Black and white photography is a powerful genre for photographers in order to help create mood and to tell a story. However, just like with color photos, it’s important to know when to use black and white photography and how to best practice and use this style.
When Should You Use It?
Shooting black and white photographs can be extremely powerful. Black and white photographs can be a way to create an intimate and timeless frame due to its nostalgic nature. If you are photographing an intimate event such as a wedding or want to create a more intimate portrait, B&W photography is a great genre to think about using.
It is important to figure out when and where to use black and white photography; GuruShots.com created a great guide for this. You should not just shoot color photography and hope that one of your photos may look good in black and white while you’re editing. While you may get lucky with that approach, your photos will be far more effective if you’re shooting for black and white from the beginning.
While taking black and white photos, it’s important to imagine the photo without the color. Instead of looking at how the colors interact with each other in the photo, you need to look at how the hues and tones work together in the photo. A good way to test this out before you edit or shoot the photo is to put on a pair of sunglasses. This will help you see the potential tones and block out some of the distracting colors in the shot.
How to Create the Best Photo
The most interesting black and white photos can be taken when you have two things that directly contrast with one another. This contrast can be found in dark and light colors, with lines (architectural and otherwise) and shadows. Shadows are more dramatic in black and white photos and so playing with those shadows can make for effective storytelling.
If you want to use shadows to create a dramatic effect, it’s important to be shooting in a location where shadows are readily available or can be made. Find a space with powerful sunlight. Shoot during early morning hours or sunset hours for the most striking shadows.
However, if you’re not able to shoot during those times of day or if you don’t have a location with light, then you can always create your own shadows. You can do this by using an external flash or man-made light source.
If you have found the perfect light, but there are no shadows in the frame, you can also create your own shadows using a variety of methods. These methods can create unique and captivating looks:
- Use hands to create shadows. Use your own hands or the model’s hands to create shadows over wanted areas. For example, you can create interesting lines over a model’s face, using just fingers
- Use a piece of lace or fabric. Place a piece of fabric strategically over your light source to create an intricate shadow pattern over your subject.
If you missed out on shadows during shooting, you can always turn to Photoshop to create realistic looking shadows.
What to Avoid
Be careful when you’re editing detail in black and white photos. You want it to look natural and don’t want the texture to be overdone. An advantage of shooting in black and white is that details are often exaggerated and noticeable. While this is usually a positive, it can be a negative when it comes to close-up portraits. You don’t want the skin on someone’s face to look rubbery or fake. To avoid this, be cautious with detail and luminance while you’re editing your photos.
Also avoid using black and white photography as a way to “save” photos. Some people tend to use a black and white filter on photos that didn’t turn out like they wanted them to in color. You may think that a black and white photo will hide your mistakes, but in reality, it usually only highlights those imperfections more.
Advantages of Smartphone Photos
The largest advantage to shooting any kind of photography with your smartphone is that you can have a camera with you everywhere you go, a camera that is light and compact. Look at this example of incredible vintage photography of Las Vegas – these images where shot with immense cameras; now you can appreciate your smartphone camera even more.
Some general guidelines you should follow when using your smartphone for photography is: always clean your lens before shooting, don’t zoom in on your subjects (it only make the photo more pixelated, which is destructive in a black and white photo), and make sure you don’t over-edit your photos.
Black and white photographs can often capture an ordinary moment and make it extraordinary. Many street photographers use black and white photography to photograph portraits of strangers. This effect allows the viewer to see a more intimate view inside a stranger’s life. If you live in a city, then you know how distracting it can be. We often don’t stop and take a look at the people around us. Black and white photography makes you pause and actually look at the people you’re surrounded by every day. It helps us see their stories.