There’s real beauty in 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 BW!
Here are my recommendations on choosing the right photo and some techniques to get great black and white shots.
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.
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.
But large creatures such as sharks, mantas and dolphins can benefit greatly from this conversions.
Converting to BW
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.
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.
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 & 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.
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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