Tips for Black and White Photography

Tips for Black and White Photography


A Guest post by Elja Trum from Photo Facts.

You might be one of those photographers who decide to convert a photo to black and white in post production. Trying if it ‘works’ for a photo you took without thinking about black and white at the time. Nothing wrong with that, but have you ever tried to go out and shoot specifically with a black and white photo in mind? It’s worth doing so and I’d like to give you some tips for when you do.

Shoot in color

Most camera’s have a black and white preset that lets you take photos directly in black and white. Don’t use it. This might sound a bit weird, but you can better shoot your black and white images in color. A good black and white image will require post processing and the standard in-camera black and white conversion isn’t have as good as your own black and white conversion.

There is an exception to this rule; if you shoot in your cameras RAW format, you can use the black and white preset on your camera. When your shooting in RAW, your camera shows you its poor black and white conversion on your display, but the color information is still available. If your camera supports a RAW format, I’d recommend on using it. It will give you more control over the end result. The black and white preview on your camera display can help you to get a idea of how a black and white version might look.

Keeping control over the black and white conversion

Shoot at your lowest ISO setting

I know the grainy film look is popular in black and white photography, but I’d recommend on using the lowest possible ISO setting when taking your shots. Just like the black and white conversion itself, the grainy look is best added in post production. In the fill days photographers often used high ISO films to get the grainy look. Shooting in high ISO will give you enough noise, but the digital noise isn’t as sweet as the analog.

Be careful not to get unwanted movement in your shots when going for the lowest ISO setting. With modern cameras you can go up quite a lot before the noise kicks in. It’s better to get a sharp shot with some noise instead of a noiseless shot where your subject is a blur.

Grain added in post

Shoot on those gray days

You know those dull gray winter days when you feel like staying in bed for the day? Pick up your camera and go for a black and white shoot! Those grey days are perfect for black and white photography. The soft light will give you silky smooth transitions in your subjects. And, when needed, you can always add some extra contrast in post.

Learn to see black and white

The world looks differently in black and white. When you learn to ‘see’ in black and white you’ll easily pick out the situations that are perfect for black and white photography. Try to envision how a shot will look in black and white before you take the shot. Seeing black and white requires practice. It isn’t too easy, but there are several things that may help you.

Differences in color versus black and white

Look for shapes. Shapes cast shadows that bring out the shape of a subject. If the light you use is hard, the shadows will show it. Beautiful shapes might disappear in an abundance of color. Black and white helps you to bring out the shape again.

With the absence of color, structure becomes more important. Use (or create) the light to bring out the structure. Structure can be found in many subjects, like hair, sand, skin or wood.

Too much contrast in a color photo often results in harsh and confusing images. Remove the color and harsh contrast becomes a great way to attract attention to your subject.

Showing structure

Go out and shoot

So, how often do you shoot black and white?
It’s worth trying and I’m looking forward to see your results!

See more from Elja Trum at Photo Facts.

UPDATE: Learn more about Black and White Photography with our new Essential Guide to Black and White Photography.

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Some Older Comments

  • Elja Trum February 22, 2013 09:04 am

    @Procter; That's the right way to do it. Shooting in colour gives you more control in post.

  • Procter February 21, 2013 04:51 pm

    I usually shoot in color and just make it black and white in post-production. At least I still have a coloured version.

  • Elja Trum October 21, 2012 08:37 am

    @Chuck a; Not many photographers can afford it, but there is the Leica M Monochrom.

  • Chuck A October 20, 2012 07:30 am

    I would like to walk around with a b & w digital camera like we did when TriX was in. I have four Nikon digital cameras, and they all require conversion from color after the picture is taken. In all of the responses I don't see a camera name or model that will take straight b&w without further processing. Does something exist?

