Home How-To Shooting Knockout Black & White
Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Knockout Black & White

Create stunning monochrome images with these pro tips

This Article Features Photo Zoom

The barren starkness of the surroundings of this abandoned building is highlighted by the black-and-white imagery, giving a completely desolate feel to the image.
Architecture. Many buildings and structures don't have a myriad of colors. This is a type of photography that relies heavily on lines and patterns, which is where black-and-white photography excels. Absence of color drives the viewer's attention to the arrangement and framework of a structure.

Sports. This is a less common type of photography for black-and-white, mostly because the subject can vary widely, but employing black-and-white can make an everyday sports shot appear iconic.

Urban And Rural Decay. Photographing decaying structures in black-and-white is a very easy way to add a gritty characteristic to an image. This reduces the subject to its basics and gives the viewer a more visceral experience.

Street. Street photography and black-and-white imagery have become inexorably intertwined in the collective photographic consciousness. This is due to the fact that the most famous street photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Garry Winogrand shot almost exclusively using black-and-white film. Shooting black-and-white gives street photography a classic and timeless quality.

The rotunda of the dome of the Texas State Capitol has all of the elements to make a great architectural photo. Shapes, patterns and a good tonal range all come together to make this image interesting.
The first piece of advice that I like to impart on anyone interested in doing black-and-white photography is to shoot for black-and-white. This means that when you go out on a photography excursion, you're intending that the final image be monochromatic, and you specifically scan the scene for a black-and-white image. This means learning to see in black-and-white. While this concept is very abstract and may seem foreign at first, it's really quite simple. You need to forget about the colors and look for tonality in your subjects.

When rendered in black-and-white, many colors can appear tonally similar, so in color there may be pronounced contrast, but when converted to grayscale, the contrast is lost and the image is rendered as a flat tone. For example, a red flower stands out in stark contrast to a green background, but when made monochrome, the red and green produce a similar middle gray tone, causing the red to get lost within the green.

When first starting out, carrying a gray card in your pocket and referencing it as a midtone helps. Compare the gray card to elements of the scene and determine whether the luminosity of the objects is brighter or darker than the card. Learning to see in black-and-white is a skill that's acquired only by lots and lots of practice.

The second piece of advice I offer is to set your camera to Monochrome or B&W mode. While you should always shoot in RAW (more on this later), just about every camera has this option. They go by different names such as Picture Controls (Nikon) or Picture Styles (Canon), but using these settings allows you to instantly review your images in black-and-white. This makes learning to see in black-and-white even easier since you can compare the tonality of the grayscale image to the actual colors in the scene right on the spot.


Add Comment


  • International residents, click here.
Check out our other sites:
Digital Photo Pro Outdoor Photographer HDVideoPro Golf Tips Plane & Pilot