Tips to improve your black and white photos

Black and white photography is like a parallel universe that is there just a click of the shutter button, an exciting world of lights, midtones and shadows.

It allows us to observe how light gradually changes on objects or how shadows and textures transform something everyday into 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 photos that are published in B / W are conversions that have been made by chance, looking for a more “professional” look to a photograph that had little to say in color (yes, I admit that I have done it too).

Textures, strong contrasts and lights

Normally we use colors as one more compositional element in the scene, but in black and white we will have to go further. Find interesting textures, change the way you look and begin to look at how light shapes objects or how shadows make a landscape interesting.

Strong contrasts work very well in these types of photos to highlight areas that in color would go unnoticed by poorly trained eyes.

In this image, I gave prominence to the light that was reflected on the ground and that gave shape to the silhouette of the people sitting on the steps of the square. 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, make the measurement on 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 on your first black and white photos.

Be careful, I am not saying that you leave out the RAW, this type of files 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 in addition to RAW, you it will make things easier at first.

The purpose is to be able to preview at the moment which areas can be the really interesting ones when we are not yet able to 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 so as not to make backup copies of these files on your hard drive .

Filters in black and white photography

Cloudy skies are often interesting in monochrome photos, don’t miss the opportunity to include them in your composition.

You can use gradient neutral density filters to get the maximum detail of the clouds without burning the scene or  normal nd filters to reduce the shutter speed and soften the clouds 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 very important in this type of photos 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 like Lightroom existed,  get  color filters . These filters have always been an essential black and white tool to achieve a much richer range of gray tones.

They work by darkening the opposite colors, that is, 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 try to compensate for the colors and thus cancel the effect of the filter.

Edit photos separating by colors

Lightroom or Camera RAW among others, allow 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 that seem to let us feel the softness of a newborn’s skin.

B / W photography suits portraits especially 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 a good 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 make sure to include in the composition the winding riverbed 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 really interesting programs to convert images in B / W like Silver Efex Pro  compatible with Lightroom and Photoshop .