11 Jun What makes a good Black and White photo?
What makes a good black and white photo?
Before we look at what makes a good black and white photo let us first see why we want to create black and white photos. There are so many reasons why we would create a black and white over a colour image and here are just a few. It could be that we’re looking for a certain cool and modern minimalist style. We might be going for a traditional classic photography look. There might even be times when the colour is too overwhelming or awful that we feel the need to remove it. Whatever the reason we need to understand what makes a good black and white photo so that our images look amazing.
What can colour do that Black and white can’t?
Colour is a great mood changer. It can add a sense of mood into an image that black and white just can’t do. Just look at the terminology we use when talking about colour. Warm colours, cool colours. The colour in the image doesn’t have a temperature but our brains ascribe certain feelings to certain colours. Red equates to warmth, comfort, passion etc. Blue equates to cold, loneliness, distance.
Contrasting colours can also augment areas and help to lead the eye around an image. Have a look at these 2 images of the Bugatti car grill below. In the colour image the red logo is the most important feature that your eye is drawn to. In the black and white image our eye fights between the circular logo and the triangle one.
The red colour in the Bugatti grill is what your eye is drawn to
In the black and white version, the eye is drawn towards the teal logo shape
So how can we make our Black and White photos look awesome then?
We have a number of tools at our disposal. Using a combination of these can create a very powerful image. I have listed three of the most important ones below but there are a number of others you will discover yourself.
Our eyes are normally drawn to very clear shapes. Triangles have a particular power to attract our attention but any shape will still add to what makes a good black and white photo.
In the colour image of the Bugatti dashboard and steering wheel, you can see that your eye fights for attention between the steering wheel and the blue of the car body, but with the black and white image our eye just goes straight in to the most important shape that is the logo on the steering wheel.
On the Bugatti dashboard, your eye fights for attention between the blue body and the yellow wood
In this black and white version, the background blue doesn’t distract the eye from the dashboard and wheel and the logo shape is more obvious
Light verses dark
Where colour images use contrasting colours to differentiate areas in a photograph, in black and white photography we can use light and dark areas. Lighter areas with interesting contrast and shapes just scream out ‘look at me’. Darker areas and less detail tend to make the brain work too hard to see the detail so it automatically goes back to the lighter, easier to ‘read’ areas. A contrasting shape will grab the viewer’s attention as easily as a contrasting colour can.
The eye is drawn towards the lighter parts and doesn’t spend much time in the dark shadows
When we look at what makes a good black and white photo, one of the really important weapons we have in our armoury is texture. Texture is the one thing that can really give a black and white image punch. It gives the eye something to hold on to.
Texture is so much more apparent in black and white photos than in colour. Use it to your advantage.
You can see how the texture in the roof really jumps out in the image of the steam traction engine compared to the colour version.
The texture on the roof shows up beautifully on the black and white
The texture on the roof of the colour one is not as obvious
Whatever your reason to create an image in black and white over colour, be sure to make the image interesting. In colour photography we can control the viewer’s eyes and emotions with colour but in black and white photos we only have light to dark tones. Finding shapes in your image as well as textures and contrast will help you to lead the viewer’s eyes around your image. This will enable them to see the image as you envisaged it.
We photographed all the images in this post at the Aldham Steam Rally, UK.