There’s a simple elegance to black and white photography that’s near impossible to compete with. The simplified nature of black and white photos eliminates possible distractions, thereby giving the viewer longer to pause and soak in all other interesting elements of the photo.
Taking the color out of a photo and stripping it down to black and white is a skilled and artistic process. There are some need-to-know tips to getting it just right. Once you’re equipped with all the right information, you can embark on a new photography journey into taking stunningly beautiful black and white photos of your own.
Here’s what you’ll learn today to help you get started…
- Why you should be familiar with taking black and white photos.
- How to take beautiful black and white pictures.
- Top Tips for creating black and white photos.
- Where to find the best black and white presets for photography.
You’ll walk away from this post with greater knowledge of taking black and white photos, but also with a ton of inspiration for taking your own through the incredible images we’re sharing as examples.
Are you ready to jump right into editing in black and white with the perfect presets? Explore our black and white presets for lightroom.
Photo Credit: Erin Drago | Preset: HP5
Why Do You Need to Know Black and White Photography?
Taking black and white photos is a must-know skill all photographers should have in their repertoire. There’s a simple beauty to black and white photos that can’t be duplicated in color. If color photos were always better, black and white photos would have disappeared a long time ago!
Black and white photographers are the ultimate masters of breaking down each element of a photo—from the shapes, textures, subject, mood, and more—to convey a particular message and emotion. It’s a bit of a paradox, because while the photos can be quite simple, they have the ability to evoke powerful thoughts and emotions.
Learning to create emotion-provoking black and white images will help you expand your skills as a photographer and will also challenge you to work outside of your comfort zone, which is always a good thing for those who are more creative at heart.
What’s the difference between black and white and monochrome photos?
Black and white captures are also often referred to as monochrome photography, but the two aren’t exactly the same thing. Black and white photography uses different tones of gray to create a captivating visual end result.
Monochrome photography uses the different tones of one color to create an end result, but that color could be brown, red, purple, etc. So while all black and white photos are monochrome, not all monochrome photos are black and white.
Challenge yourself to take better black and white photos today.
If you want to up your game by putting the tips shared in this post into practice right away, consider doing a black and white photo challenge. A structured challenge can help you build and maintain momentum while working toward your goal of mastering this type of photography.
How to Take Beautiful Black and White Pictures
Just as there is an art to great photography, there’s also an art to creating the perfect black and white photos. It’s going to take more than slapping on a filter at the very end if you want to create really stunning images in black and white. Follow the tips below to create beautiful black and white images every time.
Take a good photo, period.
Underneath every black and white photo is a photo that’s already well composed. Creating great black and white photos takes more than slapping a filter on as an afterthought and calling it a day. The photo itself should already have elements that are pleasing to the eye and ignite curiosity in the viewer.
Start from a place of intention.
There are some subjects that really stand out in black and white, but not all of them. You should have an underlying reason for eliminating color from your photo. If you don’t have a reason, you may want to reconsider your options. Remember that the key is to be intentional and decisive if you want to capture super cool black and white photos.
Consider the emotion you’re trying to convey.
Black and white pictures have a way of evoking emotions on a deep level. If the colored image of your photo isn’t quite meeting the mark, using a preset to create a black and white end result might be just what’s needed to send the message you—as the artist—intend.
Take your photos in colour.
Most cameras have a black and white mode, which you might be tempted to use for black and white pictures. You have two options: take them in color and convert them later, or use this mode on your camera so they are black and white from the start.
So which is best? By taking the picture in color first, you have nothing to lose. You can always adjust your photo as needed in post-production, but you also keep the option to maintain the color photo if you want to.
Think about textures and shapes.
A black and white aesthetic should be used to enhance a photo, not take away from it. Changing a photo from colorful to monochromatic can play a big role in how elements like textures and shapes are received.
Shapes contribute to the overall picture of the image, and texture fills in the fine details. The way these are represented in black and white will have a significant influence on the end result.
Speaking of textures and shapes, patterns are something that tend to pop in black and white. They add a great deal of visual interest, even to the most minimalistic photos. Look for repeating elements in your photos, whether that be by nature or design.
Experiment with your exposure settings.
Trying your hand at black and white photos is the perfect time to experiment with how exposure can create dramatic effects. Play with underexposure and overexposure and see how the photo turns out best. You can also try manipulating the levels of light to achieve your desired result.
Photo Credit: Kyle Meck | Preset: HP5
Top Tips for Creating Black and White Photos
Generally, taking beautiful black and white photos is all about laying the groundwork with your general photography skills, by being intentional, and by considering the message or emotion you want to represent in advance.
That said, if you want to learn about how to take the best monochromatic captures based specifically on the type of photography you practice or the subjects you use, we’re sharing those tips here.
Black and white photos of nature
In black and white, photos of nature can either look ominous or ethereal. This really comes down to elements of contrast and texture, so don’t be afraid to play around with those until you express what you’re trying to with your photo.
Black and white landscape photos
Landscape photos in black and white can be greatly enhanced by manipulating the exposure, because it can help you achieve more striking effects. You can also add interest to a black and white landscape by including an element of interest in the foreground.
Black and white animal pictures
Whether you’re taking photos of exotic wildlife or cute housepets, black and white animal photos tell a story about the animal. Remember this when you’re taking the photo, and consider what you want to say about the subject. There’s also a certain degree of playfulness that can be useful in animal photography, which you can use to your advantage in black and white images too.
Black and white portrait
If you’re taking black and white pictures of people, remember that these types of photos have a way of emphasizing facial expressions. This may dictate the kind of facial expressions you look for when you’re immersed in the creative process. There are black and white portrait rules, remember that harder light will create a more dramatic effect, and softer light sources will create more subtle images.
Best Black and White Lightroom Presets
If you’ve laid all the foundational elements of a really great photo and you’re ready to see it in black and white, you’ll want to know about the best black and white lightroom presets so you can nail the final outcome in post-production.
The best black and white lightroom preset: Ilford Original for Lightroom.
The Ilford Original for Lightroom preset pack creates powerful visuals whether you’re shooting weddings, landscapes, portraits, or something else. This preset pack for desktop includes three looks:
- Pan 5: A rich black and white with moody tones and low grain.
- HP5: A versatile film with medium contrast and grain.
- Delta 3200: Glowing highlights and a thick, expressive grain.
You can learn more about these presets in our post that details How to Edit in Black and White.
If you do a lot of post-production on the go, you can find the best black and white presets for lightroom mobile here: Ilford Original Mobile Presets.
Start on Your Black and White Photography Journey
The best way to start taking beautiful black and white photos is to just go for it. You may not get it perfect right away, but with skills and practice you’ll become more comfortable (or maybe even an expert) in taking black and white photos.
Now you know how to master aesthetic black and white pictures. Ready to learn all about taking the best dark and moody pictures? Get the Ultimate Guide to Dark and Moody Photography and learn the six steps to shooting perfect dark and moody images every time.