Black and white photography, which is also referred to by purists as monochrome photography, is a great way to create unique, atmospheric shots, which stand out from the crowd. Our guide is perfect if you've been thinking about getting started in black and white photography, but aren’t quite sure where to start.
Discover practical tips on camera settings for B/W photography, informative how-to’s and advice as well as the best black and white subjects. We also feature an instructional video from Gareth all about how to edit B/W photos.
It can be tricky to see a colour subject as a black and white shot, however after reading our guide you’ll be able to head out and practice shooting your favourite subjects, using the best accessories and master black and white photography with your own camera in no time.
Black and white photography is often associated with fine art photography, which distills a subject and removes colour distractions. While this doesn’t make B/W better than colour photography, it can help your images stand out on social media and attract new audiences or new clients.
If you’re used to shooting in colour it takes a while to master black and white photography. However, once you get started and remove colour by shooting in-camera black and white you’ll be surprised at how much easier it is to compose your shots and focus on your subject.
There are lots of good subjects for black and white photography, including black and white portrait photography, landscapes, architecture and street photography, as well as fine art, wildlife and documentary. Any subject which benefits from high contrast, some drama or mood can work really well in B/W.
BW cityscape with Leica M10 Monochrom camera and Summilux M 24mm lens. Camera settings: 1/2000 sec. f/3.4. ISO 160
A good black and white photograph is made from the same elements as a colour photo, which include light, subject and composition. Where black and white imagers differ is through tone, contrasting light and dark, richer textures and the atmosphere which monochrome instills. A winner combines all of those elements.
BW street photo with the Leica Q2 Mono compact camera and built-in Summilux 28mm f/1.7 lens. Camera settings: 1/640 sec. f/2. ISO 100
The best way to get started in black and white photography is to set your camera to B/W mode and practice capturing subjects which you are drawn to. Look for higher contrast scenes, while keeping an eye on the histogram and focus on compositions which are enhanced by light.
Most digital cameras include a B/W (monochrome) picture mode, enabling you to shoot and preview the scene in-camera through black and white. Capture both RAW and JPEG simultaneously for an idea of how the end results looks and an easier time editing with your favourite photography software.
The best accessories for black and white photography include lens filters, which enhance the image by adjusting contrast and tone. Supplemental lighting can to add to the drama and highlight your subject, while a tripod can be critical, depending on which style of image you’re taking.
BW street photo with striking light using the Leica Q2 Mono and built-in Summilux 28mm f/1.7 lens. Camera settings: 1/1000 sec. f/9. ISO 800
There are several filters which can enhance black and white photography. A circular polariser adds overall contrast, while red, orange, yellow, green, and blue coloured filters lets through its own colour while blocking other colours. For example a red filter reduces reds to soft grey and increases contrast in blue.
Yellow filters are often the first choice for black and white photography, due to enhancing skies by bringing out the clouds. This instantly creates contrast and enhances the atmosphere in a black and white image, particularity for black and white landscape photography and cityscapes.
Fine art photographers will often reach for a variable or solid ND filter (neutral density), such as the LEE Big Stopper or Benro Master 100x100mm Glass ND 10-Stop filter. These slow the shutter allowing you to create masterful long exposure images in black and white. The innovative H&Y REVORING 67-82mm VND and Circular Polariser Filter combines two-in-one along with multiple lens compatibility.
There’s a real art to editing black and white photos, which requires different techniques to editing colour. Our resident videographer Gareth has made a tutorial video, which shows some of the best techniques for getting the most out of any black and white image.
Some photographers prefer to get as close to the final image as possible by shooting B/W in-camera, whereas others prefer the control which editing affords. Try out both to find your favourite and always shoot in RAW for better control when editing.
Some photographers find the ability to preview a scene in black and white useful, when the camera is set to mono mode as it can help the eye to concentrate on light and dark within a composition.
BW wedding photo with Canon EOS 5D IV no EXIF data ©Sarah Ascough
Choosing between B/W vs colour depends on the scene, the light and the subject you’re capturing. If there’s plenty of contrast, rich textures or the colours are distracting from the subject matter, try switching to B&W and see if you prefer the results.
Sometimes a colour image feels lacklustre, or doesn’t convey the mood which we felt when capturing the image, regardless of whether it’s a portrait, landscape or anything else. If that’s the case, try converting it to B/W in post to get a feel for whether monochrome helps to elevate it.
BW architecture with Leica M10 Monochrom camera – no EXIF data available
The Leica M10 Monochrom and Q2 Monochrom are purely black and white digital cameras, with monochrome sensors which excel at creating B/W images. If you want a camera which shoots both colour and B&W virtually every newer digital camera is perfect, including any Canon, Nikon, Sony or Fujifilm.
Capturing black and white photographs is fun and rewarding but it takes practice to be able to see a scene in monochrome. You can choose to shoot in mono mode or convert the image to black and white during editing, with photographers choosing the benefits to each method for themselves.
Whist you can buy dedicated B&W Leica cameras many photographers enjoy the ability to shoot in black and white or colour depending on the scene. Whichever camera you decide on, adding specific filters can enhance the image by manipulating tones and contrast or by slowing the shutter to improve the image straight out of camera. Remember that practice makes perfect and head out to enjoy some of your favourite subjects with added drama and mood.
By Nick Dautlich on 09/08/2022
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