We live in a world of beautiful color – why would you ever want to take black and white images? There’s just something to be said about a beautiful, and striking black and white image. Black and white photos convey charm and elegance, and a timeless, classic beauty that’s not easily replicated with their color counterparts. A black and white image has a surreal and almost dreamlike quality, too; it looks cleaner and has greater depth than a color image. When you take away color, you’re left to rely on other elements – like texture, tone, form, and detail to create your images. With this in mind, let’s look at how you can create black and white images that are truly remarkable with your digital camera
Good Subjects for Black & White Photos
Not every subject makes for a great black and white photo. Some subjects just look better in color like a sunset or a row of beach umbrellas. You need to look for subjects that don’t depend on color for their impact. Or, you need to look for subjects that would benefit from being converted to black and white. A good rule of thumb to use would be any time color distracts from your subject that might be a good image to shoot as black and white.
Black and white also suits subjects that have beautiful texture and form even if they also have beautiful color. Flowers would be a good example of a subject you might think would always be better shot in color. However, a beautiful flower isn’t always just about its color, they also have a really amazing texture and form, and these are two elements that simply look wonderful when you reproduce them in black and white. When you remove the color from a photograph you remove some of what prevents your viewer from noticing the texture and form of that object. So if you shoot a flower in color, your viewer may look at that flower and only notice the beautiful color. But if you take the color out of that photo then your viewer will see the amazing texture on the flower’s stamen and the wonderful curves and lines of the flower’s petals. So pay attention to texture because it's not as obvious in color but it can really become the focal point of your black and white images.
When composing your shots, look for tonal contrast. This means dark shades that contrast against lighter tones. Contrast is your best friend when it comes to black and white photography, because if a black and white image has very low contrast, it’s going to look muddy. The more contrast a composition has, the more dramatic and interesting it will usually be. You should also make sure the subject will stand out against the background, making certain that it will show up well as a black and white image. Look for areas of shadow and areas of highlight in every scene. You should try to avoid blown out skies as much as possible in any image, but it’s particularly important in a black and white because a big, white sky draws the eye away from the scene and into that big, white void. This may mean that you take photographs mostly during the golden hour, when the light is softer. You can also use a graduated neutral density filter
from Beachcamera.com, which is a device that you place in front of your lens that is dark on the top and then transitions gently to a clear bottom. If you place the dark part over the sky, you cut back on the brightness of the sky, which makes it possible to get both a well-exposed sky and a well-exposed landscape.
Shape and Form
Shape and form are two very important visual elements because every object has both. Shape is how the subject looks in two dimensions. A silhouette, like this photo of tree branches, is an example of shape in a photo. Form is how the subject looks in three dimensions. Photos are two dimensional, so when photographing, you have the challenge of depicting three-dimensional objects in a two-dimensional form.
Black and white draws attention to the shadows and flowing lines that depict form. Use lighting to make your subject look three-dimensional. Side lighting reveals form by casting shadows. Front and backlighting obscure it.
Use all these elements to create your own memorable black and white images with your digital camera.