on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Introduction to Black and White photography

Tim suggests some guidelines for Black and White Photography

Tim Parkin

Tim Parkin

Amateur Photographer who plays with big cameras and film when in between digital photographs.

Flickr, Facebook, Twitter


I’ve been asked by a couple of people to write some notes about black and white conversions and although I may not be the expert in this area, I thought it would be a good one to tackle and hopefully get some feedback from some people with more experience than me.

1) What to photograph
2) Preparing the file for conversion
3) Converting the colour file to black and white
4) Post processing

Most articles and books I have read have spent the most amount of time on step two but I feel that one of the most important steps is step three. A simple straight conversion of a colour file to black and white, even with the use of colour filters and grain simulation, etc. will rarely lead to a fully satisfying result. Anyway - back to that in a moment, let’s take a look at step one.

What to photograph

I’m not an expert black and white photographer and don’t publish many of my black and white photographs so anything I say in here will be observations and opinions only.

From what I have seen of successful black and white pictures, the following aspects are important.

1) Broad tonal structure - A picture that has areas of broad and consistent tonal structure offer a good opporunity. This typically means avoiding complex contrasty textures and looking for pictures that have low local contrast but broad global contrast. e.g. mist works well because it smooths out local contrast. The sea, sky and snow are also great elements for providing areas of low local contrast (as is architecture)

2) Overall high or low key - working within a small tonal scale allows you to play with texture and gradation of tone. Look at some of John Blakemore’s work for great examples of this type of work.

3) Bold shapes or structures - Think Michael Kenna and his ability to ‘extract’ the simple from the landscape.

This is a premium article and requires a paid subscription to access. Please take a look at the subscribe page for more information on prices.

On Landscape is part of Landscape Media Limited , a company registered in England and Wales . Registered Number: 07120795. Registered Office: 1, Clarke Hall Farm, Aberford Road, WF1 4AL