Black and White Photography Techniques

Black and White Photo of a Storm

For around a century, photographers have been creating stunning photos with black and white photography techniques. Today, there are many new options for generating stunning black and white photos.

Getting Started with Black and White Photography Techniques

Before you can take great black and white photos, you need to know how to make the photos black and white.

When using a standard SLR, a photographer should first choose a quality black and white film that is the right speed for the subjects he is shooting. A film choice that is the wrong speed can lead to a grainy look in the finished photo.

Most modern digital cameras have the ability to take stunning digital photos with the press of a button. Simply switch the camera to manual mode, go to the photo options, and pick black and white in the color options section. It is as simple as that.

Filter Techniques

Color Wheel

Filters can make the difference between a good photo and a great one. Since black and white film is more sensitive to light, it can distort the look of the finished photograph. Filters help fix this problem. They can also add depth and contrast to digital photographs. Many photographers add a polarizing filter to the lens to make the hues in a photo rich and vibrant.

Colored filters are used to darken or lighten areas of a photograph. Here are some examples:

  • Since black and white film is extra sensitive to blue light, skies tend to look pale. A number 8 yellow filter can counteract this and make the sky look darker.
  • A number 11 yellow-green filter can counteract the red light cast by tungsten lighting.
  • To make a subject seem lighter in an image, choose a colored contrast filter that is the same color as the subject.
  • To make a subject seem darker in an image, choose a colored contrast filter that is the opposite color of the subject. For example, to darken a green object choose a red contrast filter, since red is opposite green on the color wheel.
  • A number 47 blue filter darkens skin tone.
  • A number 25 red filter lightens skin tone.

Digital cameras have built-in filters that can help make black and white techniques easier. You can also adjust the contrast so that objects look more defined. The white balance can be adjusted to make white objects, such as snow and clouds, look less grey and more white.

Keep it Simple

Haunted forest

One of the most important rules is to keep your compositions simple. In black and white photographs, objects do not show up clearly if layered together. Try to keep your composition limited to two or three subjects per photograph.

Dramatic Lighting Techniques

Since color is not the focus in black and white photos, light is the primary source of drama and interest.

The best lighting for outdoor black and white photography techniques is when the sun is at its lowest. This creates deep shadows and dark contrasts. Using this type of light also keeps your photos from looking washed out.

Most of all, try to achieve as much contrast in your lighting as possible. Here are some lighting ideas:

  • Light an object only from one side with a dark background
  • Backlight an object
  • Position your subject by a sunny window in a dark room
  • Light the object from below or above
Black and White Photography Techniques