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black and white / monotone imagery


  • digital B&W photographs are an abstracted photographer's interpretation of reality
  • they are not simply a “convert to B&W” version of a colour image as conversion to B&W should be a photographer's journey, hopefully starting with pre-visualisation before taking the image, then optimising the colours to then provide opportunities to maximise contrast differences between various coloured subjects in the image to create a different aesthetic and emotive feel
  • in the days of the B&W film photographer, they HAD to achieve this contrast by using glass filters on the lens as the image was shot, thus to darken the blue sky, they might use a red filter, to improve skin tones, they might use a yellow-green filter, etc.
  • the digital photographer has a massive advantage in that they can apply any colour filter and range of colour filters AFTER the shot has been taken, and to not use this advantage is to not make the most of your imagery an your vision.

why create B&W or monotone images?

  • taking the colour elements out of the image can:
    • simplify the image
    • abstract the image
    • make it feel more neutral, peaceful or ethereal
    • emphasize textural elements while de-emphasizing colour variances
    • create dynamic contrasts using the colour differences
    • place more emphasis on your subject than on distracting colours
    • force the viewer to create their own interpretation of the abstracted imagery


  • this is largely a result of many hours of experimenting with post-processing to discover what is possible, and then take that cognitive experience with you to the field and allow you to imagine a scene with your B&W post-processing
  • alternatively, mirrorless cameras are increasingly allowing you to SEE in REAL TIME an image in B&W with a substantial degree of colour filtration and contrast curve adjustments already applied - perhaps the best example of such a camera is the Olympus Pen F digital with its front dial dedicated to this purpose
  • YOU SHOULD SHOOT IN RAW to maximise post-processing capabilities

post-processing steps

optimising colour values

  • ensure your monitor is colour calibrated as otherwise there is a risk of unwanted subtle color casts being present in shadows and highlights
  • consider increasing saturation to allow greater colour contrasts but avoid posterisation
    • in each colour channel, move the curve sliders to each end of the image histogram for that channel

convert to B&W

  • there are many ways to do this and the way you choose may depend on the colour elements in your image
  • generally avoid “convert to grayscale” as you generally want to keep it in full RGB colour space
  • in Lightroom, Develop Module:
    • one can use B&W Mix section to adjust all the colour filters
    • one can also be lazy and just apply a preset optimised for that style of image and then tweak it as needed
  • in Photoshop:

optimise global contrast

  • adjust curves

apply local contrast if needed

  • use dodge/burn brushes
  • use of gradient tools

apply colour tinting if desired

  • can use the curves to adjust a particular colour channel
  • can apply a preset
  • can use split toning function


  • consider using the printer driver's B&W settings to get richer blacks as it will then use black inks instead of colour inks, and these can even be blacker than silver gel prints when printed on glossy paper
photo/bw.txt · Last modified: 2016/07/26 22:02 by gary1

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