Black and white photography is a fun endeavor because it gives the images we create a classic, crisp look - assuming we go about it in the right way.
But as you might have guessed from the title of this article, there are plenty of things that can go wrong when creating black and white images, mistakes that we’ve all made at least once (and probably make far more often than we’d like to admit!).
To help keep you on the straight and narrow, we’ve assembled three of the biggest mistakes photographers make when working in black and white.
Mistake #1: Shooting in Poor Lighting
One of the benefits of working in black and white is that it is more forgiving than color photography when it comes to lighting. A prime example of this is shooting during mid-day. When working in color, the harshness of the light and the resulting bright highlights and shadows are difficult to work with in color imagery. However, because black and white images thrive on a high dynamic range, midday light is workable for some subjects.
Though challenging lighting is doable for black and white photography, that’s no excuse to shoot in conditions that are just plain bad. The mistake here is not matching the lighting to your subject. As noted above, mid-day lighting is workable for some black and white subjects, like a landscape. Portraits, on the other hand, will still suffer from harsh areas of light and shadow under the midday sun, even if the image is converted to black and white. Note in the image above how the lighting is soft and even, creating a top-notch portrait. In short, black and white isn’t the solution for all bad lighting - you still need to consider what lighting is best for the subject you’re photographing.
Mistake #2: Using In-Camera Conversion
Using the in-camera black and white shooting mode is a big no-no. The algorithms used by your camera to make the conversion are not good. In fact, compared to what you can do in a program like Lightroom or Photoshop, your camera’s black and white conversion tools are absolutely terrible. If you’re shooting in black and white, you’re doing your images a disservice.
Creating the best black and white images results from shooting in color and in RAW, then converting the image to black and white in post-processing. This means that the image file will contain a much larger range of details and tonal values and give you much more information to work with in post-processing. Had the image above been converted to black and white in-camera, the tonal range, which is critical to the impact of the shot, would be greatly diminished.
Mistake #3: Having Bad Composition
Oddly enough, some photographers think that a black and white treatment will mask compositional errors. However, this could not be further from the truth. Stripped of its color, a black and white image actually relies more heavily on having strong compositional elements. The best black and white images utilize features like lines and textures, patterns and shapes, negative space and dynamic range to build interest in the scene, as was done in the image above.
That means that when you create a black and white image, you really have nowhere to hide. Poor compositional choices will be on full display and have a greater negative impact on how your image is received by the people viewing it. Just like using poor lighting for the subject and using the incorrect means of converting your images to black and white, making bad compositional decisions will render your images ineffective.
So, the next time you’re out shooting and you want to create eye-catching black and white images, keep these tips in mind. Mind the lighting, incorporate strong compositional elements, and convert the image to black and white in post-processing, and your results will be for the better!
More on Black and White Photography
Interested in seeing the power of Lightroom for creating dynamic black and white images? Check out the video below! In it, YuriFineart gives an in-depth tutorial highlighting an easy, ten minute workflow for converting color images to black and white.