Black and White Photography

Black and White Photography

Hi there folks. I’ve been having a tidy out this week. It’s amazing how much junk you can accumulate without even realising it. It was great to finally free up some space and to find a few things I had totally forgotten that I had! One such item being my trusty Nikon F1 SLR film camera. Ok ok. Film is obsolete and digital is the future, I know. And it’s actually more expensive to shoot film and have it processed in this day of age anyway, so why would I bother doing so? Two words: Black and White! (Well that is actually three but you know what I mean). Yes, digital cameras can shoot in black and white and even colour photos can be converted to black and white (or monochrome to use the technical term) using the latest photo software. But nothing captures the true essence of black and white photography as well as good, old fashioned film. It is all in the grain, trust me. Just check out all the amazing black and white photography online if you don't believe me! So let us use this blog post to explore the topic in a little more depth.


Seeing In Black And White

This is quite a cliched piece of advice but is as true and relevant now as when the phrase was first coined. Learning to see in black and white is the key to taking your black and white photography to the next level. But what exactly does it mean? When we use this phrase we are encompassing the importance of composition, quality of light, tonal range, tonal separation and contrast as building blocks to the perfect monochrome image. As a black and white image is devoid of colour, you have to rely solely on the aforementioned elements to create a photo with punch. A great colour image may not necessarily be so great when converted to black and white. It is learning to spot a scene with the collective conditions that will combine to make a great black and white image that we are alluding to when we say “learning to see in black and white”.

black and white photography

Quality of Light

Light quality should always be your number one priority as a black and white photographer. The golden hours of daybreak and dusk provide the perfect diffused lighting for black and white landscape scenes where as a one light setup can provide the perfect “Rembrandt” lighting for a black and white portrait. It is essential to maintain detail throughout the full tonal range avoiding blown out highlights or crunched shadows, although high contrast, high key and low key images can also be a lot of fun. Take this photo of a wendy house for example:

wendy house

Tonal Separation

A black and white image without adequate tonal separation is no fun for the viewer. In the absence of colour, it is difficult for the viewer to distinguish the form of the various elements in the frame. We have to rely on opposing tones to do this for us. To utilise tonal separation to its best, look for high contrast scenes where the elements of the scene are variously in shadow or highlight. This will help you achieve the separation that you require for a great photo in terms of depth and dimension. It is possible to use colour filters attached to your lens to create this tonal separation when it doesn’t exist in normal lighting conditions.


The rule of thirds and  leading lines still apply when it comes to black and white photography, but shape, texture and pattern will also compliment your black and white image and help take it to another level. Reflections and long exposures also work extremely well!


It is possible to set up your own darkroom to develop your black and white film once exposed, but much more advisable to send it off to a specialist lab, especially if you don’t want to risk fogging, under or over developing or ruining your precious photos in any other manner. The lab will also be able to scan the resulting negatives in for you allowing you to easily work with them in Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop. There are also an abundance of online labs that will be able to print your images to an excellent standard once edited.


To get a better understanding and appreciation of the nuances of black and white photography, I would recommend investing in a respected book on the subject, such as John Hedgecoe's Complete Guide to Black and White Photography. The same principles apply today as they did way back when, so don’t be put off by the age of the book. Read the review here:

black and white photography book


Anyway folks, that is enough from me for today. Even if you haven’t got a film camera, why not try taking some black and white photos on your smartphone. They can be a lot of fun. Be sure to send them into the usual address! Speak soon.