If you’re ready to give black and white photography a try, but aren’t sure what subject matter is best suited for a black and white treatment, give this list a quick read for some great inspiration.
If you’ve ever seen a black and white landscape by Ansel Adams, then you know the possibilities are endless when it comes to photographing nature’s beauty and converting it to black and white. When a landscape is turned into black and white, its shapes become the central components of the shot, thus necessitating the presence of various forms within the landscape, as is the case in the image above. Landscapes that are partially bathed in light and shadow are ideal subjects as well. The areas of brightness and darkness give the illusion of additional shapes in the scene while providing added dimension to the shot.
Portraiture is a no-brainer when it comes to subjects that are ideal for black and white conversion. With a lack of color, greater attention is drawn to the model’s face, and in particular, his or her eyes. Additionally, if the model has a lot of character in their face (i.e. wrinkles), that texture will come out well with a black and white treatment. If the model is wearing texture-rich clothing, it will also translate well into black and white.
Still lifes might be among the oldest photography subjects, but they still present interesting opportunities for black and white photography. When considering objects to include in a black and white still life, pay particular attention to their shape. Since the composition will be relatively simple with the smaller subject matter, there needs to be interesting lines and forms to engage the viewer’s eye. To pump up the interest, manipulate the lighting to emphasize the shapes of the objects even more. Experiment with one or two lights, flashes and strobes, side lighting, backlighting, and so on.
Like landscapes, architecture makes a high-quality black and white subject because of the interesting forms in different buildings; like portraiture, the texture of buildings - the stone, metal, and glass that create their facades - helps generate a visually engaging display. When looking for architecture to photograph in black and white, look for interesting angles and perspectives from which to shoot. Try looking straight up and frame a shot from a bug’s eye view. Conversely, get up higher than your subject and shoot downwards for a bird’s eye view. Doing so will allow you to find alternative shapes in the architecture that you can highlight in your image.
The photos you take while on a journey serve as a reminder of the fun adventures you had while traveling. By converting those images to black and white, you give them a sense of timelessness. Black and white travel photos also give you the opportunity to focus on the special details of the place you’ve visited - the character and emotion of the people, the beauty of the environment, and the interesting culture - because those elements are highlighted once color is stripped away from the scene.
Because textures and forms are so appealing in black and white photography, it makes sense that abstract compositions would translate well into black and white. Geometric shapes and patterns are especially eye-catching in an abstract image, like the staircase in the image above. By stripping color away from the scene, you are more apt to see it as an abstract piece of art, rather than merely picture of a staircase.
When it comes down to it, that’s the power of converting your images to black and white: you see things in terms of their form or shape, texture or pattern, or light and shadow. Even the most mundane subject can be turned into high art; it’s just a matter of finding the right subject matter to begin with.