Tips for Improving Your Black and White Photography Skills

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Julian Rad
  By Julian Rad
Tips for Improving Your Black and White Photography Skills

Shooting in black and white has never been more popular as it is nowadays.
Turning your images in black and white might give a certain nostalgic look and a feeling of elegance to your photos.
Let me give you some tips in order to advance your black and white photography and to get better results.

Try Long Exposure

Black and white images which are taken with a slow shutter speed often have a mysterious or even creepy atmosphere and with a slow shutter speed, you are able to capture moments or situations which can’t be seen by the naked eye.
Furthermore, you will achieve several effects while taking long exposure images, which will add some drama and excitement to your image. For example, if you take a seascape image with a slow shutter-speed the clouds will suddenly move across the entire sky or the water will begin to be smooth and silky. Typical genres for long exposure photography are landscapes, architecture, seascapes, streets, and people. Mind that you will need a tripod when you shoot at a slow shutter speed in order to avoid blurriness but it shouldn’t weight too much and it should hold up your camera equipment weight. Besides a remote shutter release is just a must for long exposure photography, it will prevent camera shake caused by the exposure and your images will be sharper in conclusion. So taking black and white images with a slow shutter speed can bring your photography to the next level for sure.


Use Filters

Using filters for black and white photography isn’t a must but you can achieve some great results while using one. There are tons of filters on the market, but not all of them will be suitable for black and white photography. For example, neutral density filters are used to reduce the light hitting the sensor of your camera and in conclusion, you are able to use a slower shutter speed in order to capture flowing water or moving clouds in a more spectacular way. Furthermore, filters can also help you achieve greater tonal contrast to your image.

Shoot in Color, then convert to Black and White

Modern cameras allow us to shoot in black and white but I would suggest to first shoot in color and convert your image afterward in Photoshop to black and white because then you will be able to have access to the full-color spectrum and this gives you more flexibility to edit your picture afterward in Photoshop. Furthermore, it might happen that you don’t like the black and white preset of your camera, the contrast might be too hard or the white turns out to be too gray, therefore always mind to shoot in color first and then convert to black and white.



Modern cameras often have a setting which overlays a rule of thirds grid to your image, this will help you to composite your image if you, for example, use the rule of thirds technique. Furthermore, you will be also able to find the golden selection if you turn on the grid. The rule of thirds mostly works for any subject.
There are many other composition rules, like the golden section which is one of the most common composition rules. Last year I wrote an article about image composition, where I explained how important composition rules are. Make sure you get familiar with different composition rules in order to show stunning black and white images.



Focus on textures and patterns

Black and white photography can be really interesting when there are patterns and textures in your image. In color photos, many patterns are often not visible, because the pattern itself often can’t be seen in a colored image. So capturing interesting patterns in black and white will definitely draw the viewers’ attention.

Try and start getting your eyes trained to see in black and white to create some stunning images.

Shoot in RAW

If your camera supports shooting in RAW, then you should definitely turn it on!

Shooting in Raw will open up new possibilities for you later while processing your image. The idea behind shooting in raw is that all the information captured by the sensor will be retained, that means that your raw files will be lossless and uncompressed files. Jpeg’s often shown posterization and with every step of compressing the image quality will be decreased.

The only disadvantage of shooting raw is that the image files will be really large, they will be 4-5 times larger than jpegs and furthermore, they will fill your camera’s memory buffer up much faster while shooting in RAW mode (this only counts for continuous shooting). Fortunately, there are tons of fast and large memory cards on the market, if you mainly use continuous burst shooting mode, you will need a memory card with a fast writing speed. So get yourself a suitable memory card to get out the most of your image.


Keep your ISO low

As we all know the higher the ISO, the more noise you will have in your image, so don’t set your ISO number too high, because this will automatically cause digital grain in your images and digital noise will reduce your image quality. If you shoot in automatic mode I would suggest setting the maximum ISO sensitivity to 1600. Nowadays most DSLRs are able to provide good quality images at ISOs up to 1600. But remember: The lower the ISO number, the more light will be required.  It’s kind of a balancing act photographers are doing nowadays, because on the one hand they want to keep their ISO as low as possible for sharp & high-quality images and on the other hand they also need a fast shutter speed to receive sharp images. If you don’t have the option to decrease your ISO there is always the possibility to remove the ISO noise afterward, within few steps you are able to remove the noise in Photoshop, but you can avoid any extra work when you keep your ISO as low as possible.

Find good subjects for black and white photography

Look for interesting elements like stones, buildings, rails, trees or roads, this will help you to draw viewers’ attention into your picture. There is no limit to the subjects for black and white photography, just take a walk outside and you will discover numerous subjects you could photograph which would look great in black and white. In my opinion, photography is a learning-by-doing process, the more time you spend and invest the wider your horizon will get. Start to experiment with different subjects, try to apply different composition rules and you will see that you will get better with time.



Contrast for bigger Drama

Black and white photography relies on the contrast

. Adding contrast to your black and white image will help your subject to stand out and furthermore you will get much more structure in your image because the silhouettes will be just more accentuated. More contrast in your black and white image will help you to see things which weren’t there before. Try to give your images your own spice, but be aware too much contrast can ruin your image.

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Julian Rad
Julian Rad is a self-taught award-winning wildlife photographer, who was born in Vienna, Austria in 1991. When he bought his first camera at the age of 20, he found an expression for the fascination he had about nature & wildlife. He already had many publications in national and internation magazines and newspapers (New York Post, Daily Mirror, Daily Express, The Times, GEO, Digital Photographer Magazine...). He has won several photo competitions such as the comedy wildlife photography awards in 2015.

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