Add a touch of elegance to your food photography. Explore the monochromatic beauty of black and white and create captivating images.
Ever dabbled in the captivating world of black-and-white food photography?
I know it might sound unconventional. We often rely on colors to gauge the ripeness of fruits and anticipate the flavors of ice cream. But here’s the thing: Photographers captured food in monochrome long before color film ever existed.
In fact, many artists continued embracing this timeless technique for its creative allure. Curious to give it a shot yourself? Then buckle up and prepare for eight expert tips that’ll help you craft striking grayscale food shots!
1 . Photograph food with texture
Texture is a key element that truly stands out in black-and-white food photography. The interplay of light and shadow allows you to create a range of tones that accentuate the textures in your images.
Textures also provide valuable information to the viewer. When we remove color from the equation, it brings about a significant transformation in how we perceive things.
Plus, textures add a tactile quality to your photographs, engaging the viewer on a deeper level. To accentuate the texture, it’s important to position the light at an angle, which enhances the contrast in your shot.
Remember, there are various ways to incorporate texture into your food photography. If you make it the main subject, you can capture intriguing abstract photos. Alternatively, you can contrast textured and smooth surfaces to achieve a more balanced image.
Don’t restrict yourself to surfaces alone when seeking out textures. You can discover interesting textures within certain produce or capture the crumbly details of a piece of bread.
When photographing prepared dishes, consider adding chopped ingredients like sprinkles on an ice cream or sesame seeds on a tuna fish steak to introduce texture and visual interest.
2 . Choose the right colors
Picking the perfect colors for black-and-white food photography can be a bit tricky. We often struggle to imagine how colors will translate into shades of gray, and this can lead to lackluster results when we’re just starting out.
In vibrant, full-color images, we rely on complementary colors like green and orange to create captivating visuals that really pop. But here’s the thing: in black and white photography, those same colors might not contrast as much as you’d expect. If both colors have a similar level of brightness, they can appear quite similar when converted to monochrome.
Keep in mind that colors have three key components: hue, saturation, and luminosity. When you venture into the realm of black-and-white food photography, you’re bidding farewell to the hue and the saturation. So, your decision-making should primarily revolve around the luminosity of each color.
By understanding these principles, you’ll be equipped to make choices that help your black-and-white food photos stand out.
3 . Use contrast to set the mood
In black-and-white food photography, you have fewer elements to work with compared to color photography. The absence of color means that you rely on other factors, such as light temperature and color harmony, to create an atmosphere.
When it comes to black-and-white food photography, one of the most powerful tools at your disposal is light contrast. The level of contrast you employ can greatly impact the mood of your photograph.
High contrast results in a strong and bold image, while low contrast produces a softer and smoother effect.
To grasp the concept, you can experiment with high-key and low-key photography, which are easily identifiable techniques. Low-key photography adds a sense of drama and mystery to your images, evoking intrigue.
On the other hand, high-key lighting conveys a feeling of happiness and a light-hearted atmosphere. Once you become proficient in these techniques, you can expand the range of tonal values you utilize, adding depth to your compositions.
4 . Set the camera to monochrome
Most pro and semi-pro cameras come with a nifty monochrome setting. It’s like having a secret weapon when you’re starting out in black-and-white photography because it helps you train your eye and capture stunning shots.
Now, don’t confuse this with the black-and-white filters on your phone or point-and-shoot camera. The magic of the monochrome mode lies in the fact that while your JPEG and the preview on your camera’s screen turn into captivating black and white, the RAW file remains in color. That means you’re not locked into black and white forever. You can always switch back to color if you feel like it, giving you the best of both worlds!
If you’re rocking a DSLR or a camera with a rear LCD screen, take advantage of it to preview your black-and-white food shots. Capture a test image, and use it to check how the tones play out before really spending time working the subject.
Mirrorless cameras with electronic viewfinders are even better. Once you switch your camera to monochrome mode, the electronic viewfinder transforms into a grayscale wonderland. You can instantly see what works and what doesn’t without snapping a single test shot.
5 . Carefully convert to black and white in post-processing
Most photo editing programs and apps offer a way to transform color images into black and white. But here’s the thing—not all tools are created equal. Even within the same software, you’ll find different options that yield different results.
So, it’s crucial to choose the right program and the appropriate tool for converting your vibrant RGB photo into a captivating grayscale masterpiece.
One tool that black and white photographers adore is Silver Efex Pro from the Nik Collection. Back in the day, these filters used to be free, but now you can purchase plug-ins for Photoshop and Lightroom from the DXO Shop.
However, not everyone has the budget to invest in extra filters. That’s why I’m going to show you three methods to convert food photographs to black and white using Photoshop:
You probably already know that dragging the saturation slider all the way to the left turns an image into monochrome. But here’s the catch: This method won’t give you much control over the final result.
