The Best Way to Make a Black and White Photograph

Three young girls at play in the grounds of a Hindu Temple complex in Bali, Indonesia.

This image of three young girls at play on and around a tree in Bali has special significant for me. I went to Bali at the end of a long and arduous asian adventure which also included China, India and Thailand. I’d become very ill in India and, after seeing a specialist at a hospital in Bangkok, headed to Bali for some rest and recuperation.

Towards the end of my time in Bali my health had improved and I had a lot of fun exploring Ubud, Bali’s cultural centre, as well as some of the island’s other tourist haunts.

Subject Matter and Meaning

I love this image of the three girls at play. To me it’s an image of innocence and adventure and I feel the black and white rendering provides a lovely sense of nostalgia.

A highly detailed statue of a warrior-like figure in Palace Square in St. Petersburg, Russia.

In Days Of Old When Knights Were Bold

St. Petersburg is a very beautiful and historically rich city. I loved my time there including my visits to the Hermitage and Peterhof. Most of all I enjoyed several night photography adventures I undertook on warm summer evenings in the city.

The above photo was made near a tunnel entrance to Palace Square. I applied a warm, creamy tone to the image which, again, I feel adds a sense of nostalgia to what is really an historical document.  

Talk to Me of Black and White

The shapes and textures within this scene were ideal for a black and white rendering. Rather than setting my camera to Monochrome (black and white), I prefer to work with my camera set to RAW and then to convert the original color file to black and white on the desktop. Here's why?

  • Photographing in color produces a larger file, with more information to play with than would be the case with the camera set to Monochrome (an option for those photographing in JPEG)
  • Rather than the camera generated black and white, doing the conversion yourself in Lightroom, Silver Efex Pro, Topaz or Photoshop allows you to alter the brightness (i.e., luminance) of each of the colors as they are rendered into shades of grey 
  • What's more you end up with a black and white photo, while retaining the option to go back to your original color file should you desire

Please Note:
Some cameras allow you to photograph in RAW and also use the Monochrome setting to produce a temporary in-camera file which some folks use as a guide to composing their image in black and white. This can be useful though the process of converting and further developing the original RAW file, on the desktop, can produce all manner of variations to the black and white image.

So, while a basic black and white in-camera preview of your image can be useful, avoid any notion of this particular rendering needing to be preserved in the final version of the processed image. Such thinking is the death of creativity.   

Cascading water flowing down a tree lined gorge on the south island of New Zealand.

I Love New Zealand

I would be very happy living in New Zealand, particularly on the South Island. 

I found this fast flowing stream in Fjordland. It was a beautiful afternoon and I remember hiking along a trail to find this lovely, leafy location. Having done quite a bit of walking already that day, I had to push myself onwards but, as you can see, it was well and truly worth it.

Black And White: The Best Way Forward

There are many ways to realize a black and white image. Lightroom is quick and simple, though I prefer the look I’m able to generate from the now free Silver Efex Pro 2 software from Nik/Google. But, as most folks prefer making their images strictly in camera, setting their camera to Monochrome will produce a very decent black and white JPEG file within a split second after the shutter has been released.

That means less time messing around on the desktop and more time making photos, in camera. It’s not the way I work, but what’s important is that you discover the way that best suits your own circumstances, preferences and available time. What’s right for you is what matters most. Photography should, above all other concerns, be fun. And I think that’s an important point to remember.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru