5 Ways to Improve Your Black-and-White Photography

Sometimes expanding your skill set, or taking one of your photographs to the next level isn’t that hard at all. For the latest installment of “Tips and Tutorials” I’ve compiled some super simple edits you can make to your black-and-white photography to make your images pop. While they might seem basic (like upping your contrast), often it’s the subtle changes that make the biggest impact. Plus, they’re incredibly fast to implement…not to mention fun to try out.

Here are some quick tips to help improve your black-and-white photography.

1. Always shoot in color, then convert to black and white in software

Your digital camera will probably give you the option to shoot in black and white. Don’t do it! It’s a rookie move. This is because your camera will actually shoot in color (cause you know, real life is in color) and then immediately convert the image to black and white inside the camera. As you can imagine, it does a pretty mediocre job of this, so you’ll wind up losing information, resulting in shoddy material to work with.

Use photo editing software to convert your images to black and white on a computer, this is gospel.

Always shoot in color. (Photo: "Night&Day - Night 1" by Martin Gros)

2. Finding areas of contrast to make your images more interesting

To put this into practice, there are some common (and understandably popular) places and things you can shoot to bring out contrast. Try practicing with architecture, railway yards, and industrial worksites – these places provide interesting opportunities to capture contrast. Without a color spectrum, our eyes become more inclined to pick up and respond to contrast, so look for opportunities to shoot the entire color spectrum and tonal range. Black-and-white images that work beautifully often have an absolute black point and an absolute white point. Start training your eyes to find them in images.

Contrast is key. (Photo: "Chelsea Market Skybridge - New York City" by Vivienne Gucwa

Try to shoot the entire color spectrum. (Photo: "Chicago way" by Geofigeofa)

3. Focus on textures

Shoot as many different textures as possible. Texture is a form of contrast. The other day an oil painter friend of mine asked me to tell him what a line was, and I was stumped. So let’s break this down:

A line is simply a change in tonal shift from one tone to another. Texture, then, is a series of line changes (which are effectively tonal changes). For better (more interesting, diverse, and complex images) look for photographs that feature heavy textural changes.

Textural changes are vital to successful photographs. (Photo: "Architecture 9" by BKSPicture)

Try to shoot diverse textures. (Photo: "Architectural detail" by Laurie Minor)

4. Mark black squares on your Curves

There are so many fantastic tricks you can use in post-production to make your black and white images pop. One trick that was a game changer for me was to open up your Curves (this is assuming your using Photoshop, but other programs have similar curve-like-graphs) and simply click on the cross-over points where the shape of the image (usually an “S” shape), crosses over the Curves grid. Clicking in black squares causes a subtle contrast boost.

Curves is your friend.

5. Aim for a healthy histogram

A histogram is the graph that represents the distribution of light in your photograph. If your histogram is healthy it should look like a super wide medium-sized hill or mountain in the histogram box. You want an entire light range to make a healthy mountain, both ranges from the blackest of blacks to total white in your image (even if it’s just a small area of either). If you have major spiking, or nothing remotely resembling a mountain or a hill, your imaging is flatlining and probably means there’s little light, and poor quality data in your image. That’s sad for everyone.


A healthy histogram = a happy photograph (Photo: "Musei Vaticani: Descent" by Georgie Hart)

Click the images to see more amazing black-and-white photography and to support these talented Redbubble photographers.

Do you have other interesting black-and-white photography techniques? Share them in the comments below.

[Header image: “Old Souls” by Redtempa]