How to Black and white

Black and white elegance

Add drama and intrigue to your Canon shots using some of our tips for lawless black and white images

← Works best with Canon 700D

Black and white images are timeless in their appeal and the good news is that the whole procedure can be simple. Because cameras have default style options for colour toning and advanced white balance controls, shooting in black and white is relatively easy. Select your shooting mode, set it to black and white and away you go. But if you are serious about the style, you will need to put in a little more effort for the results you want.

Dramatic portraits
Use black and white in the studio to deliver stylish results. As you can see in this image, just a simple pose and delicate lighting add to the impact of the overall image

The rebirth of black and white
The first Sin City film was an explosion of style that captured people's imagination. Shot on green screen, lit to replicate the classic film noir look and mainly black and white, it paid homage to its source material, and also made black and white new and accessible as a creative method. Whereas black and white had been typically employed as a reportage or fine art option for many years, suddenly billboards were saturated in timeless, modernised, monochromatic images designed to be edgy, cool, and dramatic. Brands adopted the style, and portraiture companies busied themselves to sell to the public.
 Obviously black and white existed before digital and way before colour, but as it's in vogue again, and with the advantages of modern digital techniques, mastering the art is now essential.  

Architectural drama
Black and white toning techniques add mood. By burning in detail or by using lens filters, you can darken edges and force the focal point  


Edit in Raw

1 Open your image
Open up your JPG or RAW file into Adobe Camera Raw by clicking the RAW edit button in Bridge

2 Reduce the colour
Reduce the vibrancy and saturation of your image by sliding the colour adjustment controls to 0. 

3 Add contrast
Boost contrast by using the Contrast slider options. Use the other sliders to add more depth in the tones.

4 Convert to Smart Object
Click the image detail option at the bottom of ACR and select the open as Smart Object option.


The kit determines the result
As you are changing the colour tone of your image, lens choice and depth of field will be guided by your intended final image. For example, if you wish to achieve an interesting architectural shot, you may want to use a wide angle lens. If you are looking to photograph people, use a portrait lens around 50mm or 85mm.
 Familiarise yourself with the technical operations of your camera, such as lighting setup if shooting in studio, or the colour spectrum of the scene. Knowing how to manipulate/enhance these for black and white is half the battle.
 If you are shooting in a studio environment, you are spoilt for choice given the dynamic results delivered by both constant and lash lighting. Add drama and emphasise the qualities of your subject by adhering to lighting ratios and techniques like rim lighting. Use simple patterns and silhouettes such as a fan or the line detail of blinds to tell a story by simply lighting them, creating shadow. Consider harsh lighting to strip colour detail away.   

Timeless toning
Many portrait companies adopt a policy of shooting detail shots of babies such as hands, feet and faces as well as their general portraiture, in monochrome. More often than not, this is to recreate a timeless quality


Darken skylines

1 Set up a tripod
Fix your camera up on a tripod and set it to Live View mode if available. Get the horizon level and the composition sorted.

2 Filter magic
By using a gradient filter you can darken skies, which will add drama to the scene. Attach the filter and line up the gradient with the skyline.

3 Set your shooting mode to B&W
In your camera's shooting modes, you will find the black and white option. Select it to give an instant view of what your final image will look like.


Understand how colour channels behave
When editing in a program such as Photoshop, you have access to the colour channels in your image. Look at these as a means to view the impact of choosing one channel to dominate the conversion and you will see your image's potential.
 The red channel lightens the reds, yellows and oranges to a soft and subtle grey tone. The green channel will lighten greens, cyans and yellows and the blue channel will lighten the blues. So if you are shooting a person on a grassy bank in the middle of summer, you will have a large degree of blue in the sky, green on the floor and a small amount of red in the person's skin tones. To keep the person's skin tones smooth and soft and keep the rest of the image a darker shade, edit your image into black and white via the red channel.

Aim for symmetry
This image uses compositional tricks and a balancing of positive and negative space to draw the viewer into the shot

Manual adjustments
Considering your subject, assess what is the main draw of the image. Take architectural photography as an example; do you want the building or the mood to be the dominant feature? This is where filters step in. Circular polariser filters ix to the lens via a screwthread attachment. They consist of two polarised sheets of glass that when twisted, create a darker skyline and enhance the colours of your image. Gradient filters will affect only half of your shot and are perfect for darkening, adding mood and toning cloudy skylines. Use a slow shutter speed on your camera as well as a stop down filter to capture movement in clouds; when used in architectural photography, this is a great technique to add drama.

Slow shutter speed
Using an ND 8 filter to block light from the lens, as well as a slow shutter speed and tripod, you can capture soft images


Filter selection

Filters are a great way to enhance black and white images. There are numerous options, such as gradient filters, which are essential in landscape photography for much the same reason as they are for black and white photography; they enhance the contrast of skylines. Others such as full colour filters will adjust the contrast of specific tones in the image, so a red filter will react totally differently to a blue filter when used on the same image.


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