Black and white photography tips for digital photographers

Black and white images are evocative and timeless in their appeal. Their absence of colour is like a magnet that draws you in to explore or question the image and may leave you with an impression of an era gone by. And if you think this only applies to old images taken on film then you’d be mistaken, because you can capture the same timeless look and feel with your modern DSLR camera.

There’s so much hot air written on the internet about black and white photography that it can leave your head in a spin. Many photography geeks will have you believe it is a dark art that only they can master, but the reality is quite the opposite. With digital cameras, black and white photography has never been easier that even the complete novice can master.  In this article, I’m going to show you just how easy black and white photography is and how it’s almost foolproof using a digital camera or phone.

The “problem” used to be that to capture great monochrome images, you had to be able to “see” in black and white. But even that wasn’t true back in the day and it’s a myth that’s perpetuated throughout the years. Take for example, this image of my mum and her friends from the 1950s. Mum and the girlsThe camera it was taken on was literally a box with a hole in it, and the photographer was a friend with no professional experience. When it was taken, the photographer didn’t try to see in black and white, she didn’t worry about the exposure and she didn’t worry about the “highlights being blown out”. She just read the dial on the box, clicked the shutter and captured the moment – simples. But fast forward to 2014. Put some silicon chips in the box then throw in s sprinkling of expert opinion, and all of a sudden black and white photography is a dark art that is way too difficult for mere mortals to master properly.

So what changed and why are we being told by internet photographers that it is now more difficult to master? Well, nothing’s changed except that technology came along, but that technology is being used by photographers to make them look like masters or appear invaluable to the average snapper. Lets make no bones about it, digital cameras, for all their trickery, are still just boxes with holes and they actually make things easier for black and white photography. It’s just a simple case of knowing the right buttons to press.

Almost all digital cameras (and mobile phones) have colour LCDs on them which means we see our images in real time. But, from my experience of teaching workshops, I am always surprised by the number who don’t realise their cameras can actually see in black and white. It’s always a lightbulb moment when I show a student a simple trick by pressing a few buttons and they are off taking great monochrome images in a flash (pun intended).  Every digital camera and most mobile phones can switch to black and white mode to capture images. But click a few more buttons in your camera’s menu and you will find a dozen or so features that can totally transform these black and white images into almost any effect you can imagine. Now that’s really something. In your camera’s black and white setting, there are further gizmos called “filter effects” that give you distinct looks such as infra red or the sepia look. You can also adjust the contrast of your image for a high key or smooth tone look as in the image below. And when you use live view, you can see these happen in real time. It really is easy to the point of being foolproof.

basketball high key

But rather than me talk about every filter and effect, why not check the example below to see what’s possible. This is the same scene taken with different effects from within the camera. These are filters that give your image a certain look that you can adjust to your own preference. All you have to do is delve into your camera’s menu system and see what filters are there. So, you can forget all the geek stuff you read and concentrate on capturing cool black and white images.

B&W Digital filter effects

If you enjoyed this article I’d love you to share on your social media pages and if you’d like to come to one of my black and white photography workshops, I’d be delighted to have you along.

Thanks for reading. 🙂

1 thought on “Black and white photography tips for digital photographers”

  1. Thank you so much for this brief but informative article Stuart.I am going to make a confession in that while i have been using a canon camera for a number of years i never realised you could ulatise an in-camera filter. – Inspirational as always.

    Keeping shooting.

Leave a Comment