  • Gordon Joslin October 2, 2011 07:26 pm

    A most interesting and informative series of comments. I send my prints off to a professional printing centre in Jpeg format. The problem is that I use Photoshop to convert Colour to Grayscale- then experiment with Duotone until I have the desired result. Unfortunately when saving the file, only Photoshop PSD etc come up.
    No Jpegs so I cannot send off for printing. Any ideas please on how to achieve a Jpeg from Photoshop?
    Many thanks GJ.

  • Aum Kleem August 22, 2011 01:39 pm

    Wonderful article. Keep up the great work... I tried this image ... a yellow sunflower in black and white.... it seemed to have lovely shades of grey...

  • Jolene June 17, 2011 07:14 am

    Maricel - That rose photo you have posted is absolutely astonishing. Amazing I love it :)

  • javier April 15, 2011 04:47 am

    Great post!

    I was a big B&W fan during the film days but by no particular reason stopped using it when I went digital. Only recently I decided to give it another go, here is some example:

  • millie April 6, 2011 11:37 pm

    I have happy B&W wedding pictures. I shoot in color and during editing, convert the picture to B&W and choose one item to keep in color...the deep red bouquet of flowers, the hot pink feather in her hat, the yellow and blue striped necktie, blue suede shoes... very stunning results!

  • Singapore guy March 30, 2011 03:59 pm

    I was jsut wondering, most of the black and white photo gives a more sombre feel. Even when i do BnW in wedding phtography, I tend to use it for the mroe solemn parts.

    Anyone has experience with happy back and white pictures?

  • Elizabeth March 22, 2011 10:29 pm

    For an amuture like myself I'm feeling like a chamelion on a smarty box ... :)
    This is such stunning information, but how do I go about implementing all this if I do not have RAW, JPEG etc.

    I have a Finepix S1800 which I love using.

    At the moment I also only have a much older version of Photoshop ... CS2 (I think) ... Still quite confused how to use it properly.

    These are all such fabulous photo's. It is really motivating for any beginner like myself. But I do intend on getting another camera when I visit the UK shortly which will let me do so much more.

    @ Everyone ... thanx for all the helpful tips.

  • Pankaj Kandpal March 21, 2011 06:15 pm

    I like to take Black and White photographs because they leave you guessing as to what could be the colour:)[eimg link='' title='21112010481' url='']

  • CK March 19, 2011 04:05 pm

    Maricel, that rose is awesome!
    And I love the tool box shot! The textures are amazing!

  • david March 19, 2011 01:09 pm

    i try... and i will make it perfect some how.... ^_^

  • Marc Mason March 19, 2011 10:20 am

    sorry forgot to link my photo as well:

  • ScottC March 19, 2011 10:07 am

    Nice tips! I've never really been a fan of black & white, but I've learned that it can have a huge impact on some of my photos. I read an article (on DPS) some time ago on "split toning", and found it very useful.

  • Photographer Sydney March 18, 2011 08:07 pm

    Finally, I found what I was looking for... Nice Post!

    Photographer Sydney

  • William Adams March 18, 2011 07:52 pm

    Wonderful article and some great advice. Tip #3 made me laugh because when I was studying photography all my lecturers said to NEVER shoot on overcast days because it made for a flat/dull photo - my how things have changed in the last 10+ years :D

  • Mike March 18, 2011 05:59 pm

    Useful article... I feel too much emphasis is placed on doing things in post processing these days rather than learning better photography and this is shown by some of the comments here. My top tip for improving your black & white photography is to shoot in JPEG + RAW mode. This will allow you to compare the scene in colour and black & white afterwards, which will help you learn to see in black & white, understand what dos and doesn't work in black & white and ultimately improve your photography. By doing this I am less dependant on post processing to get a stunning black & white image.

  • David March 18, 2011 05:12 pm

    Sorry forgot the link...:

  • David March 18, 2011 05:11 pm

    I really like B&W as it can give you a totally different perspective an a subject compared to color. I took this one originally in color but B&W was soooo much better

  • Pashminu Mansukhani March 18, 2011 12:47 pm

    Yes, taking BW photographs is far more challenging that the 'normal' color version, where most of the photographers just 'shoot' and then keep on clicking for that perfect 'shot'. It is very important to visualise a shot / scene in B/W before composition of the shot is done.

