Here are my personal black and white photography tips to produce interesting B&W photos:
Interesting textures work great in black and white photos. Textures – grainy, rusty, smooth, rough etc become amplified and accentuated when you convert color pictures into black and white.
Shadows, already in black, make for good pictures when they are composed well. When you see nice long shadows, think of a nice composition to capture them. Look for the light and its complement – shadows.
Think about contrasts as the difference between black and white, highlights and shadows, light and dark. The more pronounced the differences are, the stronger the visual impact of your pictures will appear in black and white. You will have to think and see in terms of black and white tones to capture such high contrasts.
Lines, Shapes and Form
In short, geometry is huge for black and white photography. When shown in black and white, all geometrical lines, shapes and forms are accentuated by its innate geometrical properties. Your vision then is to bring these properties out, in the absence of colors.
Think about tones as achieving as many shades of greys in your photos. When capturing pictures with a large tonal range, you are essential capturing as much detail as you can from the entire greyscale spectrum. Ansel Adam’s landscape photography is a good reference of capturing large tonal ranges
Long exposure black and white shots work very well for landscape photography. Clouds, water-bodies, rivers, waterfalls, oceans get smoothen out and shows up as a nice silky texture in the photos. Many fine-art landscape photos make use of this long-exposure technique to make their pictures look awesome.
Dodge and Burn
“Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships.” – Ansel Adams.
Understand exposure and use this simple technique to emphasize your subject. I use lightroom and it is a very simple process to do so. A little brushwork to increase/decrease exposure will make a huge difference in the final effect of the image.
Over or Under Expose your pictures
Shoot in the extremes by purposely under or overexposing your pictures. Sometimes you get dramatic effects that work out very well. Try them out during post processing!
Shoot in Raw
Doing so helps you capture more detailed light and tonal information from your shot, giving you more room to manipulate and post process your pictures after the shot. Always work with more information from the onset, not less.
Shoot in Color
Shooting in color mode helps in the same sense as shooting in raw. Modern digital cameras capture color as information due to the nature of their sensors. By shooting in color, you effectively capture more information. During post-processing, you can further manipulate these color tones using hues separation tools.
Use black and white mode in your camera
This tip helps you to “see” in black and white. When you chimp and review your shots in black and white mode, your eyes can help you identify if the shots “work” or not. Overtime, you get a stronger feel of what works and what doesn’t in black and white.
In summary, here is what I do:
Look for the light, think about your subject, look for an interesting composition.
What I usually do is to look for interesting lights – reflections, shadows, soft light, hard light, golden hour, blue hour, tonal range etc.
Then I think about the composition and my subject. How do I make my subject work by composing it within this interesting light conditions.
Usually, a nice black and white photo is a combination of many of the tips and circumstances listed above.
Even in the absence of interesting light, capturing strong subjects with the key characteristics is often good enough. Strong post-processing can still help to make these pictures look good!
* Credits to the following Flickr photographers for their pictures: Hernan Pinera, BMiz, Richard Walker, Christian Meyer and Giuseppe Milo. Do click on the pictures to visit their Flickr page!
So what is your favorite tip and what rules or guides do you use to make your black and white pictures pop? Share them in the comments below!