The Art of Black and White Photography

Art of Black and White Photography

Depending upon your perspective, black and white photography is an art form based upon skill and ability or is as simple as 1 + 1 = 3. With digital photography, shooting black and white portraits has never been easier. Please understand, taking black and white photographs is one thing. Changing your photos into black and white works of art is another. A well-done black and white portrait or architectural image can look elegant and refined, while similar color images may fail to elicit the same feelings. And by the way, I am aware that 1 + 1 = 2!

Why are we so captivated by a striking monochrome image? Well, if we think of color as recording a scene, we could say that black and white interprets it. A color photo (no matter how bad), easily appeals because that’s the way we view our environment. Since black and white is an interpretation of a scene, rather than a record of what we truly visualize, it’s up to the photographer’s skill (or your own) to create an image that uses texture, tone and composition. These are important elements in a color photograph, but in black and white they are essential.

Black and White

A black and white photo can be one of the most evocative ways of presenting an image. So what is the best way to turn a color photo into a beautiful black and white work of art? I am going to show you five ways using Photoshop, but I also use a program specifically for photographers – Lightroom 4. Each of the Photoshop techniques brings with it a subtle difference and the method you end up choosing depends upon the image you are converting. The first three techniques I will show are one-click operations and will produce results of varying quality. The fourth is more labor intensive, but provides better results. The outcome will depend on the quality of the original image. The fifth is the best overall.

Method 1 – Grayscale

This option is the quickest when it comes to changing an image to monochrome. It will instantly turn a color image to a black and white one. This effect can work well. This type of conversion reduces your file size, because the reds, greens and blues are discarded.

Method 2 – Desaturate

This is the “bull in a china shop” technique for converting an image to black and white. Basically, it jerks out all the colors. However, by eliminating color without altering the brightness, it creates a flat result and it doesn’t capitalize on the differences of the individual colors in the image. It works well on certain images, but others can fail to make a good impact.

Method 3 – Color Lab Mode

Some purists like to use the lab method for converting images. By isolating the Lightness channel, this method ditches all the colors but retains lightness values. The process tends to produce a result with lighter and more open tones, so it is well-suited to underexposed shots. Of course, the results will depend on the source image. When the Color Lab Mode works, it works well and can often eliminate noise that might show up using other methods.

Method 4 – Channel Mixer

This is one of the ways pro photographers convert images. In the Channel Mixer box, you can tweak the red, green and blue channels. It’s like having red, green or blue filters on a camera and can have dynamic effects.

A bonus of using this technique is that the image stays in the RGB mode (I will explain another time), so you can readily manipulate or fine tune it to achieve the perfect image. Mixing channels takes longer than converting to Grayscale, but it is worth the effort.

Working in monochrome is largely an interpretative process that lets you determine the mood of the image and by using the Channel Mixer it’s easy to interpret the tones you want.

Method 5 – Black and White

This is by far the best tool to convert black and white images. It is so simple that anyone can use it regardless of skill level. Not only is it easy, it is totally natural, fun and gives you much more control over the final outcome of your images.

With the Black & White adjustment, you can easily emphasize certain areas of an image and de-emphasize other areas based on their original colors, without having to know anything about Channels. Want the sky to be darker in the black and white version of your photo? Just drag the Blues slider towards the left. Need skin tones to appear lighter? Drag the Reds slider towards the right. Does the brightness of the grass or the trees need a little fine tuning? Drag the Greens slider left or right until you get it just the way you want it. It’s really that simple!

Professionals, photo enthusiasts and novices find that this is the best way to go!

The video below provides a very good tutorial on how to convert your images from color to black and white. You will find that converting to black and white digitally has a number of advantages.

Go Black and White!

You have the choice of when to use color and monochrome. Subjects with vibrant hues typically look better in full color, while less-brilliant subjects may look better in black and white. My advice is to watch for subjects that will lend themselves to a monochrome treatment. Not every image looks good in black and white. Some photos grab our attention because of the vivid colors they contain.

If you show most of your images in color, try and shake things up by adding a few black and white images in your slide shows or albums.

OK, after a few tries you should be ready to show off YOUR beautiful black and white works of art!

Jayden Miller – Copyright © 2012

8 thoughts on “The Art of Black and White Photography

  1. Thanks for the article. I’ve been using Lightroom lately for my black and whites, but my biggest difficulty is seeing the potential in an image that would make an inspiring black and white. Something I need to practice more.

  2. Oh Jayden what a girl & brilliantly exposed portraits in high key.
    I love those pictures, Brilliantly controlled exposure,
    you r a great photographer I repeat

    I will have to show these pictures to my pro photographer friends.

  3. Oh you use Photoshop lovely, Channel Mixer

    I would love to see the original color shoots also for comparision

  4. Same to you dear, really you are a amazing pro

    I have to learn a lot from a young and beautiful girl

  5. Yes I read about it, you are brilliant my beautiful friend,
    why not upload a good profile pic of yourself

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