Photography, Teaching, Technical, Tips, Tutorials

It isn’t Always Black and White

sccemetery-7919Yesterday I did some photos in Black and White and added a touch of colour.  It was a fun process to do and I think the images came out well.  I know there are many people in photography that think black and white is the only way to go, there are others who think most images look better in black and white, then there are some of us who think it depends on the image.

I am not going to get into an argument about what is best, it is purely a personal thing.  However, having said that, I know there are many images that could be great black and white images, but due to the processing they aren’t.  Again, I know this can be a very personal thing, so all I can do is talk about what I think.  You can all have your say in the comments section.

Today I had a comment from someone wanting to know about how I did the photos yesterday.  It was an interesting comment, and I remembered that I had done posts on this in the past.  I did a tutorial on doing Black and White photos in GIMP, Black and White in GIMP – My Way and then I did one on Black and White Conversions.  It is a very subjective subject and I thought I might tackle it again, especially since I sccres-hpm5786-7wrote the latter over two years ago.

I think black and white images can be very dramatic, but they can also be boring, and it really depends on your subject matter.  I have always felt that your subject matter should determine which images should be made into monotone or duotone images.  Does it enhance the image more, if the colour is gone does the image miss something?  There are so many questions, but you have to answer those. In the end it is your image and has to be what you want.

However, having said that, there are still ways of taking a photo that would be great in black and white and then making it look horrible.  When I wrote the article on conversions it was because I was seeing so many black and white images on the scbarwon-8016-se1internet that had a lot of potential, but they hadn’t been processed right.

Many cameras now can take black and white images for you, it is not something I have ever done.  I like to take all my photos in colour, and then decide once I get them on the computer if I will make them black and white.  I like to have that choice, but I know many photographers that just shoot in B&W, again it is a personal choice.

Once the image is on the computer there are many ways to make it black and white. You can convert it to grey scale (if you do this, you won’t be able to use colour in the image, unless you save it, then convert it back to RGB), you can completely desaturate your image, or if you have Photoshop you can use the black and white adjustment layer.  I like the last option because then you have the choice to play with the tones of each colour, not sure that is the right way of putting it.

There is something that a lot people do to their images, or don’t do, and that is lookscbarwonheads-hpm8063-1sep1 at the contrast.  The contrast is the different between the darks and lights in your images, or the black and whites and everything in between.

When I started photography, I started with black and white, and developed my own films, and then printed them.  I converted my laundry into a darkroom that could only be used at night.  It worked, and I spent many evenings in there working on my images.  I was given some advice from another photographer that said, “make sure there is a black in your image, and there is a white.  He suggested using a piece of white paper and a piece of black to help make sure I had those.  It is good to also have the greys in between.

LeanneCole-ocean-ant4173You don’t want the image to be just black and white, that would be horrible, but you want a range of tones from black to white.  When I was at art school and drawing, I can remember my lecturers telling me that my drawings had no contrast, I didn’t know what they were talking about, now I do, the drawings had no darks, and they were very grey.  I worked it out eventually and my drawings got a lot better.

Photography is the same, if you don’t have that contrast, the images can look washed out if there are no blacks, or too dark if there are no whites.  It is a good thing to remember.

So how do you like your black and white images?  What is your favourite subject for those images?  Lastly, what do you use to process them?

Here is a little gallery of the images if you want a better look at them.



  1. “came out well”. Now that’s an understatement. I call your “well”, magnificent! Your photos are story tellers or reporters or artists. You certainly are the best I have seen. Super wonderful is just barely able to express how great your work is! I always enjoy it and you make the viewer think and want more…… Thank you, claudy

  2. I just read the bottom paragraph below the comment space. Do or is there ever anyone that finds anything wrong with your work? I find that hard to believe unless professional jealously and of course there are those around. I am guessing however you are courting the not satisfied but have never found one or if you have they are few and far between! Offer them eye glasses…… claudy

    • I do get the odd person who thinks my work is crap and gives me lots of criticism, so I try to avoid those people.

