There’s real beauty in a seemingly simple tones. For this blog, I’m going to talk about a technique that has been close to my heart since I first got a camera in my hands – black, white and monotone treatments.

With the good old analogue cameras, we had to make the decision of shooting black and white or colour at the moment of loading the roll of film in our cameras. Nowadays things are much easier and shooting digital gives us the option of treating every single picture in any way we want – but alone is not a good reason to change ever picture into a black and white!

Here are my recommendations on choosing the right photo and the some techniques to get a great black an white shots.

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A heavily contrast treatment makes for a great shot of a pod of dolphins

Choosing the right subject

Black and white photography is all about light and shadows, so choosing your subjects is essential to get a good result. Most modern editing software allows you to create a black and white version of any photo.

As a rule of thumbs, wide-angle photography is better suited for black and white, macro subjects tend to look much better in full colour.

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Not every shot works well in black and white. Macro subjects tend to be very colourful and black and white does not suit them.

Select images that have a strong contrast between light and shadows. Wrecks and caves are among my favourites, as these subjects offer normally great contrast and loads of detail to use when converting them to black and white.

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The Giannis D is incredibly photogenic wreck and works very well in black and white

But large creatures such as sharks, mantas and dolphins can benefit greatly from a black and white conversion.

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A pod of spinner dolphins swim under me. I particularly like the sunbeams and the sense of depth given by the deeper reef

Converting to black and white

You can use almost any software, but I recommend either Lightroom or Photoshop, because you will have a great amount of control over the contrast of the image. Once you selected an image there are few ways to convert it to black and white. You can simply desaturate the photo completely.

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By simply desaturating an image you can create a black and white version

However, in my opinion, this will result in a relatively bland image. To get a nice result you need to start experimenting with contrast.

Adobe Lightroom will allow you to convert the image to black and white and then you will need to select a grey value for each individual colour.

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Lightroom allows you to assign a different grey value to each different tone of the image

Functions such as contrast, clarity and dehaze can also help you to increase to apparent sharpness and strength of the photo.

If you use Adobe Photoshop, there is a series of filters called the Nik collection and for the moment, they are free to download. On this set, there is a specific filter to convert your photos to black and white, it is called Silver Effex and is one of the most versatile tools to convert to work on monotone images. It offers a series of presets and also allows you to simulate some great black and white films from the analogue era.

When working on black and white conversions, do not be afraid of pushing the levels of contrast to levels that would not be possible on colour photography. This will allow you to bring back details even in areas to far away to look clear underwater.

Shooting in Black and White

When thinking about shooting in black and white there are a few rules you should follow.

Try to use ambient light, you will get more pleasant images. A great example of this is wreck photography.

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The stern section of the Thistlegorm in the Red Sea is a great subject for s black and white treatment

Think about light and shadows. The deeper you go the more diffused the light will be and the duller the results will be. Shooting when the sun is high in the sky will produce strong shadows and give you much better results.

Inside caverns, you can get some fantastic black and white shots, especially if there is some light coming from the top creating sunbeams. Position yourself in a dark area away from the light and expose for the light making sure you frame the sunbeams in its entirety, showing where it starts and where it finishes.

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A diver hovers inside a cave in the southern Red Sea. The sun filtering from the ceiling and the texture of the rock create a very striking picture.

Join Mario on one of the  “Red Sea Photography“ photo trip to have the chance to dive carefully selected dive sites in the Northern Red Sea and take your underwater photography skills to the next level.

Mario is well known for his patient, calm approach to teaching underwater photography, he will help you develop new skills and build your confidence in a relaxed and fun environment.