3 Techniques to Enhance Your Photos in Black and White

You probably practice black and white photography because it fits perfectly with your character and your way of seeing the world. But have you ever thought about categorizing black and white techniques to channel your creativity? Have you ever tried to define specific themes within this realm to better define your style?

In this article, I will give you three techniques for black and white photography. They will allow you to better incorporate this creative photo technique. You will be able to avoid unnecessary questions at the time of shooting and processing. You will become more efficient, thereby becoming more creative because you will have more time to spend on details and design.

Landscape in black and white of Arches National Park in US.
Landscape in black and white of Arches National Park in US.

This article will help you understand how to implement a new tool in your photography toolbox. By implementing it, you will make your photos even more interesting and instill in them true meaning.


The Origins

The advent of digital photography has allowed more people than ever before to practice photography. This means of expression has been democratized. Everyone is now able to take pictures with a mobile phone, a tablet, or a digital camera. Software has followed the same trend. It is increasingly easy to use and is available on all media.

In short, anything is possible, and anyone can do it.

However, taking good pictures has never been so difficult. Indeed, the offer is plethoric. Everyone has an opinion on equipment, development, and decisions made out in the field. Forums and websites are full of tips and tricks. The number of books on photographic technique is exploding.

Finally, everyone knows or thinks they know so much about this topic. But few photographers create good pictures. The reason? Too many techniques and too many tools kill creativity. Most photographers have this blank sheet syndrome. They have the knowledge and the equipment, but they do not know where to start.

This is one of the reasons I decided to create this blog about the photography approach.

Black and white photography is no exception to the rule. The literature on the subject is incredibly rich. Black and white photos are everywhere.

And yet, transitioning to only black and white is a real headache for many photographers. They do not know where to start. They test software and experiment using techniques without achieving an interesting result.

You may be one of those photographers. But if you are reading this column, you have identified your problem and want to find a solution. You have made the first step.

In my work as a professional photographer, I face the same problem as you. I cannot spend my time evaluating technical solutions for my business as a photographic artist. My time is not extensible. My days are only 24 hours long, just like yours. I have become very analytical and systematic in my photographic activity. And because of its reward, I have decided to share with you three techniques to build and create your black and white photos, so that you may also achieve success.

You may want to add your own. I never pretend to know everything. But at least you will have a starting point to better frame your black and white photos.

But before explaining them to you, I would like to go back to some essential points of black and white photography.


Composing a Black and White Photo

The use of black and white photography should be a conscious choice for you.

When you take a picture in the field, with very few exceptions, your camera takes color pictures.

Even RAW files can be attached to a given gamut.

All photos taken by any camera are in color. It is your choice if they become black and white photos. However, when you compose a photo and if you want to turn it into black and white, you must think in terms of black and white. You must learn to speak its language.

The first step to building your photo is to compose it for black and white. I want to remind you that photographic composition means organizing the photographic elements of your scene in a harmonious way.

When composing for a color photo, you can afford to be forgiving and not rigorous. Indeed, color can be an illusion. It can easily hide mistakes. A color can catch the eye. It can catch and attract the attention of a person who will not notice your small mistakes in the organization of your composition. When you compose a black and white photo, you must be very rigorous and precise. Color is no longer there to hide and mask the imperfections of a photo.

This is the main reason why I like black and white photography. It forces you to think, to reflect, and to leave nothing to chance. Black and white photography is a real school that will teach you the meaning of excellence.

A black and white photo requires formalism to compose well. To properly compose a black and white photo, you must:

  • Consider the patterns present in the scene.
  • Look for possible symmetry.
  • Identify lines and shapes.
  • Study the sense of movement in the scene.

Visual Ambiguity

Before addressing the framing in black and white, it seems important to me to address an essential point that you must make to create photos that have impact. Your work will hold the attention of the viewer upon his first glance.

It is the concept of visual ambiguity. I will not go into the whole theory of the concept here, because entire theses have been devoted to it.

Simply put, visual ambiguity is the fact of interpreting an image in two separate ways. The same viewer can interpret and perceive the same image in two ways. He may see totally different things in it.

One of the most famous examples is the drawing titled "What's Inside a Man's Brain? At first glance, we see Freud's head. But when you look at it, you see a naked female body. Search on the Internet and you will find it. I advise you to search with the words 'What's On a Man's Mind'. The Internet is full of these kinds of images. Most of them are drawings.

Visual ambiguity is based on the very properties of vision, which intricately link perception, memory, and cognition.

They are also known as hidden, potential, or accidental images. These images pose difficulties for analysis and often present a challenge for interpretation.

The most important thing for you, photographer, is to remember that the visual ambiguity of your photos will force the viewer to analyze your photos twice.

It is simply perfect for photo art because every time a viewer takes the time to read one of your photos, they will establish a relationship with it. Isn't that what you are looking for? It is a method of building interesting photos.

You should try to create more photos that have a strong visual ambiguity. This way, your photos will be studied carefully and, above all, analyzed.

To build and create photos that have a strong visual ambiguity, it is enough that the main subject is only revealed by looking at the photo for a long time. This is the opposite of documentary or illustrative photography where the subject is seen in an obvious way, without analysis and interpretation.

Black and white photography is a perfect technique to build pictures with strong visual ambiguity. It is a technique that allows for interpretation to take place. By looking at black and white photos, a viewer will establish a link between the images and the photographer.

First, however, you will need to create visual ambiguity. You may need to create mysterious pictures, which are not readable at first glance. They must be interpreted in different ways.


Framing in Black and White

When you compose a scene, you choose all the photographic elements and organize them in a harmonious way.

The next step is to fit this scene into a photo. This is the framing process.

The choice of the framing is an essential step because you have chosen the scene according to your photographic approach. You have composed according to the harmony. The framing is what the viewers will see. They are not in the field with you.

I used to say during my photo workshops that the framing reinforces the composition and your photographic approach. That is why you must take exceptional care of it.

The photographic framing inscribes your vision and your signature in a finished scene. You may select to display your photo in a rectangle in the format 3:2, 16:9, 2:1, 22:9 or in the square format of ratio 1:1.

Your way of framing brings an extraordinarily strong element to the content of your photos whether it is the emotions you want to express, the messages you want to transmit, or the aestheticism you want to highlight.

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Black and white photography is much more difficult and complex to implement than color photography. Indeed, in black and white, the elements of composition are less numerous than in color.

In a black and white photo, you only have 256 shades of grey, white, and black, whereas in a color photo you have millions.

In a black and white photo, you have light and dark areas. These are what create the contrast that makes black and white photos so interesting.

These are called “tones” in photography. When framing in black and white, the tonal elements can be vertical, horizontal, or slanted. You must choose them well and arrange them to create a framing that will give strength to your composition.

Another way to frame well in black and white is to use a frame within a frame. For example, a hole in the foliage of a tree can be used to show a landscape.

If you manage to mix vertical, horizontal, and slanted tones withing a framed photograph, you will produce an extraordinarily strong image because it will be easily readable.

The Photographic Language of Black and White


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