  • Rex March 18, 2011 11:18 am

    I am going to an old church somewhere in the country. Had photographed it several times and I was considering leaving my camera. Too many shots of the same place. But this article made me decide to think in B&W when I shoot there.

    Thanks! I need to develop the eye in looking and seeing and deciding whether the picture is better in color or black and white.

    Thanks for this article.

  • Jon March 18, 2011 10:31 am

    What about shooting B&W with a DSLR using Y2 and Y2A filters? Any comments would be helpful.

  • Jeffrey Cobabe March 18, 2011 02:29 am

    One way to help you "see in black and white" that I learned in art school is to squint. It simplifies shapes and mutes colors. A great preview for black and white images.

  • Paul March 18, 2011 02:15 am

    Another class post, I like using B&W for my wedding shoots, so enjoyed reading this. Thanks.

  • jill March 18, 2011 02:07 am

    I do a lot of photography in forests and parks right after snow fall while the sky is still clouded and they look black and white even before I switch them.
    Also find that people who "hate" seeing themselves in pictures tolerate/enjoy a softened b+w version.

  • sumit March 18, 2011 01:58 am

    great tips on black n white photography. i've had a hard time explaining why i prefer shooting in colour and then converting to black n white in post processing. i hope this post will explain it to them. i do shoot fairly often in B&W and frankly, I enjoy it!!
    The following is an a favourite of mine:

  • Marc Mason March 17, 2011 07:42 am

    I like how B&W can make a "busy" photo (due to colors, shadows, movement) into a more focused, clear photo. Take, for example, my photo of my car below. In color it was good but the colors, light, and shadow were distracting. Once I made it B&W it all came together nicely:

  • Cat March 17, 2011 06:31 am

    You still can't beat film for B&W and it's much more fun - not that difficult to get the film processed either

  • fortunato_uno March 17, 2011 01:38 am

    For me personaly, I like using B&W to get a timelessness (if thats a word). I've been asked to do black and white for a portrait but, I'm not really a fan of that. One of my all time favorites is a black and white of a young street walker that really drew me in. It was taken buy a guy who did work in the White house back in the Nixon era. I'd love to see it again.

    Check out this one of old cars. Looks like it could have been taken in the fifties (or before). It's one of mine.

  • AnZanov March 16, 2011 10:17 pm

    also some HDR foto benefit from B/W treatment:

  • Elja Trum March 16, 2011 06:00 pm

    Thanks for all your comments!

    @NCS; Nice shot, I like the depth of field and bokeh in it.

    @Milred; Thanks, I'll try to do better on my English. It's not my native language indeed. :)

    @Jen; cute baby! I think you can get more out of the B&W conversion. Perhaps I should sumbit a new guestpost with some extra tips for the conversion to black and white.

    @Bjorn; It's fun indeed to shoot black and white on film, but it is harder too. Perhaps more accessable to the more experienced black and white photographers.

    @Yeelen; lol :) That could give fun results with over exposed en under exposed images too. ;)

    @Maricel; nice shot of the rose! The dark leaves with the contrast of the water drops really work here.

  • Mei Teng March 16, 2011 04:37 pm

    I agree to learning to see in B&W. Excellent article.

  • Adrian March 16, 2011 04:11 pm

    The tip with raw is a good one. Nice post!!
    I find some photos are more dramatic in b+w, this is one of them.

  • F-64 stopper March 16, 2011 02:42 pm

    Possibly discussing Shadows, high lights, and mid-tones would have been a great addition to this article? It is important to make reference to being to grey vs strong black and whites that are rich in tones ranging from pure white to the deepest blacks. Just saying...

  • Some Guy March 16, 2011 12:13 pm

    I like the black and white film idea. I know this site has poo-poo'd film photography before as "too expensive" but that's what they get for buying a top-of-the-consumer-line F100 (autofocus is for wussies and parents anyway). Get an SLR or get a used fixed lens rangefinder for around $20 (Yashica, Konica, Canon, etc...). Processing B+W is fun too and costs around $40 for a good setup for kitchen development.

