How to master black and white photography

It's not all black and white

Add essential mood and drama

Although it’s relatively simple to give any image the black-and-white treatment, creating the kind of dramatic, moody black-and-white images you see in the portfolios of many a pro is all about choosing the right subject, getting the lighting  right and making subtle but effective adjustments post-shoot. When it comes to the right subject, you should look out for scenes that are packed with plenty of texture and detail, along with strong graphic elements.

Shooting secrets

It’s always best to capture as much detail as possible in your original image. We used a soft-edged ND grad filter to prevent the sky from becoming over-exposed. 

The lighting needs to lend itself to the style of image. Dark skies are ideal, especially if they are combined with sunlight on foreground subjects to create maximum contrast. But any situation where you can capture plenty of detail in the sky and some contrast in the foreground will do; you may just have to work a little harder on your adjustments to add the atmosphere you need. 

The Photoshop techniques you’ll need to use on shots like this aren’t difficult, but you will need to master local contrast adjustments on Curves adjustment layers, and use the Dodge and Burn tools to selectively lighten and darken the image. 

Conversion tips

Image 1 of 2

Expert dodging

The derelict building is the shot’s main focus, but it’s been thrown into darkness during the black-and-white conversion. To fix this, we used the Dodge tool to reveal hidden detail in the building’s dark slate.

Image 2 of 2

Boost contrast

Both the sky and the foreground lacked contrast in our initial conversion, so we used a Photoshop Curves adjustment layer to selectively increase the contrast in these areas.

Try this...infrared effects

Replicating the effect of using infrared film produces dramatic images with black skies, glowing foliage and lots of grain. It’s possible to capture true infrared images by attaching a special filter to your lens that only transmits infrared ‘light’. You can also get your camera converted to shoot infrared images, but both options are expensive.  

The black-and-white conversion tool in Elements and CS has a preset infrared style, so try using this and then adding a little grain and contrast.

This feature was originally published in Digital Camera Magazine, to subscribe, click here