of a flower. And when the flower has some imperfections such as curling petals or dried edges, even better to highlight those details.
Related: Macro Photography Beginners Guide
I hope you loved these ideas and tips! If you create a B&W series you’re proud of, we’d love to see them and leave you some love! Share on Instagram and tag @clicklovegrow
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