If you’ve never tried black and white photography before, you may feel a bit intimidated. After all, how do you get started? Should you be shooting black and white on your camera, or should you be converting color images to black and white? And how can you create stunning black and white images, anyway?

Why is black and white photography important?

Color is very powerful. It tends to dominate photos – to the point that beginners to see other key elements like contrast, texture, shape, form, and quality of light.

Experienced photographers instinctively see these things, regardless of whether they work in color or black and white. But if you’re just starting out, you may need some assistance. Black and white strips away color, allowing you to focus on the other elements that matter.

Naturally, there are certain subjects that tend to work better than others in black and white. In particular, black and white lends itself to landscapes and portraits.

So if this is your first time shooting in black and white, then those are great starter subjects!

How to shoot in black and white

Before digital photography, the only way to work in black and white was to use black and white film.

But these days, you have two options:

  1. You can shoot in color and convert your photos to black and white in or some other post-processing program.
  2. You can switch your camera to its Monochrome mode.

I highly recommend you choose the second option, and here’s why:

By shooting in black and white from the beginning, you’ll get black and white previews on your camera’s LCD. You’ll also be able to see in black and white via your camera’s Live View mode. And if you use a mirrorless camera, you can look through a black and white viewfinder – so you know exactly how the different colors will convert before you press the shutter button.

(If you’re not sure how to switch your camera to black and white, check your camera’s manual. Don’t worry; it’s not difficult!)

One last piece of advice here:

Shoot in RAW, not JPEG (or shoot in RAW+JPEG, which will give you a file in each format every time you press the shutter button).

RAW essentially offers you insurance. If you decide you don’t like your shot in black and white, your RAW files can be reverted back to color with the click of a mouse. And if you decide to extensively edit your photos in post-processing, RAW gives you a lot of flexibility.

Working in Monochrome mode

As explained above, I highly recommend you set your camera to Monochrome mode. And to get basic black and white shots, that’s all you need to do.

However, once you’re in Monochrome mode, you may have color filter options. And through careful application of these filters, you can capture even better black and white shots.

Color filters

The color filter settings come from the days of film photography. Photographers would use color filters to alter the tones in black and white photos. These days, digital photographers rarely work with physical color filters – instead, they use camera software or post-processing to mimic filter effects.

Your camera likely includes a few color filter options. For instance, you might use a yellow or orange filter to darken a blue sky or a red filter to turn it nearly black.