There’s more to taking great black and white photographs than converting them to monochrome in post-production. Though editing does play a major role in the overall quality of black and white photo, there’s still a lot you can do in camera to make sure you’re capturing powerful and stunning photos that will translate well to black and white.
In Camera Conversion vs Post Production
Most modern digital cameras have a feature built right into the menu system that allow you capture in black and white instead of color. Using this setting, the camera handles the conversion to black and white on it’s own. Your other option is to shoot in full color, like you normally would, and do the conversion to monochrome yourself using a program such as Lightroom or Photoshop.
Both of these methods will work, but I prefer to have a little more say in the process so always shoot full color RAW files, then import my photos into Photoshop and do the editing myself. However, if you prefer, feel free to let your camera handle the conversion–just check your users manual to see how to set your camera to do so.
What To Look For
In color photography, we have the advantage of using colors to catch the viewer’s attention and lead their eye to the subject or the part of the photograph we want them to focus on. In black and white photography we loose that benefit and instead have to rely solely on a strong composition to do the heavy lifting for us. That’s a good thing! In the long run, it will make you a better photographer with a sharp eye for composition. So rather than looking for that pop of color, train your eye to look for contrast (highlights and shadows), patterns, interesting shapes and lines, and even different textures to build your composition around.
Visualize Before You Shoot
Speaking of training your eye, another great practice is to teach yourself to see in black and white. Practice “seeing” things in the way they would appear in a black and white photo–keeping in mind that different color hues will only be seen as different shades of gray. If there is a cluster of similarly hued colors very close to one another, it’s possible they may blend together too much once they’re converted to black and white, making it loose some of it’s impact. Visualizing the scene before you shoot it will help you better determine if the composition is good for a black and white photo, or best left color.
One of the best and most inspiring ways to learn what kinds of compositions look great in black and white is to study the work of some of your favorite photographers who have a knack for black and white photography. Spend some time browsing the internet for some inspiring shot. You may even want to create a mood board or Pinterest board with shots that are especially appealing to you so you can easily refer back to them later on.
Use the images in this article as a starting point, but be sure to check out other websites like Flikr, 500px, Pinterest, and even Instagram for more inspirations.
Make A Project Of It
If your new to the process of shooting for black and white, set some time aside to work on a personal project that has you shooting for monochrome images so you can get some practice in and improve your skills. When you’re finished, hopefully you’ll have a nice album of black and white photos to show off what you’ve learned!