In the world of photography, black and white images remain a staple of the art. While photographers continue to create black and white images, the reason for doing so no longer includes the technical limitations of the gear. So why, then, are black and white images still so popular? With smartphone cameras able to produce a large color gamut in high resolution, our fascination with black and white images clearly extends beyond what is possible and lands somewhere else. Most likely, photographers recognize the need to make an image black and white for one or more of the following reasons:
- Save bad colors or avoid mixed colors (such as a blend of natural light and tungsten)
- Achieve a timeless look
- Minimize distractions from an overload of colors
- Accentuate shape, form, and patterns
However you look at it, black and white photography is here to stay and it’s worth getting to know your way around this monochromatic landscape. The best part is that you don’t need to (although you’re welcome to) go out and buy any special gear. We’ve designed this article to serve as a mini black and white photography pathway. We’re going to share tips on how to shoot for black and white images, discuss whether you should shoot black and white images in-camera or make an image black and white during post-production, and show you how to create your own black and white preset in Lightroom.
Let’s get started.
Shooting for Black and White
As is true with most portrait sessions, you should shoot with intention for black and white photos. You may physically see in the world in color, but you need to think and see in black and white, like the legendary film photographers who paved the way to modern photography. In fact, we recommend looking to those masters (Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Diane Arbus, as well as modern masters like Phil Penman and Sean Tucker) for inspiration. The following articles provide insight into how to shoot for black and white images, regardless of whether you do so in-camera or make a black and white image in post.
- A Simple and Quick Tip For Shooting Better Black & White Images: Key to understanding this is to understand that B&W doesn’t simply mean all color is removed from the image. The tonality of those colors are varied in lightness and these dictate the look of the final image.
- 5 Tips To Take Better Black & White Images: A great black and white should always be the end goal, not a last ditch effort. Below are some tips for producing strong black and white images.
- Three Tips for Choosing a Background for Black and White Portraits: As noted in the article, the details in the background “can either be the glue that pulls the entire image together or the reason the mood gets lost in translation.”
[Related Reading: 10 Black and White Landscape Photos to Inspire Your Adventures]
In-Camera Black and White Images
While many would argue it’s safer to shoot in color and decide later to make an image black and white using editing software, there are occasions in which it’s preferable (or even necessary) to shoot in black and white. First, if you’re shooting with a film camera, you’ll have to decide before you even load the film. Even if you have a choice, however, there are some benefits of shooting black and white images in-camera, not the least of which includes learning to see differently.
- Better To Shoot in B&W Or Convert in Post?: You begin to see more geometrically, to see more in values, more depth, and sometimes, do higher level thinking in terms of composition and framing.
Editing Tips for Black and White Images
If we’ve capture an image in color, how do we know whether or not we should edit it as a black and white photo? There are a number of factors to consider, but it helps to know “why” the image would benefit from a black and white conversion.
- Editing Images In Black And White | When to Choose Them Over Color: There are general practices and principles that you may use as guidelines when deciphering when exactly an image could be stronger in black and white.
Once we’ve decided to make an image black and white, we can use any number of applications, including Lightroom, Photoshop, or even Microsoft Word (not to mention all of the filters you can find on popular social media apps). Most of the articles below use Lightroom for its ease of use and professional editing capacity.
- Black and White Edits in Lightroom (Excerpt from Wedding Workshop 3): We save black & white conversions for after all of our Photoshopping, that way all the .TIFF images that we retouched will have the changes saved. We make duplicate copies in Lightroom and apply the same black and white preset to the batch to make sure we are still keeping our images consistent.
- How to Make Strong Black & White Images Using Gradient Maps: What if there was a really simple way to add a slight punch of contrast that didn’t take more than a few minutes? Using a gradient map is a quick and effective way to do just that. Here’s how.
- How to Create Incredible Black & White Images in Lightroom (and Make Your Own Presets) | Quick Reference: Going beyond Lightroom’s standard black & white conversion, we can create incredible monochromatic images with a few key tweaks.
Making a Lightroom Preset for Black and White Images
Presets serve as powerful editing tools that can speed up your workflow as well as enhance your photos. If you repeatedly make the same adjustments while editing your photos, then learning how to create presets can help you cut a lot of the repetition out of your workflow. Luckily, they’re as easy to make as they are to use. The following articles cover how to make presets for both your desktop computer and mobile devices.
- How to Create Presets to Quickly Edit Your Photos in Lightroom | Quick Reference: Go over the general editing process before following step-by-step instructions on how to create and save a preset using your adjustments.
- Easy Edit: How to Create a Black & White Film Look in Lightroom in 2 Clicks or Less: Learn how to make a filmic preset from SLR Lounge Presets.
- How to Create Presets in Lightroom Mobile | Quick Reference: Here’s a brief, general tutorial for creating presets you can use on your phone.
- How to Create Incredible Black & White Images in Lightroom (and Make Your Own Presets) | Quick Reference: We included this link in the previous section, but it fits here as well (in case you missed it the first time).
[Related Reading: The Best Lightroom Keyboard Shortcuts]
We hope you found this mini-pathway helpful on how to make an image black and white. Whether or not you choose to dive deeper into black and white photography, your photography skillset will likely benefit from at least exploring the world through a monochrome lens and learning to see things differently.