One of the most fun things about taking a beginner’s photography course is that it introduces you to new areas. Sometimes these are styles you find intimidating. Like black and white photography. Scary? Only used in Newspapers? Totally beyond your comfort zone?
I don’t believe it is.
I know that cat photography in black and white is worth your attention. So, in this post, I am focusing on the essentials that will inspire you to try this intriguing style of photography, define what black and white are, explore a sample image and end with some cool tips.
- I am including a glossary of terms at the bottom of the post.
Why Black and White Pictures?
I asked previously if anyone had considered taking photographs in black and white. It has been featured in my camera course and I wondered if any readers had encountered the style before. No-one had so I dived in to explore.
What is black and white photography? What is monochrome? Where does greyscale fit in? What difference does it make really? Here’s a quick review of the nature of black and white that will allow you to adjust your own photographs in a more informed way.
Is ‘Monochrome’ Black and White?
Let’s start by defining what the nature of black and white as the camera sees it, for you and I as beginner photographers.
Black and white photographs consist of:
- Black and
- White and, most importantly
- shades of Gray
What you think is black and white are actually variations on the colour grey. From deep dark charcoal to almost invisible misty white. Black and white alone is stark and unreal. Until you see it, you don’t realise how many subtle grey shades create an image.
It is these variations that give black and white photographs their impact and depth.
Once you remove the color, it is like stripping a scene down to the bare bones, removing the layers and leaving the form.Wendy Folse
What is ‘Grayscale’ then?
Photography apps and programs have a convert option that removes colour from pictures. I used to think these were the only way anyone converted a colour image to black and white. 3, 2, 1… instant black and white.
I was mistaken. There is a much better way for beginners to remove the colour from photographs. A photo editing program such as Affinity Photo or Photoshop Elements can help you make finer and more pleasing adjustments to a cat photograph.
Let’s Transform a Photograph
I am using this image of Pan from my local cat cafe as a sample to show how adjustments can make a difference to a photograph, after using the basic conversion to black and white.
I am using Affinity Photo but there is a similar option in all brands of photo software. The adjustment sliders, shown in colour here, show the potential you have to transform an image by adjusting each colour in turn.
Using a Photo Editing Program for Better Black and White Photos
To check the impact of your program’s colour sliders on a photograph, I recommend working on a duplicate copy. You can go crazy with the sliders in complete safety. You may be surprised by the difference each adjustment can make too.
Compare this second photograph with the pre-set, ready-made conversion above. I made a difference by choosing cooler tones. The picture is slightly darker but the overexposed bench back that Pan is posed behind has been toned down.
Check out the third picture below. I adjusted these colours for a warmer tone. The results are not what I expected! One of my favourite black cats looks like something from another planet. The red, green and blue sliders have created an unsettling effect.
Are Monochrome and Black and White the Same?
This question popped up in the comments to a previous post. The answer is ‘not quite’. Black and white include an almost limitless range of grey shades, but monochrome can be variations of any one colour, not necessarily black and white.
Check out this picture of Natasha. I ran it through an Affinity filter for a dramatic red-toned image to give you an idea.
TIP: Did you know, your camera manufacturer Nikon, Canon etc., allows you to set your camera to view in black and white although it takes colour pictures. They often call it the ‘monochrome’ setting.
Black and White Cat Photography Tips
The first thing to focus on is your approach and mindset when you think about taking pictures without colour. Here are my top tips for getting great pictures from the start.
Plan to Shoot in Black and White
Do your best to go out with an intention to take black and white pictures. This works even if you shoot in colour and then remove the colour when you edit the image in ‘post-production’*.
I forget sometimes, but the intention opens your eyes to a different way of looking. I found this myself when I took the picture of Chenzou (below) you see that I
Look for Shape, Form and Texture
Black and white photography simplifies your pictures. Because there are none of the visual clues that colour can provide, you have to rely on only three things:
- Form from contrasts in light and shade.
This also means that you need to keep your pictures simple. No background clutter. Why? Because you want the viewer’s eye to focus on the point of your photograph, the message you have or the story you tell.
- You will learn to look for shape and light as you practice.