      • Ms Cole,
        Let me tell you a very known slogan in Advertising? My sister has a Masters in Advertising so I have heard lots of stuff through the years but it goes like this,”Any Publicity Is Good Publicity”. Now that is not absolutely true but as far as your art, it is definitely true! The bitchers probably tell everyone how horrible you are and really you couldn’t pay for better word of mouth publicity. Never Ever Apologize For Being Talented And An Artist. I’m sure if we actually knew one of your haters we would get it and probably be flattered at their discontent! What would really work is to upset them a little more and then reap what you’ve sewn. Finally I bet the best way of saying it is, “It’s All Good”. That goes for your work. Hope next bitchers you sort of smile and appreciate them a little more than before… You are gifted for sure and I know it! Thanks, claudy

      • Thank you so much Claudy, I have often thought the same thing, not really sure what their problem was, but as I moderate all my comments, they don’t get a chance to be like that anymore.

      • LOL! I am not sure why I am laughing but it struck me funny! “Don’t Get The Chance”. Got it! LOL! Well keep doing what you do so well and I didn’t mention but should have is the teaching part of your blog and really getting down to nuts and bolts. Just Great Work..really! Thanks, claudy

      • It was a good move to remove the negative comments first, that way I feel better. I will do my best, I like the teaching part, so that is great that others like it. Thanks again.

  3. Good. advice…and images. The pier, particularly makes a great b&w. I try to convert almost everything I do to black and white, if only for a moment, just to see what it looks like. That conversion can show you whether the color is important or a distraction and also gives you a little better feel for what the quality of light is. But, as you say. it is a personal judgement call

    • Thank you, I think that is a great idea, I do it sometimes, but I am not that into black and white I don’t think. I like to try it every now and then.

  4. lensaddiction says

    Hey Leanne, great minds think alike. I have been getting more enthusiastic about BW since I got the NIK suite of products particularly NIK Silver Efex for doing BW processing. I also shoot in Colour and all the reading I have done says that is the best way, to shoot in colour and then process on your computer to get the BW.

    I posted an article on my blog a couple of weeks ago about the challenge of shooting BW landscapes with some colour and BW comparisons

    My personal opinion is that a good BW image has to have a really good compostion and tonal range to work.

    • I think it is the best way myself, you have more options if you shoot in colour. I have the Nik suit too.
      Thanks for the link, hopefully people will go and take a look.
      I agree too with your last statement, it does have to be those. Thank you.

  5. Great set of images as always- I especially like the old barn one. I do a lot of black and white which I process through Silver Efex Pro. I like the control points and the ability to make very subtle changes (my Photoshop skills aren’t great!). I also used to process my own b&w film and so really like the toning options in Silver Efex. You are right in that it depends on the image whether it is to be colour or not, though I often visualise a black and white image when I capture it.

    • I have silver efex, but I haven’t used it much lately. Though I think quite a few of these images in this post were done with it. I don’t tend to think of black and white, not sure why, but I am usually thinking of other things, LOL, who knows what. Thank you Lisa.

  6. leecleland says

    Wonderful set of images, especially like the grave stones, great composition in either B&W or colour I would imagine.

  7. Your work is crap!! :) just kidding. You’re obviously a pro, and i admire your dedication in your art. Was wondering though, do you do much street photography? I’m so into them at the moment and would love to see your samples on that field, if you have any. On the collection from this post, i like the moodiness of your photos. Especially the jetty shot, as well as the beach foreground. Always loved tide movements on a beach.

    • No, I don’t do much street photography, I am uncomfortable photographing people in the street, I photograph the street, but not the people specifically.
      Thank you Panoe, loved the way you started your comment.

  8. These are really great shots,and I love the techniques you used. The moods are so enhanced by the colors and styling. Wonderful! ~SueBee

  9. Your so right about having the right object to be black and white. Thanks for the advice and or recommendation on editing tool and tip

    • Some subjects are perfect for it, and others get lost, so I think it is important. You’re welcome and thank you.

