Ever wonder when you should change your photos from color to black and white? Here are a few simple tricks for making your black and white photography pop!

Did you know there are actually techniques for when to use black and white photography? Sometimes there is something that’s missing from your color photo, and you just can’t put your finger on what could make it better! As most of us know, black and white photography just has a different “feel” or emotion in many cases. How does black and white photography change a photograph? What does it say? Does it bring out emotion or tell a story?  We are going to outline our techniques for when to turn your ok color photos into dramatic black and whites!

Color Correction

Let’s be honest, sometimes we just can’t get our photos to look right because the lighting was bizarre or we just can’t find the sweet spot with our white balance. This is a great time to turn your photo black and white and see if it makes it better. Some shots I would have normally discarded, have turned out as great black and whites. Highlights and shadows don’t change based on the color of a photo, they change depending on the light. Many photographers intentionally shoot with black and white in mind, so back to a photography basic…LIGHT is everything.  One technique in particular is using back light to create beautiful photos (both in color and black and white).

Classic/Timeless Look

Black and white photography

There is something so classic about a clean black and white. Maybe it reminds us of when photography didn’t have the capability of utilizing color. The cool thing about black and white photography is that you often can’t date it.  You could literally replicate a photo from the 19th century and have a hard time telling the difference.  Who doesn’t love those amazing black and white wartime photos? Black and white photography is simple, clean and really can send your imagination into overdrive! These photos are always interesting because it forces our brains to create the scene in color.

Sending a Direct Message

Black and white photography eliminates the the distraction of color.  It tends to bring direct focus to your subject and can emphasize a message you’re trying to convey.  If in doubt, turn your photo black and white and see if it feels more “powerful” to you.  The drama of shadows and highlights tends to draw the audience to focus on the story, and not the details of color. Try it out and see what you think!

Enhancing Negative Space

When you want to draw the eye to something in your photo, we use leading lines, framing and other techniques for composition! Changing a color photo to black and white can also change the way your eye is drawn to a subject in your photo. In this case below, the negative space of the water and the reflection highlights draw your attention right to the moon on the horizon (and then the small boat right below the horizon). The boat, and the moon in this photo would be harder to spot if it were in color.

Black and white

Emphasizing your Subject

Sometimes when the background of a photo is a solid color or textured, we can change to black and white because it will draw the attention to your subject immediately. In the case below, the green texture of the leaves and grass is beautiful, but it is equally as cool in black and white. The highlights in the man’s face creates a more dramatic feel in black and white, leaving him the center of attention, rather than the background.

Showing Emotion

Showing emotion and connection is something I think most portrait photographers try to achieve in their photographic art. You want your photo to tell a story, and we can do that by removing the story of color. We don’t NEED to see color in these photos, because we want the focus to be on the emotion. The photo below would not be as powerful in color and the highlights and shadows would get lost as well.

Black and white photography

When NOT to use Black and White…

There are definitely some instances where changing your color photos to black and white simply don’t have the impact we’d like it to! You eye will start to notice these things when you are further along your photography journey! There are NO set rules, obviously, but there are some instances where changing your photos will take away from the story more than it will add.

Distracting Background

Sometimes if an image has a really busy background, turning it black and white will confuse the audience. If the highlights and shadows are scattered throughout the photo, your eye simply doesn’t know where to go first.  It could be attracted to the patch of light, a white shirt, or a lightly colored patch of grass in the background.  In the photo below, the highlights in the black and white are all over the place, and don’t draw your eye to one specific subject.  It’s not a BAD photo in black and white, but it doesn’t really add any dimension or story particularly.

When Color Draws you TO your Subject.

In many cases, color can really enhance a photo because it draws your eye to the lightest part of the image. Again, the black and white version isn’t wrong or bad, but you can see that the baby isn’t as much the focus as the he is in the color version.  The best part about photography is that it’s all subjective!

black and white photography tips

When it comes to black and white photography, there are no set rules! Whenever you’re feeling like your photo could use a little more of that “it” factor, try turning your photos from color to black and white! If you’re not sure how to do this, try out Cole’s free presets! There are 15, completely free, Lightroom presets that have both color and black and white options! You really can’t go wrong!