How to learn Black and White photography and how it will help to rocket your photography skills

Updated: Mar 17

Silhouettes of people, black and white photograph of a couple for a tutorial: learn black and white photography

Black & white photography is a separate medium in which many artists work. Many people learn Black and white photography because it's regarded as artistic photography. Because many 20 century photographers used monochrome photography and many masterpieces are made in greyscale. I personally think that black and white photography will continue to be a great medium. I would learn black and white photography first before starting taking pictures in colour. As well as people who learn painting start from drawing because it’s the way. It’s easier to learn how the lighting works when you don’t have colours. Colours are complex that’s why I suggest you learn greyscale, particularly before doing colour photography.

Biggest benefits of greyscale and why you should learn black and white photography

  1. Less to learn. As I described before, colours are not very easy to learn and you can quickly get overwhelmed by keeping your attention on so many things when you’re starting out. When you learn black and white photography, you focus on the most important thing in the whole of photography - lighting

  2. Easier to edit photos. Since you will keep your attention on the composition you can manipulate your images by making parts of the images brighter or darker. Again, you will think of the shapes. And how to position them in the frame. There should be the main shape - your subject, and it should be the most contrast and bright, and for the rest of the image should be less contrast and fewer details.

  3. You can clearly see if your pictures are exposed well because it’s easier in greyscale. Different colours have different values and can also appear brighter than they are. In greyscale, you can clearly see if your image is too dark or too bright and it’s easy to fix the flaws.

  4. Learn faster. All of the things listed above make you learn faster. While black and white photography is not worse than colour photography you can keep your attention solely on the lighting and make big improvements faster. You might end up making as good B&W photos in a year as people make in 2 or more years in colour.

Black and white is heavily stylized.

Black and white photo in a train by photographer Fedor Vasilev

I noticed that many people do not completely understand what black and white is. They can take a colour picture without an idea of what it should look like and after convert it into greyscale. That’s not how it works, you can’t convert a random picture into b&w thinking that it’s the artistic way. Because black and white photography is all about light and shadow. If the light on your photograph is flat then the image might look boring. When you learn black and white photography try to think of the light, shapes textures, contrast… By doing monochrome photography you’re not just capturing the real world. Monochrome is more stylized. You should take black and white images intentionally and not just turn random photos into black and white mode.

Think of your shot as to how it would look like in black and white

Black and white silhouette photo of a young man

If your camera has that option you can switch to black and white mode. If you take pictures knowing that they are going to be in black and white, you will think differently when choosing how to photograph your subject. It's the same when people learn painting, they usually start from learning how to draw. Since drawings are back and white - the people first learn how to show the shapes of the objects and the light and only after this they learn to use colour. This way it's also easier to master composition. Because you need to focus only on the light and not on the colours.

Learn Black and White photography and it will help you to learn composition

Black and white portrait photoshoot

So to do any type of visual art you need to learn photography composition perfectly. Since composition heavily depends on values you need to learn to see them first. To see them easier you can squint until everything gets blurred. You will see the shapes and values better that way because on a blurred picture you don’t focus on details. While in black and white the colours do not take away your attention. I took this a bit boring picture to show you the shapes on it. As you can see, the sharp colour version has a lot of details that distract you from the shapes and composition and it's much easier to see the composition on the blurred or black and white versions.

Examples of benefits of when you learn black and white photography

Stick to black and white photography for a while

Black and white fine art photograph by Fedor Vasilev

So as a conclusion I would recommend trying this challenge:

  • Try to only shoot in black and white for 3 months and learn black and white photography only.

  • Search for interesting light (it will be hard to find interesting light if there’s cloudy weather outside, I’m sorry if you live in England). You can still find the difference in lighting inside and outside when it’s cloudy, but the light is much flatter and less dynamic. That could also work if your aim is to show less movement and more stability on static compositions. If it’s sunny then you will find a lot of shapes created by the light and shadows.

  • Go out to take photographs at least once a week. You need to get used to seeing textures, shapes, shapes of light and shadows and to seeing the values and you can only achieve that by taking pictures regularly

  • Choose 1-3 best images of the week and save them to track the progress.

  • If you feel like you’re done after 3 months you can switch back to colour photography but continue using the main principles of black and white photography. If you enjoy black and white then why not continue for a while longer. As I said before it’s easier to make outstanding photos in black and white because colours can be dirty and unappealing and in black and white you don’t need to care about colours that much. I and my wife had only our black and white photographs on exhibitions.

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