Black and white photography

Black and white photos do no have the luxury of using color to catch the viewer. Instead we must capture the other parts of a scene to being able to deliver the feeling we got. There is also of course some photos that have better capabillties to become a great black and white photo then other. Urban photography is very trendy today and most photographers have tried it in some way. Often the objects found for this kind of photos are torn, old and have a high amount of contrast dy rust, old paint and materials and also quite often a less amount of ambient light. The perfect urban photo can be found in a sewer pipe with no direct sunlight or in an abandoned and shut building. Both of the examples with very low light. Low light is not always bad though, by utilizing the low light and beeing able to capture longer exposures we can create beautiful photos of ugly things and areas.

Often black and white photography can seem to be easier then color photography due to its forgiving effect. But in fact it is the complete differece. To being able to capture a great black and white photo the photographer have to see beyond the colors onto the object itself.

Different photos can call for different settings to be used to utilize the most of the situation. A nice blue sky can when desaturated look pale and lifeless instead of varm and beautiful. Using filters can help you to change the feeling of a black and white photo by bringing you more contrast and more details between the different colorscales which you are to remove.

  • If you have a very bright sky you can use a red filter to darken it while keeping the details in the foreground.
  • To bring more life into mist and fog you can go for a blue filter which will help those greys to jump out of the blur.
  • Green filters are great to use to capture the difference in greens while photographing vast landscapes or scenes of nature.

Camera settings
Most cameras today have the option of saving photos directly in black and white, both when using JPG and RAW. As most books and guides will tell you the best way to photograph black and white photos is to do so using RAW but not to use your cameras black and white setting. The main reason for this is so that you keep the colorinformation if you for any chance would change your mind afterwards and feel that the photo look better in color. You can also use the colorinformation to keep a single object in color while the rest of the photo is in black and white. This is an effect that have become very trendy lately and can be seen in many places.

“But if I shoot in color and RAW, how do I get my photos to become black and white?”, you might ask. Well, photoeditors today can create great black and white scales of color photos and the ways of desaturate an image are many. The easiest way that is almost always an option in editors is to change the colormode to black and white. This is a technique that might be a bit rough and you do not have as much control over it as you want but as an amateur photographer it will be enough for you to start getting a grasp on the posibilities.

Noise have an tendency to show even more in a black and white photo which mean that we should always keep the ISO-setting of the camera as low as possible. As soon as we start moving up the ISO we introduce noise which will show in our photos and sometimes this is something we want but most of the time we do not want this. It is due to this better to keep the ISO at the lowest setting possible for the scene and instead add noise in post-production if wanted.

General tips
A bright and sunny day can be great for your regular photos but might create slighly overexposed photos in black and white. To counter this at an early stage try to underexpose a couple of steps to keep the spectrum more balanced.

Great scenes for black and white photographs

  • Urban photography and decay in general have a natural feeling of desaturarion.
  • Architecture and abstract creations can be hard to photograph in black and white due to many areas with plain colors but in an interesting angle they can be great.
  • Landscapes can sometimes loose their grandness due to the strong colors. By removing the colors the observer can focus on the whole picture and not the stray details.
  • Textures exist all around us from macro-photos of a leaf to the patterns of a brick wall, and they all is just made for black and white photos in high contrast.

Reduce camera shake

If there is one thing that is an issue for all photographers alike it is camera shake. Experience and practice can minimize the shake from the hands but it can still never be completely removed. Due to this there is a couple of small tips you can use to reduce the camera shake.

First of all we can try to identify what factors we have that will introduce shake to your photographs. One might think that all shake is generated by the photographers hands but as we will see this is not always the fact.

Handshake is the form of shake we get from taking photos while holding the camera. To reduce this you can do any of the following:

  • Use a tripod on which the camera is safely mounted. To even further reduce the shake check so that the tripod is firmly on the ground and not in direct wind.
  • Lean against something solid like buildings, trees or a light post. You can even press the camera body firmly against the surface of any of the above to fixate it. Use caution while pressing the camera against a surface though not to harm the camera.
  • Lay the camera on anything you might find like stones, fencepost or cars. Utilize your surroundings and try to find “natural tripods” to fixate the camera. If you take a custom of bringing a small beanbag together with your camera equipment this is a great tool to use while using natural tripods.

Trigger shake is caused by the trigger itself while a photo is taken. By using a remote to shoot you remove the chance of you pressing down the trigger causing any shake. If you do not have a remote you can also use the timed shot if this feature is available in your camera and for example set the timer to a few seconds before the shot is taken. This time will let the camera settle after you stopped touching it.

