How to Take Better Black & White Photos

You’ve seen great black and white photos in art galleries, newspapers and fashion magazines, but the unique drama and expressiveness of a monochrome picture can be achieved at home, too. Here’s how you can create a striking black and white photo with your Samsung digital camera.

Choosing a Black and White Subject

Shooting in black and white is a bold decision that will immediately affect the mood of your photograph, no matter the subject. Black and white lends itself to a sense of somberness and muted emotion. Stripping color from a traditional shot of a happy occasion can make the scene come across as solemn, even weighty. This isn’t a bad thing—a joy-filled event like a children’s birthday party or carnival can benefit from the judicious use of black and white. But you’ll have to choose your moments carefully, and be sure to take plenty of pictures in color during the session, as well.

How do you decide when and what specific subjects to shoot in black and white? Surprisingly, conditions that are the worst for shooting in color are often the best for shooting in black and white. Dark clouds, harsh shadows, minimal interior lighting—all of these situations will make for terrible color portraits, but are perfect environments for black and white.

What should you shoot? Experimentation will be your guide, but in general, it’s a good idea to seek out unusual subjects and quieter moments. The dead-tired kids at the end of the party, the person sitting by himself and away from the crowd, the dog asleep instead of at play—these are the perfect subjects for a monochrome shot.

Configuring Your Camera

Some cameras include a black and white mode, but you’ll get better results by forgoing a special mode and actually taking the shot in color. The secret: Shoot in RAW mode (which saves photos in uncompressed format, unlike the smaller JPG format), then convert the color image to black and white using software on your computer. (This has the added benefit of letting you decide after the fact if a photo actually looks better in color instead of black and white.)

You don’t have to shoot everything in RAW—these photos take up considerably more storage space than JPGs—but if you think a setup might look good in black and white, change your mode to RAW and give it a spin.

The other key setting is to dial down your ISO level. Higher ISO settings are designed for shooting in darker situations, which are great for black and white shots, but add grainy noise to your pictures. This grain doesn’t look very good in color photos, but in black and white shots it’s even worse, coming across like snow falling across your scene. Keep the ISO as low as possible for the best results.

Setting Up Your Shot

With your lighting and camera settings figured out, the hard work is done. The same rules that apply to color photography will guide you toward great black and white shots, too.

That said, you can optimize for black and white by paying attention to a few specific details in the frame. Here are some of the key things to look for when you’re setting up for a black and white photo.

  • Shadows and Lines. Look for contrast when setting up your shot. Deep shadows come across dramatically in black and white, as do long lines—think street markings or rows of crops.
  • Smoke and Clouds. Whether big and puffy or light and wispy, clouds always look fantastic in black and white. Smoke, be it barbecue or smokestack, looks equally striking.
  • Water. The ripples and waves of any body of water turn a typical seascape into something almost abstract.
  • People. Black and white adds interest and subtlety to a face, with wrinkles and scars taking on a measure of drama and poetry. Subjects with less-weathered visages come across as even more striking and beautiful.

Photo Credits: Samsung

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