This picture of Chenzou shows a sunlit cat and clear in a visually clean space. There is a gentle reminder that cats love to play from the cat toy in the shadows and I was particularly happy to get the whiskers in focus. The picture tells a sweet story, this is a cat it can play or it can contemplate – his choice.
Thank you to Neko Ngeru Cat Adoption Cafe for the opportunity to take pictures of the wonderful cats. They have a lively FB page you need to visit.
One of the most popular black and white photography techniques you can use is simple shapes. These might not be immediately recognisable or take time for your viewer to figure out.
You can look out for:
- Negative space
- Lines across or down
- A subject and a strong shadow
This photograph is not abstract but it has strong horizontal lines and it may take you a moment to spot the figure at his desk.
Learn About Light and Shade
Apart from shape and texture, the one thing a beginner needs to experience and use is light. Light sculpts a subject into shape and can have a dramatic impact on your work.
With black and white photography, what you have to say counts more than the way you say it.Gian Marco Marano
Strong shade can be as much a part of your picture as the light. This photograph of Silver is a closeup in the sun that shows the effect.
You can see sharp fur illuminated by sunlight. He is framed by what seems to be deep shadow. In reality, I could see well into the shadow but thanks to my settings the camera did not, and it makes a lovely picture.
Shoot in RAW
If you have not come across RAW before, I go into this method of taking pictures in more depth here. It may be a second step when you feel happy shooting in black and white but it increases your range of creative options.
Briefly, a photograph shot in the RAW format is an unprocessed photograph taken by a digital camera. The ‘raw’ data is captured by your camera’s sensor and saved in a format specific to your own brand of camera. The files are large as they hold a lot more information than a JPEG.
It might sound technical until you work your way through the process but, for black and white pictures it is worth considering RAW.
This step is not essential though so don’t be concerned if the option does not appeal. RAW just gives you more photo information to play with. You do not have to know how it all works. A program like Affinity Photo opens and processes RAW files easily. For Photoshop Elements see my note below.
NOTE: Photoshop Elements (PE) can open raw files only from supported cameras. PE does not save your changes to the original raw file (non-destructive editing). After processing the raw image file using the features of the Camera Raw dialog box, you can choose to open a processed raw file in PE.Photoshop Elements (Affiliate link)
When exploring RAW please remember that you cannot take a rapid sequence of images. This is because a camera processes photographs as it takes them. After a few pictures, it stops taking pictures as it processes earlier ones.
- Be kind to your camera, take RAW pictures at a slower pace.
Not Everything Works in Black and White
You will learn, as you explore, that not everything is going to work as a colourless photograph. It doesn’t need to either because the colour is sometimes exactly what
A good black and white picture will have a wide range of tones**. If your picture’s tones are subtle and magical it may radiate a glorious range of lovely colours, but it will look dull and lifeless in black and white.
Great color contrasts are great material for black and white.John Beardsworth
Filters for Black and White photographs
Light can be dramatically affected by any filters you place in front of your lens. These are a subject in themselves so beyond the remit of this beginner’s post. However, I came across one idea that I know anyone can try. Not only is it easy it’s a lot of fun.
Explore The Fun ‘Sunglass Filter’!
You will need one camera (of any kind) and one pair of sunglasses!
- Grab your camera.
- Make sure your settings are OK for your situation. It can be anything sunny really!
- Hold the sunglasses in front of your lens.
- Take your picture.
- See how it comes out.
- Rinse and repeat!
Are You Ready to Take Black and White Photographs?
Whatever device you use, DSLR, compact or smartphone camera, you can use these tips to take a photograph with tremendous impact and have a lot of fun.
It is a new way of looking, but the skills are simple to learn and over time you might find yourself automatically thinking ‘that would make a great black and white photo’.
Black and White Photography Sources:
- Top photographers in black and white
- Post Production* Work done on an image or movie after shooting or filming has taken place.
- What are tones?** The particular quality of brightness, deepness, or hue of a shade of a colour –
- Photoshop Elements and Camera RAW – Full details on the Adobe web site.
- Casey’s detailed how-to for a sunglasses filter.