In this video professional photographer, Karl Taylor discusses several different aspects of black and white photography, starting from the basics, going through tips on how to shoot and of course the best way to edit for optimal results.
Black and white photograph refers to an image where all the values of all the pixels are identical (i.e. they are different shades of grey or of course black and white). A monochromatic image might look similar to a black and white image but it has different values of red blue and green (so you can have an image which has a specific tint to it). So
B&W images can be impressive but they are not necessarily suited for every type of photography (Tylor mentions product shots of perfume or commercial food photography are not typically shot in B&W and for a good reason – with these types of shots we are typically looking for color as part of what we are trying to covey or the story that we are trying to tell with the image). B&W Landscape and wedding and portraiture, in general, are much more common.
Next Tylor goes through some basic terms that you need to be familiar with to fully understand B&W. Hue refers to a specific color in the color spectrum and saturation refers to the intensity of that color (0% is grey and 100% is the reachest or most saturated that the color can get). For each color, you basically get a combination of both the hue and the saturation as well as some degree of luminosity or brightness.
What is interesting is that different colors have different levels of luminosity. This means that if you want an image that will be contrasty in black and white we need to keep in mind the specific luminosity levels of each color (for example deep red or deep blue have low luminosity levels and will look darker when converted to black and white compared to say yellow or green).
If you want to have a high degree of contrast in your B&W images you need to think about the luminosity of different colors and as much as possible combine colors that create this contrast (say blue background and a green or yellow subject, just as an example).
In the analog age, both specific films and physical filters were commonly used to enhance contrast in order to shoot more punchy black and white images. In the digital age we can still use filters such as polarizing filters but working in post-processing is essential to getting the most out of our color images in order to get outstanding B&W images. Also remember that when you remove the color from your image, the composition becomes even more important.
How to best convert an image to B&W
After this important intro, we go into the right way to create that B&W image in the best way that we can (meaning how to convert your color image into B&W, unless of course, you are shooting with a Leica monochrome that is…).
The simplest way is to simply desaturate the image. This will not give you the rich tonal values that you are looking for and that many famous photographers such as Ansel Adams, for example, are known for. So you will need a bit more work in post-processing.
Like many other photographers, Tylor prefers to use Photoshop’s black and white adjustment layer to get the best results as it offers the most control.
Here are some of the steps (this is relatively simple):
- Apply the B&W and apply the adjustment layer to your image.
- Choose existing Photoshop filters or play yourself with the specific color sliders.
- As an option, you can add a tint to your image by checking the tint box and choosing the color of the tint (this will turn your B&W image into a monochromatic image as we discussed above).
- Use masks on different layers of your image to expend the contrast of specific areas of the image (Tylor doesn’t show a specific example for this but it can be a very important step, especially for B&W images where you have a lot of control over colors, lighting etc.).
You can also use channel mixer or gradient map but these are less degree of control than the adjustment layer but you can try them and compare the results.
If you are looking for more videos on black and white photography we have you covered with many more tutorials on the subject.