Taking on the Black and White Photo Challenge

Many photographers have seen others getting nominated to take the 5-day Black and White Photo Challenge or they themselves took on the challenge. There are those who welcome it and those who cringe in hopes of avoiding it.

The concept is simple enough – take 5 black and white photos in 5 days and nominate 5 new people to do the same.

Taking on the Black and White Photo Challenge
Lily of the Day


Are you one whose thoughts revolve around… Please don’t let someone choose me? And then it happens… Oh no, I was nominated! What do I do now, accept or decline? These thoughts may be swirling through your head: Should I resist or feel honored? I don’t make black and white images.

I don’t get involved in these online viral challenges. Or maybe, I don’t have time or I’m not good enough! It may just feel like you’re putting yourself out there to be judged and compared to all others in the challenge, so that just might scare you away. Don’t let it! Look at it as an opportunity.

In a conversation around the subject with another photographer, she stated, “You realize that you are inadvertently raising the bar for the rest of us, right?” I happen to look at that as a good thing! The challenge can help you to see in an entirely different way and help you develop your photo skills – raise your own bar.

We not only learn from studying other photographer’s images, but ego aside, learn from the constructive input your images receive. It’s an opportunity to grow as a photographer. So there is your answer! Accept the nomination, whether you do it as part of the online process or just challenge yourself to reach a new personal goal.

Black and white whimsical photo of cooling towers making clouds by Marla Meier.

Where Clouds Come From: Share a whimsical story.

As photographers, we take on personal challenges every day to create the very best images possible. We have studied the capabilities of our cameras, read hundreds of articles on light, composition, elements of design and various techniques. We put what we have learned to the test by practicing, practicing and practicing some more each time we go out to photograph. The goal is to improve our skill level so we can reach our own personal photographic apogee. This will indeed challenge you as a photographer.

Now, to get you started in creating images in black and white, I’ll share some thoughts around why you may choose to convert to black and white and provide a few tips.

Why Black and White Photography

By eliminating the distraction of color in photographs, one begins to see the essence of an image. It can simplify an image, which allows the viewer to more easily explore what’s in the image frame and relate to the story or message being told – a minimalist view point. Without the interference of color, the photo can become very compelling and demand the viewer’s attention.

Black and white photo of a wood carver's hands carving a bird by Marla Meier.

 Look for the light to enhance the subject.

Seeing in Black and White: What to Look for…

1. High color contrast – yes color, to create high black and white contrast
2. Textural contrast – smooth to rough
3. Forms
4. Shapes
5. Variations in tonal range – from blacks to whites
6. Contrast in light and shadows – brings out the shapes, textures and forms
7. Play of light – show the ‘structure’ of the subject
8. Flat light – look for elements and subjects with deeper blacks (may need to underexpose by a stop or two)

Black and white photo of the Jacksonville Beach, Florida pier in the fog by Marla Meier.

Fog creates ‘flat’, diffused light, so look for a strong subject with deeper dark tones.

Using any of these elements will help to create an image with more impact or drama.

A few tips…

1. Always photograph in color… To get started in learning to see in black and white, you can switch your in-camera settings to black and white if your camera allows you to do so. If you like the subject as a black and white, then switch back to color and continue on photographing in preferably Camera RAW if your camera has this feature.

Why? Your best digital images will be created as RAW color files. Per John Watts, “There’s more information. An RGB (color) image has 3 times as much information as an image photographed in Grayscale (black and white), and information is King when it comes to digital imaging – the more the merrier, which reduces posterization and pixelization. Which leads to …” Learn more from John in Dynamic Black & White from Your Color Images Using Photoshop.

2. Try to avoid scenes or subjects that do not have a good tonal range or you’ll end up with just an array of grays and the image will look ‘flat’.

Black and white photo of a metal scupture called Industrial Art by Marla Meier.

Industrial Art: The subject has an wide array of tones from whites to blacks.

3. When needed, use a neutral density, split neutral density or polarizing filter to increase the tonal range.

4. A dark subject against a white background or visa-versa will make the subject come alive and make it ‘pop’.

Black and white silhouette photo of a little girl dancing on the beach by Marla Meier.

Take Time to Dance

Black and white photo of a picket fence on the dunes by Marla Meier.


5. As always, composition plays a major role within the image frame, so don’t forget about using all those elements of design to create stunning images.

6. Ask yourself a couple of questions – same as when making color images: Why am I making this image? Can it evoke an emotional or viewer response? Does it tell a story or send a message? How will converting it to black and white enhance it?


Black and white photo of a potter's hands spinning a clay pot on a potter's wheel by Marla Meier.

Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes
God made in establishing tonal relationships!
Ansel Adams


7. Post-processing programs (be sure to work in Layers): Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) in both Photoshop and Lightroom allows you to convert color to black and white. There are also other dedicated software programs that offer a wide range of easy conversion options, such as Google’s Silver Efex Pro with its wonderful Structure tool. It is included in the Nik collection.

The capabilities in these programs allow you to dodge and burn, work with sliders for each color channel, adjust the levels and curves, highlights and shadows, and so much more. They allow great flexibility to create a stunning black and white image.

Black and white photo of Lilies with a moiré effect background by Marla Meier.

A moiré effect was produced by first selecting the background and then moving the individual color hue sliders to get the desired look.

Don’t limit your challenges; challenge your limits. – Jerry Dunn

How do you begin to see more in black and white? As with all your photography endeavors, practice is key, so practice, practice and practice some more. Learn from the failures, try, try again and then enjoy the triumphs. Enjoy the challenge.

Don’t forget to show us your black and white creations on the Apogee Photo Magazine Facebook page and share your photos with the community.<

By Marla Meier, APM Editor & Photographer
Article and photos: © Marla Meier 2014 . All rights reserved

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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