  10. So glad you visited my blog, so I could follow you back to yours; it’s brilliant! You make everything sound so straightforward, which is great for a novice like me, and your photographs are inspirational. I’m not usually a gusher, so I’ll stop now…cheers and thanks for all the tips.

    • Welcome to my blog, and thank you so much for the lovely and kind words. I try to do things and explain them so people will understand, but I have no problems with people asking questions if they don’t understand. Nice meeting you.

  11. Lovely shot of the gravestones, very atmospheric. I really like the last two shots in the gallery as well, great light on those two. Converting to mono definitely depends on the image. Some images just don’t work in mono…..they just look flat. The beauty of digital is that there is no cost to experimenting 😊

    • Thank you Mark, the gravestones are from a very old cemetery here, only about 12 or 14 graves there, and they are in the middle of suburbia, quite strange. I totally agree, with both of your statements here, thank goodness for digital, so great being able to experiment without any cost.

  12. milankovac97 says

    Wow your photos are awesome! I think your work is absolutely perfect. I never found any flaw in it! Keep up with this magnificent work! :)

  13. The use of black and white is of course personal choice but some images work better than others. As some have said capturing in colour is a prefered way becuase of the way cameras are made. Adding colour to the image is fine as it can add another layer of depth and contrast. Nice post.

  14. Good insight in to what makes a professionally processed image – With the ability to alter the tone mapping of digital images we sometimes forget that you need darkness (pure black) and highlight in order to anchor all the tones in between – as photographers we need to understand which areas of the picture’s darkness you want to hold detail in and then let everything else fall to black – somethings I still have to remind myself of that when processing my abounded shots – there ARE areas of total darkness and losing that makes the viewer miss the feeling of being at a particular location. Thanks for the post Leanne.

    • All good points Robert, and I agree, you do have to be careful, and remember all of that. Thank you for your thoughts on this.

  15. “make sure there is a black in your image, and there is a white” <— noted!

    Thank you for sharing this, Leanne. Very useful. :)

    Do you shot B&W in mind? Or you will just decide it later when you already transferred it to your computer?

    • You’re welcome Inge, it was great advice.
      No I don’t shoot with B&W in mind, I tend to just shoot. I don’t convert images to black and white very often, but sometimes it is a lot better to do it. I should try doing more. Thanks.

  16. Great pictures. I like the pier one the most. I agree with you in that not all the the pictures need BW conversion, unless you are actually shooting in BW film or something. Only if I see a clear pattern, a clear geometry or composition that asks for it, then I try BW.

    • The pier one has been very popular. That is a good way of seeing it and I think I do similar. Back when I was shooting film and I would go up to the mallee, I would only shoot b&w, I thought the fact that there were no real colours there would make b&w perfect, not so sure now, I like to do colour first then decide. Thank you.

  17. I am definitely a fan of monochrome, but it has to be (as you’ve so well expressed) the right combination of elements. One aspect of B & W that draws me into its layers is that I see the image in a new way. It allows me to focus on angles, contrast, form, shapes and tones in a way that sometimes get lost in color. Great post.

    • That is an interesting point, I think for me, this week has shown me that I can get more drama into some images by making them black and white, I hadn’t realised that before. I do love drama in my images. Thanks Sally.

  18. I have to say again that your processing is just so wonderful!! Whether it’s color or monochromatic, it is all deep and rich and says YOU! I love it!

  19. I love these B&W pictures for their amazing contrast and sense of mood. The cemetary one is sensational in feeling, Leanne. I am experimenting with contrast right now, starting with colour and then maxing out the contrasts during editing. Thanks for your inspiration!

    • It is an interesting thing to do and I love the mood that is added to the images. It is great to experiment and see what happens. You are welcome, and thank you.

