Black and white photography tips

Master the art of monochrome

Shooting great black-and-white images isn't just about converting your images in Photoshop or Elements, it starts before you press the shutter release.

Choosing the right subjects and lighting conditions is the first step, and bright sunny days can be perfect for monochrome shots. Next, it's essential to set up your camera correctly for the best results and get a better idea of how the final image will look before you shoot.

We can't promise that you can do everything to get stunning monochrome photographs in-camera, so you'll need to use some basic software techniques to improve your shots. Follow our advice, and you'll get better black-and-white results and save yourself time by using the right settings and shooting techniques.

Set up your camera

Shooting black and white when it's bright and sunny may seem counter-intuitive, but there are plenty of reasons it's a great option. Bright sunshine creates strong shadows, which produce really striking black-and-white images.

Similarly, fluffy white clouds against a blue sky can look stunning in black and white photography. However, the high-contrast light produced by intense, direct sunshine means that you have to pay attention to your exposure.

In general, you should try to keep detail in the highlights, in the same way that you would when shooting colour images.

Shades of grey

One of the trickiest aspects of shooting in black and white is understanding how the colours in the subject will translate into different shades of grey in your final image.

Selecting the monochrome Picture Style or Picture Control will give you the ability to see exactly how your shot will look.

Once you've selected the monochrome Picture Style, you can preview how the image will look by using Live View, rather than an optical viewfinder. You can also review your images in black and white to give you instant feedback for those that will work in monochrome, and those that won't.

Step by step: Use Picture Styles

Black and white photography

1. Set the Picture Style

You can set the monochrome Picture Style or Picture Control in the camera settings menu of most cameras. For your first steps in black and white photography, leave it on the default settings, without any filters or toning applied to the image.

Black and white photography tips

2. Switch to Live View

Using Live View or an electronic viewfinder, instead of the optical viewfinder, enables you to preview the scene in black and white. This makes it much easier to get a feel for how the tones and colours in the scene will translate in mono.

Black and white photography tips

3. Take a test shot

Live View can give you a good idea of how the image will look, but you'll find that taking a test shot and reviewing it on the rear LCD will often make it easier to really assess the success or failure of the image in black and white.