TAKING BETTER PICTURES PT 2: B&W



I always seem to start out saying I'm not photo expert when I give someone advice. There are many more people that are better teacher and more learned. But I have learned a little over the years and might know a few simple things to pass on to someone starting out. For that, these tips may not be helpful to experienced photographers as they might already know what I'm saying. Feel free to add your two cents though if you would like.

I have never been a huge black and white photography person. I think that some photos look good like that, some don't. I don't think that black and white is better than color or vice versa, whatever works for the picture to look best is the better choice. I have 2 main things to say about Black & White photography...

1. Like I was saying above. Not all pictures look better in black and white. Making your photo into black and white does not mean it is more artful or professional looking. Some pictures will not make good black and white photos at all. When you are looking at converting a photo or taking a picture with plans for it to be black and white, you need to not look at it in terms of color. Something very colorful (as in the example below) may look very blah in black and white. Blue, Red, Green, Purple, all look almost the same in black and white...perhaps just slight variations of gray. Instead look at a photo in terms of it's contrasts between light and dark. Look at shadows and extreme color differences (obviously black vs. white, but also dark blue vs. yellow, the shaded portion of someone's face vs the lighted portion, etc).



That may be a simplified example, I think anyone can see the color in the photo to begin with and not want to convert it to black and white. But the example can be applied to more photos than you might think. Often photographs of people, with the color dropped out of their clothing and face and background the same result happens without one realizing it. Does the contrast of the color make the picture or the contrast of the light and shadows or both?

and 2. This plays off the last blog post I did about learning to use photoshop basics to adjust your pictures. Once you convert an image to black and white, you will most likely have to play with the contrasts of the photograph to get the look you truly want. Simply opening up the contrast option might help here and there, but it is often too much: blowing out the highlights and such. You will want to experiment with the curves and levels features as well. Sometimes using different features to convert the photo to black and white is better than simply clicking the desaturate feature or dragging the saturation tab all the way down until there is no color in the photo. There are basic options in photoshop for converting the whole image to grayscale from a color format and other special features you can learn through practice. You also might want to add sepia toning (just be careful of overdoing it, sepia doesn't make a photo any more artistic than b&w does, it's just a tool) or leave just a small percentage of color in a picture for an interesting effect.

In the photos below, I have taken a color photograph that would make a good black and white with very little work because of the contrasts in the picture to begin with. But then on top of that, made some basic adjustments with contrasts or curves or levels until I got the result I was looking for. (1st is color version, 2nd is basic desaturation, 3rd is after adjustment)





Hopefully this planted a few seeds in someone that is trying to achieve a certain look with their photographs. Don't be afraid to experiment, if you aren't completely satisfied with the way your picture has come out then keep working with it until you are. Don't get too hung up on one thing, like black and white or sepia or some other special effect. The most important thing is to make your picture look it's best.

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