To gain more control over your B&W conversion, go to Image>Adjustments>Hue/Saturation in the Photoshop menu. You can still drag the general Saturation slider to the left, but you can also select different colors and desaturate them individually. You can also selectively adjust the luminosity of each color by dragging the Lightness slider.
Note: You can apply the same adjustments non-destructively by adding a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer.
Another way to convert your image is by changing the Mode to Grayscale. To do this, choose Image>Mode>Grayscale.
But beware! This method removes all the color data, meaning some tools won’t be available anymore. On the bright side, it reduces the storage space required for your image.
Now, this is my favorite technique because it puts you in the driver’s seat. It involves using the powerful black-and-white adjustment.
You can find this tool in the menu by going to Image>Adjustments>Black & White. However, I recommend using a Black & White adjustment layer instead. Both options offer the same controls, but the adjustment layer is non-destructive.
When you use this feature, your image instantly transforms into grayscale using default settings. The beauty of this method lies in the Properties panel, where you can fine-tune your adjustments.
In the Properties panel, you’ll see a range of sliders corresponding to different colors. They allow you to tweak the contrast of your grayscale image. By clicking the hand icon on the top left, you can even click and drag the corresponding slider directly on the image itself.
If you still want to convert the file mode to grayscale to save storage space, make sure to flatten the image first. Otherwise, all the adjustments you made on the black-and-white layer will be discarded along with the color data.
6 . Edit your black-and-white food photos
So you’ve got some amazing black-and-white food photos – nice work! But hold on a sec, before you start showing them off, there’s a little something you need to do. Yup, you guessed it, editing! Even though you’ve already converted your photos to black and white, or snapped them using your camera’s Monochrome mode, a little editing magic is still required. Don’t worry, it’s just like jazzing up a color photo.
Now, when it comes to editing your black-and-white images, you’ve got a bunch of software options to choose from. I’m gonna walk you through my process in Lightroom, but the tools are pretty similar across the board.
You know what many people overlook? The white balance. Yep, that’s right – even in grayscale, color temperature can have an impact. A warm color temperature can make your photo appear brighter, while a cooler one gives it a more subdued vibe.
Once you’ve got that sorted, it’s time to play around with the Whites and Blacks sliders. Adjust the whitest point in your picture with the Whites slider and the darkest point with the Blacks slider. Simple, right? But we’re not done yet!
The Shadows and Highlights slider will help you to adjust the remaining tones, but though they’re a good starting point, using the Tone Curve is much more precise and the reason why I like using Lightroom.
Once you find the Tone Curve, you can use the parametric curve to work with zones. Here, you can adjust the midtones, which you can’t do with the basic sliders. And for even greater precision, you can use the point curve.
Of course, you can also use the Masking features to make local adjustments!
7 . Experiment with monochrome adjustments
Okay, so you’ve probably heard the terms monochrome and black-and-white being thrown around like they mean the same thing. But hold up because they’re not quite interchangeable.
Monochrome actually refers to an image that has different tones of a single color. Think sepia, blue, or good old gray, which is what we usually associate with black-and-white photos. (That’s why those classic photos are also known as grayscale.)
Now, here’s the fun part. Since you’re diving into the captivating world of black-and-white food photography, why not shake things up a bit and play with different monochrome effects?
You’ve got a couple of options here. You could easily tinker with these effects using software like Photoshop or Lightroom. But don’t fret if you’re more of an old-school type. You can still pull off some magic using traditional methods. For instance, you can print your black-and-white photo as a digital negative, and then transform it into a captivating cyanotype print.
8 . Look for inspiration from the masters
Food has been a beloved subject in both paintings and photography since the early days. In fact, it was a perfect choice for early photographers due to the need for long exposure times. So why not dive into the treasure trove of art history and draw inspiration for your black-and-white food photography? There are some iconic images that can ignite your creativity.
One of the most legendary shots is Edward Weston’s captivating pepper, but that’s just the beginning. Explore the remarkable work of other masters like Henry Fox Talbot’s “A Fruit Piece,” Edward Steichen’s “Three Pears and an Apple,” and Tina Modotti’s intriguing “Untitled (corn)”—which sold for a whopping US$22,500 at an auction in 2009.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to copy these images directly. Instead, use them as a wellspring of inspiration. Take a close look at what the masters have accomplished, learn from their techniques, and unleash your own creativity to capture some breathtaking black-and-white food shots!
Black-and-white food photography: final words
I hope this article helps you to improve your black-and-white food photography. Or, if you’ve never done it before, that it got you interested in trying it!
So grab your camera, find some food, and use the tips I’ve shared to capture some beautiful images!
Now over to you:
What got you interested in black-and-white food photography? What do you plan to photograph? Share your thoughts in the comments below!