    Or you could get a red filter and shoot with that on your digital stuff, cause when everything is red, it's hard to think "hey! this picture has great color that isn't red!" and makes it easier to "see in black and white"

  • Marco Fiori March 16, 2011 10:16 am

    I echo the learning to see in B&W. Once I managed to do that, (something that I reckon comes naturally to some people), it became a lot easier to produce good results.

  • Toni Aull March 16, 2011 08:09 am

    Marcie...just witness your black & White rose...Excellent Job!!

  • Maricel March 16, 2011 08:07 am

    Sorry, the image was not inserted in my previous comment, here it is:

    [eimg link='' title='Black Rose' url='']

  • Maricel March 16, 2011 08:05 am

    I really like black and white shots, I usually convert mine in post processing, here it is an example of one my B&W photos:

    This one is from my back yard, the problem is that the wall is painted in a dark red so the rose lose some of its greatness because of that, but when converted to B&W it was a totally different thing plus that accentuated the drops.

  • Niki Jones March 16, 2011 07:13 am

    I love black and white. Very good point about the ISO levels, I've often been disappointed when I've tried to convert a shot I had to shoot in high ISO. The noise can be horrible.

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer March 16, 2011 06:42 am

    The tip to always shoot in color is a very good one for a person who may be just coming to the DSLR world from the P&S world where just using the camera's B&W mode might be the norm. The best tip in the post I feel is to "think in black & white" which goes along with previsualization for producing the best photographs. When I see a gray day outside (rare for Florida as they are) I automatically think, "ah, this will be a B&W photo day."

    I recommend using Nik Silver Efex Pro for converting to B&W and explain why in detail:

    Nik just came out with version 2 as well.

  • St Louis Wedding Photographer March 16, 2011 06:37 am

    You talked about black and white being done in post processing. Also, you've got other stuff you can do to a black and white in post aside from just desaturating and adding grain. Zach and Jody Gray had a great segment on the most recent PhotoVision talking about how to make your black and white images into creamy goodness instead of cold blue.

  • Daniel March 16, 2011 05:37 am

    Step 1: Shoot RAW

    Step 2: Buy Silver Efex Pro 2

    Step 3: Enjoy!

    [eimg link='' title='Fountains_Abbey nearby church' url='']

  • Yeelen March 16, 2011 05:29 am

    I've been shooting in B/W on an old film camera recently, but I may or may not have messed up most of the images because I changed the ISO thinking it was like my digital camera. Might still get some decent results, though, we'll see :)

  • Naomi H March 16, 2011 05:06 am

    B&W brings simplicity to a photo and brings out elements that might have been missed in colour. I always admire photographers of old whose only choice was B&W. I need to work on my B&W eye.

    This building in Prague caught the light with dark clouds overhead

    A leaf with droplet

  • Kiran March 16, 2011 04:27 am

    Great tips! Especially that ISO information on shooting B&W :)

  • Gerard March 16, 2011 03:57 am

    Here's a photo taken with my old Olympus C-4000. The original color version seemed washed out to me so I converted it to black and white. (Note a low ISO of 100 as mentioned in the article that provides grain).

    [eimg link='' title='P9220221' url='']

  • Andrea March 16, 2011 03:50 am

    I don't shot in B&W, I convert it later: I prefer to keep color case I change idea!

    Here my "99 pictures" project :)

    Thanks for sharing this article,


  • TC March 16, 2011 03:25 am

    Thanks for the tips. I find that shooting good B&W takes a different mind set. What makes a coloured photo interesting can be quite boring in B&W. Others times, a photo just cannot be converted because all the colours convert to some medium grey. Having said that, some scenes just calls out for B&W, like this one.

