Black and White Photography Challenges and Tips

When I began this year (2014) one of my goals was to create more black and white photography images.  I accomplished that goal during the course of the year but little did I know that I would be winding down the year with such a flurry of black and white photos, courtesy of “Five-Day Black and White Challenges on Facebook and Google Plus.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the challenge rules, you are to produce and post a B&W image for five continuous days in a row and nominate someone else to participate in the challenge each day, while acknowledging the person who nominated you initially. This activity has now reached a fever-pitch with challenges running heavy on both sites.

I found the exercise to be quite enlightening as it really caused me to look specifically for B&W images for each week that I participated. This was quite different than producing the occasional image because there was a specific goal to be met. My takeaway was an enhanced B&W vision, something I thought was developing throughout the year but this was somehow a bit different since it was a single focus for a period of time.

Realizing that not everyone is on Google Plus and/or Facebook, I thought I would share my images from the challenges here and include a few black and white photography tips. You can see the images in the gallery below.


A Few Black and White Photography Tips

Every photographer wants to get better at whatever type of photography they have chosen to pursue. I am of the opinion that regardless of the type or style, black and white photography should be a part of your creative output. Below I have provided six tips that I adhere to for better black and white photographs.

  1. Shoot in RAW - Not all cameras provide the capability of shooting in RAW but if that format is available, use it by all means. The benefit of a RAW file over a JPEG is that the RAW retains all of the information recorded on the camera's sensor, which provides a higher quality image and the ability to recover over or underexposed areas within the image. There are other benefits as well but suffice it to say that this is the best option for capturing an image. JPEG images are fine to use but RAW provides a wider range of data. I have my cameras set to record both formats for each image, simply because the capability is there and I don't want to miss anything. :-)
  2. Shoot in Color - Color images have more data to work with during the post-processing phase. When you open that image on your computer to convert it to black and white, I have found that the end results are superior to the black and white JPEG file. If you shoot in RAW, the color data is also recorded even if you have set your camera to shoot in black and white.
  3. Boost the Clarity and Saturation Sliders - If you use the latest versions of Adobe Camera RAW in Photoshop (CS6 or CC), try boosting the Clarity and Saturation sliders just a little before converting to black and white from color (Saturation has no effect in B&W). This slight increase makes the B&W results just a little bolder, in my opinion.
  4. Look for High-Contrast - It has been my experience that scenes with a high contrast seem to work best for the initial photograph or the B&W conversion. Details within the image itself will stand out and make the overall scene more interesting.
  5. Look for Repeating Patterns - Patterns, although not necessary to have a great B&W image, do make for a compelling image. The contrasting tones of the patterns can be more prominent in B&W since we don't have the multitude of colors to keep our eyes roving about. Some of the most compelling B&W fine art images are of simple repeating patterns.
  6. Consider Using a 3rd-Party Software Plugin - As a longtime user of Photoshop, I can replicate pretty much any effect a 3rd-party software plugin can provide. However, this would be very time consuming, particularly considering the fact that I process hundreds of images during the course of a month. So why bother? Plugins like Topaz Labs' B&W Effects and Google's NIK Collection Silver Efex Pro are outstanding products. I own and use both because of their pre-programmed algorithms, which provide outstanding results. A simple mouse click converts the image to B&W. You can then tweak the image further should you choose to do so.

There are many more tips in addition to the ones I've provided here but I simply wanted to share these basic starters that I use for my work. Try a few and do not shy away from experimenting with some of your own techniques. Above all else, be sure to shoot a tack-sharp, well composed image to begin with.

To see more B&W works, click below!