Setting the mood — black and white photography

This post first appeared on Photographers Tips.

Black and white photography is simply my favorite, and it should be no surprise that the first real post here is about black and white photography. Simply put, black and white allows you to help set the mood or emotion for a photo. After all, photography is story-telling.

For example, this lioness wasn’t very excited about my presence. Please excuse Instagram’s embedded distortions.

I was able to help express what I felt as her lack of enthusiasm of me being there by turning her into a black and white photo.

Black and white photography often helps bring out shapes and textures in photos and this is where your eye must be zoned. Contrast is a major key. In color photos, color contrasts are your enemy of sorts. They are distractions when you have large amounts of contrasts. In black and white photography, tonal contrasts (the tones from white, gray, and black) really make a photo pop out. For the same reason, black and white photography is often useful in capturing human expression when there are a lot of contrasts in a picture such as a table full of foods, people wearing bright shirts, etc. These things are major distractions from the story that you are trying to tell.




There are advantages to black and white photography in story telling especially when your color photos aren’t the best or simply don’t work. The photo below was of a deer that my labradoodle, Maximus and I came upon while hiking in the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Mix the black and white with the fog and I was able to add some dramatic mood.

Sure, you get the gist of mood, but what are advantages to black and white photography outside of mood?

  • Composition — It focuses on composition. Lines, shapes, and textures come alive with lights and shadows all giving perspective.
  • Distractions — The subject of your story can’t come alive if the audience can’t sift through the noise. Along with distracting colors and objects, sometimes you can save a photo with harsh lighting.
  • It’s a timeless classic.

If you haven’t invested in Adobe Photoshop CC and Lightroom, you probably should. The programs are subscription based but it is worth the money.

Do you need help with balancing your black and white photos and making them pop out? Try the Silver Efex Pro from the Google Nik Collection. It’s free and works along with Photoshop and Lightroom.

Gear used:

Nikon D7200 camera

Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II AF-S Nikkor Zoom Lens

SanDisk ExremePro memory

Adobe Lightroom CC

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