Black and White Photography Tips

Why would you want to shoot Black and White photos?


There is no denying that a black and white image can have something special that a color image lacks so here are some black and white photography tips to get you started.

Probably the first thing to know about B&W photography is that today it’s a ‘discipline’: in other words it involves specific limitations.

These limitations are no longer a necessary part of photography because with digital you can shoot and print to your heart’s content in glorious color. So why do black and white?

Once upon a time B&W was popular because a photographer could produce prints in a dark room (bathroom, basement, dedicated space) using a system of light sensitive films, papers and chemicals.The basis of non-digital photography involved the use of silver nitrate.

Silver discolors (darkens) in light and stops or shades light, so pre-digital photographic images were ‘negatives’ created by exposing a sheet of transparent film treated with an emulsion of silver nitrate to light, washing off the unexposed or unaffected silver particles, and then printing a ‘positive’ of the image by shining a light through the negative onto paper coated with silver bromide.

Later, the silver particles were applied in three dyed layers – cyan, yellow and magenta (you can make any color from combinations of these) – and special papers and processes produced color prints or slides from these negatives by separating each layer and printing it.

Color done this way was expensive and tricky (precise temperature of the chemicals was a big factor), so most photographers, before the advent of digital, stuck with B&W which was simple, inexpensive and very do-it-yourself and took their color stuff to a lab.

Newspapers are printed in black and white, many magazines are too. Some of the most famous photographers (Bresson, Capra, Adams, etc) worked in black and white photography and gave it a good name.

But why do you want to shoot (or produce) black and white pictures?

What does a black and white photograph have that a color photo doesn’t?

Mainly tonal gradations, if you like gray, and a ‘dramatic’ graphic feel.

It’s true that some pictures look more ‘immediate’ and gripping in black and white but it’s a largely a taste thing.Here are two images – one in color and one in B&W:

You tell me which one is better.



How about these?



Or these:



See? It’s a matter of taste. I prefer the black and white version of this one, but some people like the pearly colors in the sky.Did I shoot those shots in B&W and Color? Nope – that would take two cameras or some very tricky finger work. I made these into black and white in image editing software.

You can do the same, read on…

Black and White Photography Tips continued…