Essence of Photography: Black and White

Your complete guide to Black and White Photography in 2022.

February 12, 2022

There is an old joke in photography that you can take any average random image like this dog walking...

And make it look artistic by just converting it to black and white (B&W).

While that doesn't always work out so well, in this case it does make the image more interesting. But why?

By removing color data, black and white images focus our attention on the details like shapes, textures, lines, light, and shadow. Some images lend themselves nicely to black and white because they feature unique elements of all of those things.

In the B&W photo we can see more clearly that strip of light on the dog's back, or the dark shadow against the lighter textured pavement.

Negative Space

Creative black and white photography can make use of negative space which is the pattern of the empty space that creates the shape of the subject.

This can be used with B&W portrait photos of people to create some great results.

Graphisme and Shape

Black and white photography can accentuate lines, geometric patterns, and shapes. If you have read about graphism in photography, you can see how B&W works well with this type of image.



Shades of Gray

Good black and white photos have a wide range of gray tones as well as areas with bright whites and dark blacks.

Look at these two versions of the same photo below. The one on the left does not have a lot of tonal range and is fairly flat and boring. The one on the right is a little more dynamic with more shades of gray tones and more pure black and pure white elements.

A vignette as also applied to the image on the right (darkens the corners) which adds a little extra depth. Although this can be overdone and should be used sparingly.

Look at the dynamic range of this excellent photo. The bright white of the umbrella and dark black of the person's coat create a great visual contrast. The white snow adds to this as well, while the rest of the scene is rendered in tones of gray in between.

Figure to Ground

This illustrates another concept that can be used successfully in black and white photography which is called figure to ground. The essential idea is that dark objects look good on a lighter background and light objects look good on a darker background.

This works in color as well, but is more accentuated in black and white.

Other Techniques

With black and white photography, you can incorporate many other techniques that you have learned. For example, silhouettes work well in B&W.





These are some ideas to get you started. Try to practice creating black and white photos in the camera if your camera offers that function, as you will start to see things a little differently before you take the photo, rather than editing in an app later.




Essence of Photography is a series of tips, tutorials, and visual inspiration on a variety of photography skills and techniques.

You can practice these skills and more by purchasing a deck of Photo Cards from Zoom In Reach Out, a non-profit with a mission of teaching to see the world from a different perspective.

All photos in this article were posted to the Aminus3 Photography Community and are copyrighted by their respective photographers.

Click on any photo to see a larger version or to leave a comment for the photographer.

Want to share your own photography experiments with black and white photography?

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