Black and white photography is like a parallel universe that is there just a click of the shutter button, an exciting world of lights, mid-tones, and shadows.
It allows us to observe how light gradually changes objects or how shadows and textures transform something worthy of admiration.
It is not easy to get good black and white photos; you have to learn to look without colors (take a phrase worthy of a tweet), looking at shadows and lights. Most of the pictures published in B / W are conversions made by chance, looking for a more “professional” look to a photograph with little to say in color (yes, I admit that I have done it too).
Textures, strong contrasts, and lights
We usually use colors as one more compositional element in the scene, but we will have to go further in black and white. Find interesting textures, change the way you look, and begin to look at how light shapes objects or how shadows make a landscape enjoyable.
Strong contrasts work very well in these photos to highlight areas in the color that poorly trained eyes would go unnoticed.
In this image, I gave prominence to the light reflected on the ground, which gave shape to the silhouette of the people sitting on the square’s steps. If the photograph had been in color, the light from the ground would hardly have prominence, nor would its texture.
Play with these types of elements, measure the light to darken the shadows even more, and give a more drastic look to your compositions.
RAW and JPEG for black and white photography
We always hear that you have to shoot in RAW to have more freedom in later editing, but choosing to shoot in RAW + JPEG can help you with your first black and white photos.
Be careful. I am not saying that you leave out the RAW. This type of file is still the best option for black and white development but configuring the SLR cameras so that when shooting, they generate a JPEG file in B / W and RAW. It will make things easier at first.
The purpose is to preview where areas can be the fascinating ones when we cannot imagine the scene in no colors or our camera does not have Live View mode.
To activate it, go to your camera options and first set the shot to RAW + JPEG. This will cause the camera to generate the two files. Now look for the picture styles and choose the monochrome style.
This image style will only affect the JPEG file and will ONLY be used to obtain a preview. Later you will have to edit the RAW file in your usual photo editing program and delete the JPEG not to make backup copies of these files on your hard drive.
Filters in black and white photography
Cloudy skies are often engaging in monochrome photos, don’t miss the opportunity to include them in your composition.
You can use gradient neutral density filters to get the clouds’ full detail without burning the scene or normal and filters to reduce the shutter speed and soften the shadows with their movement if we do not want a sky worthy of the apocalypse.
You have to be especially careful with reflections in water or other surfaces since, as you know, light is essential in this type of photo and will spoil the composition. With a polarizing filter, you can eliminate distracting unwanted reflections and also capture more detail from these surfaces.
If you are curious to try how it was worked in the old days, before editing programs as Lightroom existed, get color filters. These filters have always been an essential black and white tool to achieve a much richer gray tone range.
They work by darkening the opposite colors. An orange filter will darken the sky, and a green filter will light the grass or trees. Remember to set the white balance so that the camera does not compensate for the colors and cancel the filter’s effect.
Edit photos separating by colors
Lightroom or Camera RAW, among others, allows you to edit the light by separating the image into colors. That is, you can modify, for example, the lighting only of the blues to darken the sky or brighten the yellows in your autumn photographs.
Pay attention to the entire image when making these types of changes, as there may be some hidden area of the same color that you do not want to modify, and it will also be affected. In that case, it is best to use the local adjustments brush, as we saw in this tutorial.
Black and white portraits
We have all been surprised at some time with a black and white portrait. Portraits that unmask the wrinkles of a difficult life or portraits seem to let us feel the softness of a newborn’s skin.
B / W photography suits portrait exceptionally well, and it may be advisable to use it for different situations.
Landscape photography in B / W
In the case of landscapes, you will have to assess whether the scene has the necessary elements to be an excellent black and white photograph. I insist you will have to make this assessment in situ and not later in the development. In this way, you will include the winding riverbed composition that outlines a valley or the shadow that a tree projects.
It’s not just about desaturating the image.
Don’t just rely on desaturating all the colors to get a black and white photo. Play with contrast, highlights, shadows, blacks, whites, or use the local adjustments brush to highlight areas and give them greater prominence.
There are exciting programs to convert images in B / W like Silver Efex Pro compatible with Lightroom and Photoshop.