Tips for When to Use Black and White Photography

November 11, 2019


When I first became seriously interested in photography, one of the things I struggled with was when to convert an image to black and white vs. when to leave it in color. I’d take a photo thinking, “this will be perfect in black and white,” only to discover that it ended up looking mediocre.

So how do you decide when to use black and white photography? It goes without saying that if you’re going for a vintage look, black and white can make a photo look old. But what about taking pictures of your family? Or creating fine art photography?

Here are some of my best tips for when to convert your image to black and white!

Color Isn’t Everything

Colors can really make your images pop, but sometimes the colors aren’t the most important thing in a photograph. This red tractor was at a Christmas Tree Farm where I did some photo sessions. I knew that this was a photo that needed to be in color because the red really stood out.

But making a copy in black and white allowed me to create a vintage look that showcased the antique qualities of the tractor. I also added some grain to the black and white photo to make it look more authentic.

old red mccormick farmall tractor antique vintage in greenery

black and white vintage mccormick farmall tractor old antique farm equipment

On the other hand, your photo may not have any interesting colors. In this case, it might look better in black and white. It all depends on a few different things that make up the photo’s composition and lighting. Keep reading to learn what these things are!

Contrast and Shadows

Photographs with shadowy areas are usually a good candidate for black and white conversion, but you need more than just darkness. Parts of the photo need to be lit up to accentuate the dark. Long story short: you need contrast.

canon rebel t5 camera black and white sitting on wooden stool with white background

Photos with edgy dark shadows and bright highlights are better than flat images. Or even if there aren’t shadows, dark objects against light backgrounds or (light against dark) can give you the same effect.


Texture and Patterns

Photos with patterns and lines look good in black and white. The absence of color draws more attention to the symmetry and design of whatever you’re photographing.wooden bridge dock made of logs in black and white over river in anchorage alaska

I took this photo in downtown Anchorage, Alaska. There is a bridge over a river where we were watching fishermen catch salmon. I noticed the interesting lines of the supports and took this photo with the intention of converting it to black and white.

The eye is naturally drawn to symmetry and patterns. As long as the patterns aren’t too busy, you should be good to go.

If you want to see more photos from my trip to Alaska, check out my blog post: Things to do in Anchorage, Alaska

Saving Bad Colors

Have you ever taken a photo where the scene looked okay in real life but as soon as you took a picture, you realized your lighting was terrible. Yellow tinged indoor lights or bright flashes can sometimes ruin your photos beyond what editing can fix.

However, changing the image to black and white can sometimes save an otherwise terrible photo. It might even look better than you were hoping!

For example, say you take a photo of someone next to a red barn. The photo might be alright, but you didn’t notice when you took it that the red paint is casting horrible red light onto your subject. Converting to black and white may be able to save that photo.

Emotions and Moments

Lastly, black and white can help you capture genuine emotion in your photographs. While color might look decent, it can distract from the moment and the feelings you are trying bring attention to in your photo.

That’s one reason why so many photographers include black and white images in their galleries of family portraits and wedding photos. Monochrome images automatically have a nostalgic feel to them. It might sound cheesy, but it’s true.

black and white girl looking out window at lake and mountains in Waterton Alberta Canada

If you want the main focus of your image to be on the feeling it creates, try black and white photography.

I hope you found these tips helpful. I’d love to hear how they have helped you improve your photography! Be sure to comment below if you have more tips for shooting black and white photos!

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Tips for using black and white photography


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  1. This post is very enlightening about when to use black and white imagery for photos. I think for my wedding I would like to incorporate black and white photos because of the powerful emotions it can bring out of people. Thank you for sharing! – Josie xxx

  2. […] Tips for When to Use Black and White Photography […]

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