Photography: Thinking in black and white

February 26, 2016

Over the last few weeks I have been learning about taking my camera off auto mode and learning about exposure. I have found out how to change the aperture on my camera as well as how to blur the background and create an artistic image. I found out how to capture fast moving objects without getting blur by changing the shutter speed and also figured out what ISO is and how to change it. I also found out why the camera does not always show an image the way you expect by learning about how the camera sees the world.  These are all aspects of photography and a good photography will instinctively know how to adjust these values and get a correctly exposed picture without thinking about it. However it takes more than a correctly exposed photograph to make a good photo. Photography can be compared to art, a good photo will have a good composition and evoke emotions in the viewer.

Thinking in black and white

When taking a photo it is so easy just to point your camera randomly at a scene and press the button. How often have you taken a photo and looked at it afterwards to see you have placed a tree so it looks like it is growing out of someone’s head or something similar? When you take a photo you need to learn to analyse the scene before you take it. You need to think about the composition and the light and try to get a shot that works. Shooting in black and white helps remove distractions from the image and makes you think about the image you are taking. You really need to think about shape and form, light and shadows in order to get a good shot. This is a shot I took in the Grainger Market in Newcastle Upon Tyne, which works really well in black and white.

The weigh house in the Grainger Market, Newcastle

The strong shapes and lines are accentuated in black and white which makes for a good image. Once you can start visualising in black and white you get a feel for strong composition. It is however a hard thing to do.

King Charles Spaniel in black and white

This shot of my dog has also worked well, the two different textures of background on the quilt accentuate his eyes and make him look soulful. Once you start shooting in black and white you need to take into account shapes and textures and start thinking more about what you are taking.

Strangely enough I have just received my first magazine in a subscription to Digital Photographer which has a section  about fine art photography in black and white. This made interesting reading.  It offered ten techniques to help shoot fine art black and white photographs which really made me think.


The four main tips that caught my eye are the ones I am going to try concentrating on for all my photographs. These were:

  1. Capture compelling subjects
  2. Establish a style
  3. Compose selectively
  4. Make use of shadows

The subject of a photograph is the thing that draws your eye to it. So often I take photos that do not have a subject, they are just a landscape or a scene. I want to think about what I am taking photographs of. I also want to have a consistent style so people can tell that a photograph is my work. Composition is a skill I need to work on so I need to start thinking about photographs before I take them. Shadows are particularity interesting in black and white photographs as so often they can not be seen when the photograph is in colour. They can be used to help accentuate a photograph. I am going to continue to try and capture photographs in black and white to help with my composition skills.
A snowy street

A snowy street, you can see the snow falling as slightly greyer marks in the sky, in colour these were not visible.

Going back to the past

This thinking in black and white took me back to the past and my first camera. This was a film camera and I was given black and white film to work with as my dad could develop this himself. In the days of film processing was expensive and it was so easy to make mistakes when learning with a camera. The pictures were developed onto photographic paper which I kept stored in boxes. I have since scanned a few of these pictures and this one of the Staten Island Ferry is one that I really like. These photos are really windows on the past.


It seems really strange to be going back to the days of black and white film in order to take my photography forward. Do you take photos in black and white? Do you find it hard to do?

12 responses to “Photography: Thinking in black and white”

  1. Ninjacat says:

    I do love your black and white photography

  2. Galina V says:

    Another useful post on how to learn the tricks and art of photography. Love Eddie’s photo, though I think his eyes would look soulful in whichever colour you choose. 🙂

  3. This was such an interesting post Alison. As you say, the black and white images make you think more of composition, light and shadow. I love black and white images, we even asked for a couple from our photographer when we got married. I don’t think I have a black and white setting on my camera, it’s more of a point & shoot camera rather than a DSLR….though I’ve found a photo editing suit which can put images into black & white – but it’s not the same as capturing it with the camera in the first place.
    Looking forward to seeing your next photography post.
    Angela x

    • I think I have a black and white setting but I have been using photo editing to change them into black and white. It is interesting seeing the difference before and after and doing that really makes you think about what it will look like after.

  4. Great post Alison, I am studying photography and there is so much to it isn’t there? But I am loving learning it all. I how if you think before hand rather than just snapping you can set a shot up perfectly x

  5. Photography is such an art, isn’t? I am learning about photography too and I must say there is so much there to take in. I am not taking photos in black and white yet but they really are interesting.. lovely shot of your dog! I would love to start doing that too.
    I am trying to improve my composition too as I have just started to understand how a camera works! It has taken my a while but I think once you get it it stays with you.
    Lovely post thank you!

  6. I don’t often take photos in black and white, but I think road shots and some people photos look really good when shot like this.

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