Photo Tips for Creating Stunning Black & White Images

Black and white photo of Pismo Beach in California by Geoffrey Gilson.
© 2011 Geoffrey Gilson. All rights reserved.

Pismo Beach, California
Exposure 80 – Aperture f/13.0 – ISO 100

The Goal

My objective is to take the viewer straight to the essence of the photo subject, so for me, a black and white image accomplishes that purpose. The image is undisturbed by the subjective matter of colors–“Oh, but I like more bluish, greenish…” .

The combining of black and white conversions to long exposure shots brings about a minimalist feeling and a timeless capture, both of which are ideal for fine art printing.

I like to try to include some motion in my images–clouds pushed by the wind
or stillness with water turned to silk from long exposures.

Black and white photo of Wissant Beach in France by Geoffrey Gilson

© Geoffrey Gilson. All rights reserved.

Wissant Beach, France
Exposure: 40 – Aperture: f/11.0 – ISO 100

Black and white photo of Ninglinspo Waterfall in Belgium by Geoffrey Gilson.

Geoffrey Gilson. All rights reserved.

Ninglinspo Waterfall, Belgium
Exposure 305 – Aperture f/9.0 – ISO 200

The Photo Gear

I shoot with a Canon EOS 7D, but any equivalent camera with a good variety of options will work toward accomplishing the final goal.

For example: Set your camera up in Grid Mode and view your subject via the Live View Mode. These setting will help you to acquire a well composed image.

And because I always use round, screw-in Neutral Density filters (ND 4 to 500) that reduce the intensity of the light and make the viewfinder completely dark, the Live View Mode is the only option for my long exposure shots. The exposure simulation on the display still allows me to set the manual focus and adjust the composition.

I use a 72mm filter for my Canon 17-40mm F4 L and step-up ring to adapt to my other lenses (Canon 70-200mm f4 L USM and Sigma 105 mm DG Macro EX f2.8). Check to see what will work best with your camera.

To find more information about Neutral Density filters, visit Wikipedia.

Most of the time, I use a tripod for the stability and a remote shutter release to avoid any click vibrations you might encounter when the shutter is pressed manually.

Black and white photo of Groynes in France with smooth water by Geoffrey Gilson.
© 2011 Geoffrey Gilson. All rights reserved.

Groynes, France
Exposure 36 – Aperture f/13.0 – ISO 100

Capturing the Image

1. Always take your images in color, so a full range of contrast is acquired. Avoid Sepia and Black and White camera settings.

2. Set your camera’s file format to RAW, so the colors of the photos will not be compressed–avoid jpeg. The RAW format will also allow tons of non-destructive settings in the “digital negative” development.

3. In the end we want to capture the most neutral image possible, so don’t push the exposure too low or high. Select the AV (aperture priority) mode on you DSLR camera, choose the desired focal length and trust your camera for the rest.

4. Try to stay within 100-400 ISO range to avoid excessive noise.

These will get you off and shooting with a good start.

Black and white photo of The Forum in Barcelona, Spain by Geoffrey Gilson. 
© Geoffrey Gilson. All rights reserved.

The Forum, Barcelona
Exposure 90 – Aperture f/16.0 – ISO 100

Black and white photo of Torre Agbar in Barcelona by Geoffrey Gilson.
© Geoffrey Gilson. All rights reserved.

Torre Agbar, Barcelona
Exposure 60 – Aperture f/13.0 – ISO 100

The Post Production Process

There are plenty of options to develop your RAW images, but I prefer using Camera Raw from the Adobe Creative Suite combined with Adobe Bridge and Photoshop CS5.

In Camera Raw I will first straighten my shot when needed. Then I will aim for a neutral output by correcting the exposure. I use the “recovery” option for overexposed areas, but I’m careful not to push it, so as to avoid clipping. Use the over/under-exposed alarm from the Camera RAW histogram. Once happy with the overall exposure I usually export in *.PSD and open up the image in Photoshop.

In Photoshop, I would go for a filter called “black & white”. From this filter option you can control all the color channels and convert the information into black and white contrasts (manually or with presets). Don’t be afraid to push it in extreme settings and see the results. Sometimes I would change the blending mode to “soft light” and repeat the filter a couple of times, playing with masks or not to bring the attention on a specific element of the composition. Of course it’s not a one-shot technique, the best way to learn is to make mistakes, so don’t be afraid to go for it.

I have recently discovered some amazing software that really helps me to get the most of my long exposure black and white shots–Silver Efex Pro. It is a plugin for Photoshop CS5 which allows the user to control the images black and white settings, such as contrast, brightness, structure/softness and more. It provides a very simple means of creating area selection (U-Point technology). With this plugin you can either browse for some common settings and effects or you can also create your own and apply them to your images with ease.

Black and white photo of Guillemins Train Station in Liege, Belgium by Geoffrey Gilson.
© 2011 Geoffrey Gilson. All rights reserved.

Guillemins Train Station, Liege, Belgium
Exposure 10 – Aperture f/9.0 – ISO 100

Additional Tips

1. If you’re a dreamer like I am, try to sketch your ideas on paper when they pop up.

2. Be square-minded. Square formatting really brings a plus to architecture and long exposure shots.

3. Flickr from Yahoo is full of very good quality images, so check them out. It is a very inspiring platform for photographers and it could help you to climb the ladder.

4. You may also want to submit your images for critiques on image sharing communities. I will also be happy to have a look at your work.

I hope this has helped you to get closer to reaching your own goals and I would be very pleased to receive your feedback.

by Geoffrey Gilson

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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