  • Erik March 16, 2011 03:07 am

    These are great tips! Learning to look at a scene and immediately know it is going to be great in B&W is something that needs to be practiced over and over. Another great tip is to look into NIK Silver Efex Pro plugin for Lightroom – it is fantastic for B&W treatments in Post! Here are a few using it:

    Global Freezing!:


    Waiting For You:

    Regards, Erik
    Kerstenbeck Photographic Art

  • Bjorn March 16, 2011 02:22 am

    Some great tips for digital.

    I'd also like to add a slightly different spin:

    If you really want to shoot black & white, buy a film camera and some film and actually shoot black & white. It's incredibly cheap to pick up some film gear. $50 will buy a film camera with a nifty 50 and I've seen medium format gear go for less than $100 for older TLRs.

  • Rick March 16, 2011 01:56 am

    Shooting color gives you a chance to return to your computer and apply a color filter that can optimize the contrast in your final b/w conversion. This is possible even in the most rudimentary software apps, even Picasa.

  • Jen March 16, 2011 01:46 am

    Thank you for a great article. I've always loved B&W photos and I'm in the process of learning how to take better B&W photos. I recently went back and converted the newborn photos I took of our baby. I'm still working on my B&W "eye" - what is your opinion? Please keep in mind these shoots are the first of their kind for me - newborn and B&W.

  • Elja Trum March 16, 2011 01:33 am

    @Benoxi; Most people see Nik Silver Efex Pro as the best Photoshop plugin available for black and white.

    Personaly I like what I can do with just Photoshop also.

  • chew March 16, 2011 01:30 am

    Thanks for these tips. I love that #2 portrait. Classic.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck March 16, 2011 01:28 am


    These are great tips! Learning to look at a scene and immediately know it is going to be great in B&W is something that needs to be practiced over and over. Another great tip is to look into NIK Silver Efex Pro plugin for Lightroom - it is fantastic for B&W treatments in Post! Here are a few using it:

    Global Freezing!:


    Waiting For You:

    Regards, Erik
    Kerstenbeck Photographic Art

  • mildred March 16, 2011 01:28 am

    Nice pictures, some interesting tips, but please note:
    "camera's" = possessive
    "cameras" = plural
    "you're" = you are
    "your" = possessive (as in "if English is not your native language, please ignore this snotty post"

  • NCS March 16, 2011 01:12 am

    Great article.

    I've tried a shoot a few weeks ago with the tips that you have just described here. I also recommend to transform your picture in black & white in the post production. I use Photoshop and camera raw for my photos and with those programs you have a lot of possibilities to get a photo that you really want.
    Here I’ve got one shot. It is not perfect of course, but I like it somehow. :-)

  • NCS March 16, 2011 01:09 am

    Great article.

    I've tried a shoot a few weeks ago with the tips that you have just described here. I also recommend to transform your picture in black & white in the post production. I use Photoshop and camera raw for my photos and with those programs you have a lot of possibilities to get a photo that you really want.
    Here I’ve got one shot. It is not perfect of course, but I like it somehow. :-)

    [eimg link='' title='' url='']

  • Toni Aull March 16, 2011 12:52 am

    I love black and white, it just captures the Soul...

  • Dave Hodgkinson March 16, 2011 12:27 am

    Michael Freeman gives away a super s3kr1t landscape conversion trick in his book which film people do with filters :)

    I shoot B/W on-camera on the Nikon D300 often because I like the conversion. Do RAW+JPG just in case though.

  • benoxi March 16, 2011 12:18 am

    i love B&W <3 sometimes i wished i could convert all of my shots into B&W only~
    btw anyone here have any suggestion on good B&W conversion methods or photoshop B&W plugin ?
    Thanks alot =) Keep shooting

  • Neelima March 16, 2011 12:16 am

    I don't shoot Black and White at all. But once I tried converting an entire set of stunning landscapes to black and white.
    Many said they missed the colors from the scene but somehow I still like it. B&W is definitely classy.

    Ladakh in Shades of Grey

    And great pointer about shooting in B&W to know how it would look like after processing.