Ask PMS – What makes a good black and white image?

Have you ever been disappointed after making a colour photo black and white? If so, the chances are that your image had lots of trees, hills, grass and hedgerows in it – or an image with lots of the same kind of colour…and it looked very dull, flat and boring, and well, grey! There’s a very good reason for that:

See, all boring and green?!

See, all black and white and well, boring!

Your camera is always going for ‘middle grey’ (you know how snow can look a bit grey? or your black Lab looks a bit grey?)…well it’s trying to give you a good exposure. Now, imagine if you can, a colour spectrum, a bit like a rainbow, and an equivalent black and white one, with black at one end and white at the other, with all the corresponding tones of grey in between…got it? Well, surprise, surprise GREEN is MIDDLE GREY! Hence flat, boring images.

So, you need to see and think differently! What you’re looking for is CONTRAST…so something that will be white, something that will be black, and shades of grey. You need to see in terms of forms, textures, shapes and tones, and learn not to be distracted by colour. Also, the great thing about colour stuff is that they won’t be the distraction that they may be in a colour photo….that bright red thing will now become just a nice grey tone.

So here we have texture, pattern and plenty of contrast….

….and so it works really well as a black and white image!

Lots of contrast here…

Great black and white photograph!

Another thing…..don’t shoot in your monochrome function in your camera! You will lose lots of information, which you may need in editing later! If you just want to see what it will look like in black and white, fine, go ahead, but always shoot the actual one in colour and turn it into black and white in editing. I always boost the shadows and highlights to give a more dramatic, contrasty photo.  If you’re using certain editing software like Photoshop or Lightroom, you can also tweak the brightness of particular colours in the black and white mix, which you can’t do if you’ve discarded the colour information.

Something that we really like too, that people often forget, is that you don’t need to think in terms of monochrome or colour. Very undersaturated images, with the colour still present but barely visible, can look great. But that’s another story….

Now you see the colour

 

Now you don’t

 

Now you do a bit, just an idea!