Thanks to modern technology, monochrome photography is much easier now than ever before. Here are some tips on b&w photography.
1. Shoot in RAW + JPEG
The best monochrome conversions are made by raw files with color info, but if you shoot RAW + JPEG and set the camera to its monochrome mode you get an indication of how the image will look in black and white.
As many photographers struggle to visualise a scene in black and white, these monochrome modes are an invaluable tool that will help with composition and scene assessment.
Many cameras are also capable of producing decent in-camera monochrome images these days and it’s worth experimenting with image parameters (usually contrast, sharpness, filter effects and toning) to find a look that you like.
2. Look for contrast, shape and detail
The complimentary and opposing colours that bring a colour image to life are all reduced to black and white or shades of grey in a monochrome image and you have to look for tonal contrast to make a shot stand out.
In colour photography, for example, your eye would immediately be drawn to a red object on a green background, but in monochrome photography these two areas are likely to have the same brightness, so the image looks flat and dull straight from the camera.
Fortunately, it’s possible to work adjust the brightness of these two colours separately to introduce some contrast. However, a good starting point is to look for scenes with tonal contrast.
There are always exceptions, but as a general rule look for scenes that contain some strong blacks and whites.
3. Try a long exposure shot
Long exposure shots can work really well in monochrome photography, especially where there’s moving water or clouds.
During the exposure the highlights of the water, for example, are recorded across a wider area than they would with a short exposure and this can help enhance tonal contrast.
The blurring of the movement also adds textural contrast with any solid objects in the frame. If necessary, use a neutral density filter such as Lee Filters’ Big Stopper or Little Stopper to reduce exposure and extend shutter speed.
4. Edit your photos
Although coloured filters can still be used to manipulate contrast when shooting digital black and white images, it’s more common to save this work until the processing stage.
Adobe Camera Raw has powerful tools that allow you to adjust the brightness of eight individual colours that make up the image.
It’s possible to adjust one of these colours to make it anything from white to black with the sliding control.
However, it’s important to keep an eye on the whole image when adjusting a particular colour as subtle gradations can become unnatural looking.
And adjusting the brightness of a red or pink shirt with the red sliding control, for instance, will have an impact on the model’s skin, especially the lips.
5. Dogde and Burn
Dodging and burning is a technique that comes from the traditional darkroom and is usually used to burn in or darken highlights and hold back (brighten) shadows.
Photoshop’s Dodge and Burn tools allow having level of control that film photographers could only dream of because you can target the highlights, shadows or mid-tones with both.
This means that you can use the Burn tool to darken highlights when they are too bright, or the Dodge tool to brighten them to increase local contrast.
It’s a great way of giving a sense of greater sharpness and enhancing texture.