The Power of Black and White photography

I love black and white (  monochrome ) photography a lot. I can’t help it. Whenever I start post processing any of my photograph I always first try to convert it to black and white and see if it looks good or not. I was wondering lately, why I like some pictures more in black and white than in color. This question is very important because it gives the answer for which type of photographs we should convert to black and white and why. So I came up with some of the reasoning that I hope you will find useful and insightful. Feel free to play around with these ideas.

1. It reduces distraction.

The Aim by Imran Zahid.You see how it reduces the distraction of different color clothes of all these people and help you focus of the subject.

Ever wonder why most of the street photography is in black and white? Because in street photography we have very less control on environment. You can’t control the annoying and distracting bill boards and ads all around street. You can’t control the colorful cars and other stuff that grabs all the attention instead of your subject. Yes you can control these things by changing your viewpoint and angle and all that but still most of the time you don’t have that much time and you want to grab the moment quickly. So it helps in saving some of your shots that otherwise don’t work in color. But don’t make it an excuse to not think before shoot in street photography.

2. It helps you emphasize more on story than visual

Contemplation by Imran Zahid.

In black and white photograph, visual candy is not there so viewer can concentrate more on the story and emotion behind the photograph rather than aesthetics. This where composition became so much important because it’s the only way to tell viewers about the main subject and story.

3. It brings a world unknown to us

Down the memory lane by Imran Zahid
IMG_7841 - Copy-3
The Journey by Imran Zahid

We as human beings are bound to see things in colors by default. Black and white brings a whole new world in front of us that we are unaware of. It makes it more uncertain and exciting for us to see things in entirely different way. It brings that antique and classic look into the pictures which make them timeless and precious. That’s how our mind works when we see any black and white photograph.

So these are the main reasons why we like black and white photographs. The photographs that tell story bound to have these characteristics and are best suited for monochrome treatment. Now here is the list of techniques that you can employ to create really stunning black and white photographs

1. Composition

palace (2)
The Road by Imran Zahid

Composition is everything in any type of photography and in black and white, it is literally everything because you don’t have colors to complement it. All you have is composition. Through proper composition you can direct the viewer to observe certain parts as subject and remaining as background. Placing a subject to the strongest part in frame and arranging other elements is really important and it makes or breaks any image. Rules of composition like rule of thirds, leading lines and negative space are the key to black and white photograph.

2. Contrast

Tea making by Imran Zahid

Black and white photography is all about contrast. The more the better. A lot of shades of grey will not make a dramatic black and white photo. Drama starts where there is more contrast, more blown out and darker areas. These imperfections are actually the one that creates emotions in black and white photography. Always look for contrast in a photo. One tip regarding exposure. Expose for lighter areas as you can recover details in darker areas more easily in RAW files as compare to recovering highlights. Another tip is to shoot in RAW format and set built in black and white option. That way you can see the result immediately and even if you want color RAW file always contains color information. One final tip regarding conversion to B&W is to use separate color sliders after conversion to adjust certain parts of image like blue color to adjust sky. Also you can use luminescence sliders to adjust areas by their brightness.

3. Convey an emotion or story

Wisdom by Imran Zahid

Since a black and white photograph doesn’t have colors so you cannot just purely depend on visuals. You need to convey some story or some emotion else your photograph will fall flat. It doesn’t have to be a photo journalistic in nature. A simple smile or some interesting character in its surrounding is more than enough but make sure it conveys enough details.

4. Look for strong shapes and texture

The Cave by Imran Zahid

Strong shapes and lines and curves always makes a photo more interesting. In black and white it is much more prominent as these strong lines and curves actually defines edges and separates one object from another. So try to integrate some strong lines and shapes for better definition and detail. Texture is also more observable in black and white photograph than in color.

5. Look for some interesting light

Walking Shadows by Imran Zahid

Try to look for dramatic/directional lighting source in your photograph. Directional light defines edges more clearly and hence bring details and definition in your objects. It can bring contrast in your photograph. Also dodging and burning is one classic technique that a lot of black and white photographers use to highlight the areas in image that they want their viewers to concentrate more on.

So here it is . Everything I know and discovered about black and white photography over the time. If you didn’t tried it. Do it. Its worth it. Its a bit difficult in some respects but its timeless.Its creative and worth giving a shot. Feel free tp pitch your ideas in comments sections.



5 Comments Add yours

    1. imran zahid says:

      much appreciated 🙂


  1. Will says:

    There is definately a great deal to know about this issue.
    I like all the points you’ve made.


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