Apart from these physical changes in your handling you can also use the settings in your camera to reduce shake. The longer time the shutter is open, the more sensitive to shake it become. Because of this try to take photos with as fast shutter-speed as possible while still getting enough light. By using a lower zoom or getting closer to your object you can also reduce some shake. This because shake originating from a single point is experienced greater at a longer distance.

So there you have it, a few tips on reducing camera shake.

Good luck!

Also check out the article about taking photos in low-light using techniques taught to sharpshooters.

Sensor sensitivity (ISO)

If you are using or have used an analog camera with “real film” you might have seen that film is sold with different ISO-values. This value tells us how sensitive the film is to light and by photograph using film of different ISO we can manage to get photographs in very low light as well as photos in a sunny day. In digital cameras the same value can be set telling the sensor inside the camera how sensitive it should be to light.

The most used span of ISO today is between ISO 100 and ISO 800. At the lowest value we need the most amount of light to get a good photo. When we increase the ISO value it mean that we can take the same photo as before but using less light.

The downside of a higher ISO is that the higher the value we use, the more blur we introduce into the photo. The real pros of using a higher ISO is that we can use a faster shutter even though the light is low. This is very useful if you are to take a photo in low light and have no tripod, by boosting the ISO you can keep the shutter fast and still get a good photo.

A rule of thumb is to keep the ISO at the lowest possible setting for the situation. In other words, start out by trying to take the photo using a low ISO and increase it until you get the outcome you were looking for.

Introduction to aperture

When a photo is taken by a camera the light from the outside pass through an iris or a diaphragm before it reach the light sensitive sensor inside the camera body. The size of the opening in the iris is refered to as aperture and is expressed in f-numbers or f-stops. F-stop is then abbreviated as f/1.8, f/11, f/22 and so forth.

The higher the f-stop value, the smaller the opening in the iris become and a lower value then give a bigger opening. The effect this has on the photo taken is that the smaller the opening is, the bigger is the area in the photo which will be in focus. In the photo below a very small f-stop was used which resulted in a photo where there is only a small point on the top of the nail which is in focus while the rest of the photo is blurry.

Photo taken with a small f-stop
Small f-stop. Photo by nzgabriel@Flikr

In the photo below we can see the opposite use, a big f-stop, used to get the entire length of the photo to remain in focus. When we speak of focus in this manor in our photographs this is often referred to as the Depth of Field.

Big f-stop
Big f-stop. Photo by Benjamin Rossen@Flickr


  • Aperture and shutter-speed is the two key factors which will help you get a photo with good exposure.

Introduction to shutter speed

The camera is a closed device which stop all light from entering the body, the only part made to let light into the body and onto the film or light-sensitive electronic sensor is called the shutter. A number of different design exist but the purpose is the same even though the look can differ.

By selecting how long this shutter is open we can control how much light that we get into the sensor and by this decide the amount of light which will end up in the photo. To decide on how long we should keep the shutter open we have to think of two things. First of all, how much light is there around you where the photo is to be taken. If the photo is taken on a bright summer day we probable can keep the shutter open for a very short time but still get enough light onto the sensor to create a good looking photo. If there is not as much light surrounding the photographer, perhaps the photo is to be taken at dawn or in the middle of the night, we need to open up the shutter for a longer amount of time to let in enough light.

As that was not enough we also have to take in a second factor when it comes to shutter speed. If we are to take a photo of an object that is moving the slower shutter will give us a smeared look on the photo. When we take a photo with a slower shutter we can think of the shot as if we were actually filming instead and the photo we end up with is the merged photo of all the frames we took during the time the shutter was open. This is a great technique to take stunning photos of soft flowing water as seen in the photo below.

Photo by makelessnoise@Flickr
Slow shutter. Photo by makelessnoise@Flickr

Photographs with a fast shutter is often refered to “frozen time”-photos because the look one achieve with a fast shutter is like the time froze and all details is preserved. This is often used when taking photos of sport events and such fast moving objects.

Frozen time photo
Fast shutter. Photo by star5112@Flickr

Sometimes having a shutter speed of up to a whole second wont be enough time to receive the amount of light to create a photo. To coop with this many newer cameras have an ability to keep the shutter open for a very long time, often refered to as bulb-photographing. Photos of nightskies often use this technique to have the shutter open for so long that light from the distant stars have time to reach the sensor in amounts to create a photo. Keeping the camera still without aid for many seconds, minutes or sometime even hours is not possible. A tripod is needed to do this.

So to conclude about shutter speed.

  • Shutter speed is measured in seconds. For example 1/100 as a hundredth of a second or 1/20 which then is a twentieths of a second. Note that 1/20 is a slower shutter then 1/100.