Photo Tip Friday: How to Take Black and White Photos

by Mary Denman    @MaryDenman

B&W portrait by Mary Denman Photography

Have you ever seen a black and white shot that just stood out? Have you ever wondered how to take photos like that? 

Today, I'm going to give you tips on how to take great black and whites. 

Let's get started.

TIP 1: Shooting black and white shots is different than shooting in color. 

Why? Can't you just convert a color photo to black and white? 

Sometimes, yes. But not always. 

When you're shooting in color, the vibrancy, or intensity, of the varying colors may be of a similar value, but the different colors makes them stand out from each other. 

With black and white photography, you need to have a lot more contrast with the objects you're photographing because you're dealing with shades of white, gray, and black. 

Let's look at an example of simply converting a color shot to B&W to see what this looks like. 

Mary Denman Photography

Pic. 1: In this series, I shot the original picture in color. 
Pic. 2: Then, I converted the shot to black and white. 
Pic. 3: Then, I added more contrast post processing. 

What can we learn? 

Pic 1: In the color photo, the reds, greens, browns and gray fog create depth in the picture. It provides visual interest. The values are very similar, but the colors separate the vegetative plants from each other. 

Pic. 2: When I simply converted it to B&W, notice how the picture becomes dull and much less interesting. The shot becomes more monochromatic. Look at the bottom right corner in particular. The reds, greens and browns are about the same value of intensity so when I converted to B&W, they just become a gray mass. Depth is washed away. 

Pic. 3: I added a lot more contrast to the B&W on the right. By adding contrast, making the whites lighter and the grays darker, it adds depth back in. Individual plants stand out again, creating depth.

Even though adding more contrast to a B&W can add more depth, you need to understand how light affects B&W photography. Which brings us to the next tip.

TIP 2: High contrast between the dark and light parts of a photo make for good B&W shots. 

How do you get higher contrast? By using bright light against a darker background. 
Mary Denman Photography
Here's a daffodil. The sun was shining late in the day when it's most magical. Because it illuminated the daffodil from behind, the background came out dark which set the flower off even more. 

Pic. 1: Original, shot in color.
Pic. 2: Converted to B&W with no need to add contrast. The photo has enough of its own. 
Pic. 3: Photo converted to sepia. Notice the brown undertones instead of gray. I just wanted to try the old, sepia look. 

What can we learn?

Taking pictures in bright light with dark surroundings, or vice versa, naturally lend themselves to the conversion of becoming B&W. 

Here is another example of high contrast in the color photo that leads to a really striking B&W. Again, I converted this one to B&W just using the click of a button. I didn't have to balance it or add contrast. 

Mary Denman Photography

Now, on to people. 

TIP 3: When you want to get good B&W people shots, keep the background simple so your subjects stand out the most. 

In the next two sets of pictures, notice that the background is simple. Then, when I converted them to B&W, my subjects really stood out. 

Mary Denman Photography

Isn't the bride just glowing? 
Mary Denman Photography
Camouflaged son...

So what's up with this next photo? 

Well, when I took it at first, I didn't think about the high contrast of the sun and the shadows of the leaves. So when I looked at it on the computer, I laughed at what my son looked like. It was too busy and cluttered with all the shadows. Then, for fun, I converted it to B&W. He seems to disappear into the tree behind him. Then add his expression and I knew I had a winner! I smile every time I look at it. 

It may not follow my tips exactly, but I love it anyway!

Summary of the tips:

1: You have to have enough contrast in a color picture to convert it easily to a B&W that looks good.
2: Bright sunlight reflecting off a a subject can make for a great B&W.
3: Be aware of keeping the background simple for B&W.

These are just some good starting tips for B&W shots and should help improve your photos quickly.

For CELL PHONE USERS: Become familiar with the editing that came with your phone or apps that allow you to alter your photos after you've taken them. With just a click, you can go from color to B&W. Play with your phone. Take a color shot of your car, you coffee doesn't matter. Then convert it to B&W. Take a few more of the same subject and you can improve quickly with good analysis. 

For BLOGGERS: As you saw in the shots of the woods, the color picture tells more of a story than the middle B&W. How does this apply to blogging? Bring depth to your posts with great information to give to your readers. Color the post with descriptions that move your followers. Shine the light on and highlight a main point. Trying to cover too many points washes away the depth, creating monochromatic soundbites. 

Hope these tips help! 
Keep on clicking! 

TWEETABLE: 3 Tips for Taking Great Black and White Shots (click to tweet)


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  1. Great tips Mary - thanks for sharing them at Friendship Friday at Create With Joy!

    I"m hosting a Chicken Soup For The Soul Cat Food Giveaway at Create With Joy - be sure to stop by and enter!

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    1. You're welcome Ramona! I'm going to post tips on how to take pictures in low light situations soon thanks to your suggestion. :)

      Have a great weekend!

  2. Some great tips there. There's something special about good black and white photos. (Found you via FYBF)

    1. Thanks for dropping by! I enjoyed looking at your travel pictures!

      Have a great day!

  3. These tips are very helpful and, even though I've come to learn this for myself, I enjoyed seeing your photos and reading your explanations. Your blog has inspired me to try more things. Thanks for linking and leaving a comment on Amanda's Books and More!

    1. Tina, I'm so glad I've inspired you to try more things!! That's exactly what I"m hoping for!

      Have a great day!

  4. Pinned! Thanks Mary, I need all the tips I can get;)
    Have a great weekend! #FridayBlogHop

  5. Beautiful Photos - I love taking Pictures! Especially when we are outside, exploring. Never thought to take any and change them to black and white - keen to give that a go :)

  6. Its always interesting to see what you can do with great photos. Sorry it has taken so long to get here. I went out of town then came home and have been in bed sick and hoping to kick this soon. Thanks for stopping by!!