  20. Like you I grew up as a black and white printmaker, Leanne. Bathrooms being adapted to become temporary darkrooms. I still love the B&W medium although like you I always shoot in colour. I love the contrast that we can exploit in B&W. Deep rich blacks and stark whites are what I love about monochrome, and there are some images that really do benefit from the simplifying of the tonal range. It’s not always easy to spot the images that look good in B&W, but the conversion is so simple and quick and easy to undo, so it’s worth just trying it.

    • Another darkroom person. Thanks you LensScaper for you work process, it is great to hear, and I think I work the same, not that I do many images in black and white, I should do more. I like the way PS lets you do the conversion, and how you can change the feel of the image by making some of the colour tones darker or lighter, magic. I agree about how it isn’t always easy, but that is so true, so easy to undo. Thanks again.

  21. Jackie Saulmon Ramirez says

    Black and white gives you the power to reach depths that you can’t with color. I fell in love with those gravestones.

    • I’m not sure I agree with that, if you have the right image, it can be true, but some images just don’t work. It really does depend on the image and what you want to achieve. Well that is what I think ;) Thank you Jackie.

  22. I’m a fan of B&W photography. It can convey a certain sense or feeling that color cannot. With that said, not every subject or situation is suited for B&W (or sepia tones). It always comes down to how a scene is envisioned.

    • I agree David, you do have to pick the right images. I love when you have picked a good image, how much moodier the image can become. Thanks David.

  23. These are really powerful images. I often shoot B/W when I need to express my feelings, a story through images or so on. But I must admit that the hint of color you gave to these photos has made them even more powerful. Love your style, so dramatic.

    • That is a nice reason to do B&W, nice. I like the hint of colour, it does something else to them. Thank you.

  24. Maggie Beck says

    The photos are quite haunting, Leanne. Pensive. They invite the viewer to look deeply and to tell a story to themselves.

  25. Incredible photography, really beautiful images! I recently bought my first SLR and could only dream of taking shots like this. Thanks for the inspiration :-)

    • Thank you Sara, how exciting for you, so much to learn and so much fun ahead. Have a great time, and good luck. :)

  26. Pingback: Insular (2014) | infraredrobert

  27. "Occam Blade" says

    I have visited your site several times in recent months and I get a spark now and then from your images or a single image that grabs me. Your range—aesthetically and technically—is impressive. I wish you ever success in life and your pursuits on the blogosphere.
    One last thing: I also deal with armchair critics and after an initial letdown, I ask myself, “Is anything in that comment/reaction adding to my quality of life?” The answer is, of course, a resounding NO! And with that, I let it roll off my back and move on…

    • Thank you what a lovely thing to say.
      Oh yes the critics, I tend to do the same with them. Though the ones I don’t like are the ones that continue to come back time and time again doing criticising everything, I do like to stop them. That is just harrassment.

  28. I am learning so much from you. I’ve tried the desaturation effect in Elements, but I haven’t tried the layers adjustment. The tombstones in black and white is my favorite…and so much more effective than color would have been for that shot. Thank you for being so generous with your knowledge and photo tips!

    • That is wonderful to hear, always happy to help. The gravestones did get lost in the colour image, as they were monotone already, but the trees were quite green, so it really worked for them. You are welcome, and thank you to you too.

  29. I love your photos, even the black and white seems very lively and colourful- if you know what i mean, i enjoy looking through everything here… but it took me awhile to find the like button etc.. (im still new… maybe its me) :D but keep up the passion!

    • Welcome to my blog and to blogging, I like the way you have described the image, thank you so much, and I will keep going for as long as I can.

  30. Stunning. I often think with black and white you can “imagine” the colours anyway you like, but with the colours you’ve used you actually create the mood. Love it!

  31. What a great post on black and white! I am going to apply some of this to my photography….if we ever have more than white outside. lol :) These are fantastic photos! My favorite is the cemetery.

    • I am sure you will get colour back eventually Em, you can start planning what you are going to do. I hope the advice I gave helps. Thank you. :)

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