How you think about black and white is far more meaningful than the camera you use or how you convert your photos to monochrome. This is the mental shift that you need to make if you want to create better black and white photos.
Here are some key ideas to help you understand this point better.
#1 – Convert your best photos to black and white
You should only ever convert your BEST photos into black and white.
Some photographers seem to think that you can rescue bad photos by converting them to black and white. But if you think this way you’ll convert your weakest photos, not the strongest. That’s not the way to build a good black and white portfolio.
Instead, do the opposite. Pick your best photos and turn them into beautiful black and white photos.
Take as much time in your chosen photo editing software as you need to do a good job. Your best photos deserve this level of care and attention.
Read: Photo Editing Challenge Day 3 Black and White Conversion for tips on converting to black and white.
#2 – Think like a fine art photographer
Fine art photography has many definitions, but I think of it as a process that results in a tangible object, like a print or a photo book.
It takes time (and costs money) to make a print. There’s a limit to how many prints you can hang in your home. So it makes sense to print only your best photos, right?
Thinking like this helps you slow down. It encourages you to press the shutter button less often. You will start to put more thought into composition, light, and finding an interesting subject.
When you find something interesting to photograph, don’t just take one photo and move on. Ask yourself how you can make a better one. Is there a way to improve the composition? What happens if you use a different lens or change your point of view? Can you get a better result if you come back when the light is different?
The answers to these questions will help you create better black and white photos (and better photos overall too).
It’s also an extension of the idea that you should only convert your best photos to black and white.
For example, Instagram gives you a platform of infinite length (you can add as many photos as you like). It encourages you to post every day (for more likes and follower engagement). But printing your photos encourages you to take the opposite approach.
How many good photos do you make a year? I mean, really good ones top notch. Here’s what one of the all-time master photographers had to say on this topic:
Admittedly, Ansel Adams used large-format cameras and printed using a darkroom. Modern digital cameras and software speed up the process, but the basic idea is still good. You’ll understand it better if you print some of your photos to hang on the wall in your home or office.
#3 – Connect with your subject
Good black and white photographers look for connection, expression, and emotion. Black and white is ideal for this because it captures character well. It shows the subject’s true essence, whether that’s a person, a place, or an object.
For example, black and white is an excellent choice if your aim is to make a portrait that captures something of your model’s character or soul. Black and white portraits have a timeless quality that shows character. They help you see in a deeper way.
This idea applies to all kinds of subjects, not just people photos. Black and white photography goes beneath the surface. It reveals things like texture and shape that help define the character of an object too.
For example, if you’re making a portrait of somebody then you’re looking for the moment when you make an emotional connection with your model. This is when you are most likely to get a powerful expression in their face, like a moment of thoughtfulness, sadness or vulnerability.
Or you might find you have a connection with a particular landscape or urban environment. Look for ways to photograph the things that appeal to you about that scene.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to explore some of the dry landscapes near Granada in southern Spain. In one location I was looking for dolmens that I had seen in another photo. But the dolmens were smaller and less spectacular than I had thought.
The interesting thing is that I had more success photographing a small canyon that I walked through to get to them. There was something about the light and rock structures that appealed to me. Here is a set of images that I made in that canyon.
Use these tips to start your black and white photography journey. Only convert your best images into black and white. Shift how you think about black and white, and make a connection with your subject.
Please share some of your favorite black and white photos in the comment area below. If you have any questions, please ask.
The Magic of Black & White (11th Anniversary Edition)
Hi there, this is Darlene writing now!
11 years ago Andrew wrote an ebook on black and white photography. Now, he’s created a second updated edition called The Magic of Black & White and I am excited to share it with you.
It contains all the knowledge he’s gained in the 11 years since he wrote that first book. So if enjoy black and white photography but want to know more, you can continue to expand your knowledge and skills by getting this book.
Inside the ebook you’ll learn:
- How to see in black and white
- How to have the mindset of a good black and white photographer (the ideas in this article give you a taste of that)
- What you can do with your photos after you’ve made them
So get the book and get out and explore the magic of black and white photography for yourself.