Shooting Black & White like a Pro!!! 

(this is part II in the series of Black and White articles. You can view Part I here)

There are quite a few elements in a photograph that come together in holding a viewers attention and (as I mentioned earlier) colour is a very important aspect. In black and white photographs however, you don’t have this “colour” so the other elements that make up a “good” image need to be really strong for you to be able to get a photograph that will make a viewer stop, look again and say “wow”.

So here are some tips and pointers from me to help you create great monochrome images!

Composition - There are no bright colours to camouflage a weak composition. So its really important that you get the composition right.

Think about subject placement, think about horizon placement, think about leading lines, think about all of this and more before you press the shutter.

Remember – Strong composition is different from a casual snapshot. Black and white can be very unforgiving towards poor composition.

Think - about contrast, check for texture in the subject, try and search for patterns in the scene, look for lines. Get all of these into the photograph as they will enhance your photo and take it up a notch or two.

Look - for 50 shades of grey (no not the book). There’s black, there’s white and there are loads of shades of grey in-between – Check if the subject in front of you has those shades. You need to have some variation in tones to make your image stand out and a scene which has this tonal range will look good in black and white.

Pure black and white - Make sure you get pure black and pure white into the photograph atleast in some parts of the image in addition to grey. A photo with pure white and pure black helps in making all the other shades of grey stand out better and hence increases the visual impact of an image.

Visualize - a particular scene without all the colour that you see in front of you before you press the button. Think – is it going to look good or will it just end up being a normal, boring photograph once you remove all the colour.

A tip to help you train in understanding what will look good in monochrome: Choose the black and white mode from the settings in your camera, take the photograph and review it on the camera LCD screen.

As long as you shoot in RAW + jpeg, only the jpeg will be in black and white.

The RAW file will retain all the colour. Use the jpeg to preview and make up your mind if the shot looks good.

Use the RAW file later to convert to black and white during post processing.

High contrast - Look for subjects where there is high contrast and a wide range of exposure in the photo. These usually make great black and white photographs.

Dull flat light - Look for subjects where the light isn’t all that great. Dull flat light also makes good black and white images - if you’ve got strong composition and if you can get something in the frame which is pure black.

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Learn to think in black and white - Think, identify and learn the type of shots that look good without colour. With some practice this will come naturally to you and you’ll be able to indentify shots which will work well in monochrome as well as shots which won’t.

Aspect Ratios - Stick to aspect ratios which have been traditionally considered as “Acceptable”.

Grains look good. Noise is ugly. Understand the difference and use it to your advantage.

Some additional information on monochrome, Black & White, duotones etc: Monochrome and black & white are often used to mean the same thing in online photography forums and discussions (as well as in this write-up). Technically speaking all black & white images are “monochrome” however all monochrome images need not necessarily be just black and white.

A black and white image actually has grey along with black and white. A monochrome image can be an image with a single colour cast like sepia, rose tint etc.

Toning traditionally refers to taking a black-and-white print and dipping it in chemicals to change its color.

Split toning has also been used for a long time for b&w images and printers would add one or more mid-toned inks along with black.

A printer could choose a warm mid-toned ink and get a print with warm mid-tones along with pure white and pure black.

Post processing software also gives the option of creating duotone, tritone and quadtone “black & white” images and you can explore these options to make your “black and white” images look better.

Do take note however, when International contests and exhibitions have a category called “monochrome”, this traditionally refers to Black and White entries of a single tone only.You may not be able to submit duotones or quadtones as “monochrome” images.

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