One of the great things about both digital cameras and post-production editing programs is the ease with which you can modify and alter colors before committing to the finished frame.
However, when it comes to converting color imagery to black-and-white (B&W), not all photos are created equal. While some color photos will look more intense in B&W, others will fall flat.
Pick the right candidates for conversion by learning these five features of great black-and-white photography. Plus, tips on how to optimize and edit images in our very own photo editing tool, Create.
Let’s do it!
1. Select Images with Strong Composition
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Color lets us differentiate between a variety of subjects and points of interest in an image. But when you turn an image to B&W, there’s no color to guide you around the image.
That’s why it’s important to choose images that have a strong subject, often one that is isolated so that it stands out from the background.
An easy way to do this is to look for images that have simple backgrounds that allow your subject to appear prominent.
You can also look directly for foreground interest. A prominent subject at the front of the image creates compelling visual hierarchy and stops the photo from looking flat, especially if the foreground subject contrasts sharply with the background.
This image’s empty sky and miniature scale background allows the skateboarder to command the entire frame.
2. Leading Lines for the Win
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Leading lines are a common tool in all types of imagery, as they’re an easy way to create dynamic composition.
They work extremely well in B&W photography by providing a geometric quality and preventing against the flat look that many B&W images fall victim to.
3. Go for Contrast
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Contrast: Simply put, the difference between the lightest white and the darkest black and one of the vital components of good B&W photography.
In the darkroom days, photographers used to add varying amounts of contrast using light exposure and filters. Editing software can achieve the same effect, but you must start with the right kind of image.
High contrast images (think bold colors, bright highlights, and dark shadows) tend to work best in B&W imagery. Start by looking for images that have bright sunlight, or for portraits in which the subject’s face stands out from their hair and clothing.
In the above photo, the bright sunlight cast on the fisherman creates a dark black shadow. His silhouette looks even more powerful in black-and-white.
To adjust contrast in Create, peruse both the Effects and Adjust tabs. Simply highlight the image, then select either of the previously mentioned tabs to influence colors, lighting, saturation, tints, and more!
We’ve got basic and advanced edits for all editing backgrounds, done in just a few clicks.
4. Edit Interesting Skies
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A pristine blue sky can look fantastic in color imagery but deathly dull in B&W.
For a B&W landscape photo to work well, you need the right kind of sky—one with plenty of clouds and colors. The varying tones of white and gray in the clouds will keep the photo from looking flat by adding dimension and heightening contrast.
The cirrus clouds in the above image add an unusual texture to the sky, elevating the black-and-white version to surreal heights.
Of course, black and white is a timeless trend and style, but you still want to be discerning about which kind (and how much) B&W to use.
The good news? In Create’s Effects tab, there’s an asset called Focal B&W waiting for use.
Say you don’t want the whole picture transformed, isolate a graphic or central focus point with black and white hints. We promise, you’ve never seen anything cooler.
5. Defined Shadows
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While shadows can interfere in color imagery, they play a huge role in B&W photography. Long shadows, created when the sun is low in the sky, will add interest to your images.
Shadows with textures, patterns, or shapes will produce strong black tones distinct from the background. If you have a color photo with distracting shadows, try black-and-white conversion for a moody, novel effect.
Create lets you instantly transform images using an array of both black and white effects and crop settings. To use them, simply select an image or template to start.
Then, highlight the layer, click Effects, and scroll to the Black and White section. You’ll see Black and White, Super B&W, Journo, and Silverscreen.
Below this section also lives Infrared and Mercury for those looking for something nuanced.
For each option, be sure to adjust Intensity and Fade accordingly. You can layer multiple of the same effects on each other, or layer different ones at your leisure.
To start, choose an image from the Shutterstock library, then click Edit to drop into Create!
If you’re already in the tool, simply click Images to upload your own, or type in keywords like “black and white landscape” to find one of ours. Note that you’ll have to license the images before use, but once you do, you’re well on your way!
Find images perfect for B&W conversion, quickly desaturate them using any effects that call you, and download them directly to your desktop—no extra steps necessary.
For more expert tips on black and white photography, be sure to check out:
License this cover image via Sun Shock and David Zydd.