When To Make a Photo Black and White

Black and white photographs were once the purview of history and artists…but no more!  The digital photography age has brought black and white photography to everyone with a digital camera or scanner, opening up gorgeous possibilities to a photo frame near you.

But some find the choices a bit daunting and overwhelming.  Just when should a photo be taken in black and white…or made black and white in post-processing?  When is it best to remove colors and let the image stand only in grayscale or in a washed-out sepia tone?  When is black and white best for a photograph?

Knowing when to make a photograph black and white is all about knowing the strengths of the medium.  The following tips will help you do just that.

  • Removes distractions so that the real subject grabs the attention.  Why focus on that bright striped shirt, when the real focus of the photo should be on the gorgeous child who is wearing it?  Black and white eliminates those distractions, and centers attention right where it should be…on the actual subject.
  • Makes poor lighting situations work!  Sssshhhh…don’t tell anyone, but black and white photographs are more forgiving than color.  Not enough light?  Strong shadows?  Need a flash but don’t have one?  It’s far easier to use these to your advantage in black and white photography than it is in color photography.  Play around…you may find that you create moody, dramatic photos.

  • Focuses more on texture. A stucco wall, bark on a tree, peeling paint…in a black and white photo these can take on a whole new life.  Grayscale celebrates texture; use that to your advantage next time you see a lovely “imperfect” surface and shoot some black and white photographs!
  • Gives photos a feeling of timelessness.  Black and white photographs make less obvious the modern clothes, architecture, or accessories and other items that give the photo context.   This lack of context allows the subject to stand on it’s own, lending a timeless, ethereal quality.

  • Lends a dreamy, moody quality to scenes.  Black and white photos tend to hint at…more.  And not just more color; they leave the door open for one’s imagination to run wild, creating a story around the image.  If you happen upon an unexpected scene, consider shooting it in black and white to boost its mysteriousness.

Be sure to check out How To Shoot in Black and White for more black and white photo tips!

What do you think?