When, why and how to take a good black and white photo?

April 06, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

     This post is inspired by a recent shoot.  I found myself loving several of the photos in their black and white form rather than full color.  I think black and white when done correctly can give such a timeless look to an image.  That got me thinking to talk to you about when, why, and how to use black and white.  But before we begin, I do have a confession.  I always shoot my black and whites in color and convert them later.  I will address this more in depth in the how section.

       When and why to shoot in black and white?  There are several reasons: to help even out skin tone, to compensate for poor lighting, to play up the texture, highlights and shadows of an image, or to just try and save an overexposed image.  This first reason is particularly handy when photographing a mother with a newborn.  Moms, we have all taken the hospital shot holding our new born with Dad right next to us.  We are beaming with love and pride, but when we look at the photo we are taken aback by how tired and pale we are, right?  Lets face it, you lose a lot of blood giving birth, you have not eaten all day, and it is beyond hard work.  Then to make matters worse your husband who has not been through this trauma is right next to you and the contrast between your skin tones is alarming.  A black and white photo can do wonders to helping minimize the skin tone difference and make the Mom look a lot more refreshed.  It also adds a timelessness to the moment which we all want. Here is an example of a gorgeous mama where black and white helped with skin tone.

      If you are outside and it is a very dark and overcast day (think a storm is coming), or you are a little late for the golden hour, black and white photography can extend the shooting time and give a few more useable images.  If you are familiar with photography terms, this is when you have to turn the ISO up on your camera to high and it becomes grainy.  

    If you have an image with great texture or leading lines, black and white can really add to the artistry of the images.  Here is an example where I love the texture of the brick.  The hard texture of the brick verses the softness of my subject is nicely enhanced by the use of black and white.

    Lastly,  sometimes black and white can save an image that is overexposed.  In this example below, we had just switched locations and I forgot to change my settings.  The highlights were blown out, but I was in love with the facial expression and framing of this photo.  This is where switching to black and white saved this photo.

      How to take a black and white photograph?  I always shoot in color and switch to black and white in post to give myself more options.  By shooting in color I have more information for the computer to work with when turning the image into black and white.  Also you might find after the fact that the image works better in color.  Maybe it lacks the texture differences you thought or you need the color to provide depth or leading lines to your subject.  I use Photoshop and Silver Efex Pro to convert my images and it gives me tons of control for enhancing shadows, midtones, or highlights.  But I am writing this post to help those that are not photographers, do not have software, or a desire to purchase it... so now what?  I would recommend Picasa.  It is a free software download that gives a few nice basics.  It has a few black and white styles preprogrammed in to it.  The software also allows you to brighten highlights and shadows. This software is not as good as the ones I use, but it is free!  It is better then just hitting the black and white button on a photo printing site.  So next time you are snapping a few with the kiddos try one in black in white or go back and convert a few hospital photos and see if you are happier with those images.

If you have any more questions about black and white photography or would like to schedule a session, please contact Haselhorst Photography at 708-466-6593.


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