Think Black and White

by Rick Diffley on April 30, 2012

Abandon Home

Think Black and White


black and white image came to mind for this week’s Sunday Post theme: “Shelter.” To learn more about the photo challenge and how to participate go here:

Old, colorless, falling down building work really well for shooting and creating black and white images. I choose this image of this old abandon home because it had a lot of the good characteristics for a great black and white image. I’m going to speak a little more about how you can go about shooting great black and white images.

With all of my photography articles I like providing sample images I’ve shot. This way you get to see what I’m writing about.

Shoot on Grey Days

For the Sunday Post: Shelter challenge, I shot the above image on a overcast and rainy day. Grey days are ideal for black and white photography. The soft light eliminates harshness and provides contrast.



Shapes, Contrast, and Depth of Field

This image works well because we have the differing shapes and contrast between the white petals with the darker head of the cone-flower.

In shooting flowers like this you can add additional contrast by controlling the depth of field. Doing this will make your main subject standout like you see in this image. Shooting at f/5.7 blurred the background cone-flower. You can also achieve the background blur effect using image editing software.


Rusty Chevy Truck

Learn to see Black and White

Learning to “see” in black and white takes practice. However, you can cheat. Check to see if your camera has a monochrome setting. With my Nikon D300 I go to the Shooting Menu > Set Picture Control > Select “monochrome.” Next, I snap some shots, maybe adjust the exposure (brightness) level a little darker and see how the image appears in my LCD. Reminder: Don’t forget to reset your picture control mode back to its original setting.

So what makes the above image work as a great black and white?

Look for overcast, cloudy, active skies

Having skies with ‘action’ in them adds mood and a really dynamic look and feel to a black and white image.


Portland, Oregon Nightscape

Black and White Nightscapes

I love shooting city nightscapes like this one of Portland, Oregon.  Rule #1: Do not shoot when the sky is black! I got away with breaking this important rule because there was a full moon that illuminated the partial cloudy sky which provided enough separation in contrast between the buildings and the sky. Plus, the city lights aided in the separation. Can you imagine how this would look with a solid black sky?

Dusty Blue Sky

What you are after for your nightscape is the “Dusty Blue Sky.” It appears about fifteen minutes after sun goes down and lasting for only a few minutes. You will need to have your camera set up on a tripod before sunset.

Proper Exposure Setting

For this shot I was in manual mode and set the aperture to f/22 and pointed my Nikon D300 to the sky above the city and adjusted my exposure until a shutter speed of 20 seconds  indicated a correct exposure. Note: Always set the exposure using the dusky blue sky and not pointed at the city lights.

Finally, I made sure my camera is set to use its self-timer. I press the shutter release and this is the resulting image. The reason I use the self-timer with ‘long’ exposures is simply to avoid any contact with the camera during the exposure time. I don’t want the risk of any camera ‘shake’ since sharpness is key with this type of shot.


Image Editing Software

Photoshop has a few different methods for converting our color image to black and white. For myself, I stopped using PS because each project required a set of complex and lengthy multiple step processes. For the beginner, it can be frustrating and requires a lot of practice time to move through the editing process in a timely manner. If you perform a Google search for converting color to black and white images in Photoshop you will find different methods.

Nik Software – “Silver Efex Pro.” My preference for black and white conversion is this Nik Software plug-in which works with Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, and Lightroom. It provides dozens of visual presets as starting points. The first preset you choose may be all you need and you are done. If you want to go further, there is an extensive set of global controls such as brightness, contrast, saturation, structure, film types, toning, and much more.

What makes the choice to use Nik Software is their revolutionary U Point technology for precise selections and adjustments. Using a mouse, I click on a “control point” and place it on a portion of my image I want to adjust. No layers, no masks, etc. U Point system makes my editing process fast and fun.

You can watch a short video demonstration on how quick and easy it is to use the U Point technology, Color Control Points here:  U Point technology 

The End

Think Black and White the next time you are out shooting. I’ve given you some guidelines and examples for creating terrific black and white images.

Here are two other resources that may be helpful to you as well: Nik Software – Post Processing & Where the Excitement Happens and The “Art” of Seeing: The Rules of Photography

Please feel free to ask questions.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

jake April 30, 2012 at 4:20 PM

Great entry for this week topic my friend thanks for sharing ,Great work :)


Rick Diffley April 30, 2012 at 5:16 PM

Thanks for making the challenge available. As always, your creations are great!


