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3 Quick Tips for Black and White Photography

Black and white photography will creep into every photographer's gallery at some point and it can be a powerful tool. Here are some concise tips for getting the most out of monochrome.

I wonder if, with the advent of color film, photographers at that time considered black and white to soon be obsolete. There's less information than color images, so for recording purposes, it's arguably less valuable. And yet, the obsession with it has only grown in many ways. Some of the first exhibitions I went to see — before I even owned a camera — were largely monochromatic and I didn't know why I loved the images, but I just did. A cynic might argue that it's the appeal of a vintage look, but I think it's deeper than that. With the removal of color comes a shift of focus, or rather, a stronger emphasis on light and texture.

The best tip I could offer for photographers looking to shoot purposefully for black and white images is in the same vein: look for great light. This can be the dying sunlight casting harsh shadows, which along with texture, is one of Mattias Burling's tips. But appealing monochromatic scenes aren't exclusively reserved for incredible light. What is really appealing in black and white, far more so than color, is contrast, which is what you should look for. There's a shot in this video where Burling photographs a man walking up a cobbled hill, and it is framed by a doorway. The situation is clearly low-light, but the contrast (in conjunction with superb composition) is what makes the image excellent.

What's your best tip for black and white photography?

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3 Comments
Steve Sondheim's picture

I enjoyed this quick video and tips within. Some good points being made. I'm not sure where I heard the quote, but I'm often reminded of the concept that if you "make light your subject, and your photography will improve". Something to consider.

stuartcarver's picture

Nice quote and one I still have a lot to learn about

Timothy Roper's picture

B&W is the best for capturing tones, color is the best for capturing color. A photo can mix the two (strong tones and color), but that will never be as strong as one or the other. And that's probably because our brain first "sees" tone information it gets from our eyes, processes that info (largely to monitor for threats), and then moves on to processing the color information. So even the brain has a use for both independently, and uses them for different purposes. They're two very different things.