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Secrets to taking black and white photos

Sooner or later, the vast majority of photographers try black and white. For what ? Simply because this aesthetic captivates attention. Monochrome photography attracts us with its timeless magnificence and the emotion it provokes. Very often, magic happens and we are spellbound. This is where all the power of a colorless photo lies. In this article, I reveal 10 secrets to taking striking black and white photos. Forget the world as you perceive it and turn it into black and white.

Seeing in color is a delight for the eyes, but seeing in black and white is a delight for the soul.

Andri Cauldwell

At first glance, black and white photography seems quite simple to achieve. And yet, achieving a beautiful monochrome photo requires a minimum of knowledge, practice and a different way of observing the world around you.

Locate a black and white scene: lights, shapes, textures, lines

Do not rush. Anticipate your shot and modify your reading grid. Observe and focus on light, contrasts, textures, shapes. In the absence of colors, the eye focuses more easily on light, textures, vanishing lines and shapes.

Portrait, nude photo (skin texture), animal photo (wrinkles, scratches), architectural photos (manhole covers, sidewalks, brick walls, building facades) or landscape photos (tree bark, clouds , flowers, rocks), the opportunities are numerous. In black and white, these settings stand out more than in color.

Cultivate contrasts

By definition, a black and white photo is a transposition of colors into shades of gray. It is by looking for nuances, differences in brightness, strong contrasts that you will bring intensity and character to your photos. Look for harsh lights and areas of shadow. Mastering contrast in black and white photography is therefore essential for optimal results. Good contrasts (not too much either!) will also allow you to isolate the subject from the background. A black and white photo without contrast is a bit like a curry without chili, it lacks pep! To avoid a flat and grayish rendering, play with the contrasts to have bright whites and deep blacks.

Enjoy the cloudy weather

The clouds soften the colors and accentuate the black and white. In other words, you will have a wide range of contrasts at your disposal with which you can play. Therefore, put on a little wool and get out of the house!

Get to the point

Clean up your composition. Look for the right balance between the elements of your image and eliminate anything that is secondary. Your composition can be simple and graphic. Unity, sobriety, efficiency!

Choose the right topic

Favor subjects with lines (contrast between light and shadow), shapes (rounds, triangles, squares, symmetries) and textures (bark of a tree, wrinkles on a face (human or animal), textiles, stones, leaves, etc.)

Amplify the “drama” side

Unlike color photography, black and white allows you to intensify the dramatic aspect of a scene and takes on this solemn and deep character which gives particular importance to the image, with the aim of making an impression.

Test different exposures

Black and white photography is ideal for trying different exposures: overexposure or underexposure to create dramatic atmospheres. This is particularly the case for landscape photography.

Shoot in color, in RAW format

To get authentic black and white photos, by which I mean black and white photos full of nuances, shoot in color and not black and white. Logical right?! Let me explain. Colors play a key role in the quality of your black and white photo. Remember that you have on one side luminance (the light intensity of colors: bright to dark) and chrominance (the representation of information relating to color… color therefore!). Since color (chrominance) has been removed (black and white conversion), your mission (at least if you accept it) is to play with luminance (light intensity) to differentiate the colors of your image. It’s okay, are you following me?! When you shoot directly with the black and white mode of your camera, you lose as much information (colorimetric) as possible and will no longer have enough room for action later in post-processing. In other words, if you have limited contrast and brightness, you will get a flat rendering with little relief. A photo that is taken directly in black and white is made up of 256 levels of gray compared to 16 million levels of gray for a color photo converted to black and white! So remember to always photograph in color and in RAW, in order to preserve all the RGB values ​​of your image and keep control of the contrasts, lines, relief, in post-processing.

Enhance your black and white photos in post-processing

You can convert your photo to black and white in Lightroom software using the black and white slider:

  • Convert your image to black and white: development tab / basic settings / black/white processing
  • Adjust the contrasts: development tab / tone curve / lights, highlights, dark tones, shadows
  • Adjust the color tones: development tab / NB / black and white mixing
  • Retouch your image locally: development tab / below the histogram / graduated filter, radial filter, retouching brush

Black and white photography is a return to basics. It conveys raw emotions and highlights lights, shapes, textures and lines to bring more originality and authenticity to your photos. Timeless, it is totally suitable for street, portrait, animal, architectural and landscape photography. Black and white photography resists fashion and remains engraved in our memories, for eternity.

We are coming to the end of this article which, I hope, will provide you with the basics for successful black and white photos.