Bernard May 1, 2012 at 12:12 AM

Great explanation. I got the tip for monochrome setting on my camera several months ago and help me to evaluate the composition for color pictures as well.


Pierre May 1, 2012 at 1:59 AM

Thank you Rick for your hints. I do concur on the Nik Software, which made me re-discover b&w photography. Take care :-)


Rick Diffley May 1, 2012 at 8:05 AM

Thanks Pierre for stopping by. Regarding Nik Software… Wish it was available years ago! Can’t recall all the time and resource spent learning PS.


Derrick Birdsall May 1, 2012 at 7:35 PM

I shoot a lot of black and white in camera, especially in the middle of the day when the light is often too harsh for color. Good to see I’m not alone!


Rick Diffley May 2, 2012 at 4:09 PM

Derrick – It was overcast, but not enough as the sky was still being blownout. So, I had to shoot this image as your see it. Thanks for stopping in.!


Cardinal Guzman May 2, 2012 at 1:52 AM

Nice shots & good tips. I like your posts.


Rick Diffley May 2, 2012 at 4:10 PM

Guzman – Thanks for swinging by. I’m still jealousy of your Oslo Botanical Garden adventure (-: Wish I could have been there.


Cardinal Guzman May 3, 2012 at 8:04 AM

Well, like I said: If you ever come to Oslo I’ll gladly show you the Botanical Garden.
You’re always welcome here!


Rick Diffley May 25, 2012 at 5:54 PM

Thanks for the comment. Please see my email sent to you today.


Jessie May 2, 2012 at 3:01 PM

After reading this post I shot in black and white for the first time in years and had a great time, thanks!


Rick Diffley May 2, 2012 at 4:12 PM


Terrific! There’s a lot of subjects that really work for black and white and not for color. Maybe you’ll share one of your favorites with me? Drop me an email if you do.


Patti Kuche May 3, 2012 at 5:04 AM

Your wonderful posts always leave me with the need to go away and do some serious homework, for which I thank you very much. These shots are brilliant!


Rick Diffley May 3, 2012 at 3:55 PM

Your are welcome Patti! Have a huge backlog of more lessons/articles to publish than time allows. Working full time has that effect (-:

Thank you for the complement!


milkayphoto May 3, 2012 at 1:20 PM

Good stuff, Rick, as usual. The Nik software is amazing. I do need to shoot more in b&w…I used to but recently, have gotten out of practice. It certainly helps one to ‘see’ things more clearly. Too many folks rely on color to make images work. I truly admire well done b&w photography. Did you apply some HDR to the barn image?


Rick Diffley May 3, 2012 at 4:10 PM

Thank you for stopping by and your nice comment.

Regarding the barn image. No HDR. Nik software Silver Efex Pro applied and Viveza. Great plug-ins. One click on a “Color Control Point” inside Viveza, click on the area in my image I want to change (Much like in PS. You would have to create a layer, a mask, use the Brush tool carefully…), move a control slider or two and BANG! Here, go check the video on how easy it is to use Nik software and get terrific results much faster than if you were using PS, etc.


Joseviro June 18, 2012 at 3:30 AM

Hi Rick – This is a very fun assignment!I don’t have a blog, but I posetd the image I created on Google +. Here is a link: used the Brilliance/Warmth and Colorize filters.Sharon Willson


suburbanferndaleark May 4, 2012 at 6:15 PM

Learned a lot from this post. Thanks for the inspiration!


Jeff Sinon May 12, 2012 at 5:46 AM

Great tips Rick. The only thing stopping me from posting more black and white images is the inability to “see” in black and white. I have set my camera to monochrome as suggested, shooting RAW of course, and that has helped some. To be honest though, most of my B&W images have been “discovered.” When I open an image in Color Efex they open in the black and white conversion filter by default. That’s when I have the “Eureka moment.” Then it’s off to Silver Efex!


Rick Diffley May 12, 2012 at 12:41 PM

I feel there is more to learn in shooting black and white than color. To see a potental BW in the moment takes lots of practice. I have had good luck shooting BW in antique stores. Old typewriters, old silver ware, etc. Some florals really work well. And yes, some times I don’t know if an image will work or not until I use Nik Silver Efex Pro.


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