Create Striking Black and White Masterpieces :: Digital Photo Secrets

Create Striking Black and White Masterpieces

by David Peterson 5 comments

A question I often get asked is "All today's cameras shoot in color. What is the best way to convert a color into a black and white photo?". It's a great question. Most cameras give you one 'convert to black and white' option, which works well on some images, but falls short on most photos you want to convert.

There are actually thousands of ways to convert your color image into black and white. The conversion inside your camera (or image editor) usually won't produce a snazzy photo.

Take a look at this image by Robert Triggs:

Classy right? The black of the playground equipment forms an elegant frame around the landscape.

I created it from his original color image:

But that's just one of the black and white images I could create from the color version. How about this one? This time the frame is a light gray, rather than black:

Here the landscape doesn't stand out as much because the playground equipment has a lighter shade. Same photo. Just a different conversion.

If we want to, we can choose to highlight the left or the right side:

In fact, you can come up with completely new ways to look at your image! By using this technique, you can change the mood of your image, or highlight just one part of the photo.

The conversion is not complicated, and can be done in seconds with any popular image editor.

Black and White Magic

During the July Photography Dash, we're devoting the whole month to black and white photography. I'll show you how to create these different conversions above, and tell you which ones are better for your viewer (and why).

But we won't stop there. I'll explain what types of photos are best converted to black and white; why tone, shadow and texture are so important when taking a black and white photo; and why black and white abstract images work so well.

Black and White is stream 1 of the Photography Dash during July.

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Black and White Portraits

Almost any portrait photo will be enhanced by converting to black and white. I'll show you why on Day 2, as well as explaining the best types of portraits to convert. For example, see this wonderful image and black and white conversion from Dash participant Kelly Pearce. With the black and white image, the boy's hair and freckles are highlighted and we no longer see the tartan print on his clothes as a distraction.

Black and White Landscapes

Landscape images are another ideal candidate for converting into black and white. You create some dark skies with clouds that almost pop out of the image, like in this stunning creation by Dash participant Alice Mayer-heaton.

Or emphasize beams of sunlight as in this image by Dash participant Cynthia Jarrell:

Textures in Black and White

Black and white photos are excellent for highlighting the texture in your images. Because there is no color, our eyes are naturally drawn to the detail of the texture. Notice how your eye concentrates on the wood grain in this magnificent violin image by Dash participant Beate Sexton:

Photography Dash

If you are not familiar with the Photography Dash, it's a photography course designed to help you take much better photos with your existing camera. Twice a week, I'll send you new course material with a fun photographic assignment that helps you 'lock in' the knowledge in the course.

If you like, you can share your image with the hundreds of other Dash participants in our Dash community website - all participating at the same time as you - and receive feedback that will further help you improve your photography.

The Dash will only take 30 minutes to 1 hour twice a week for a month; and is a bargain at only $25 (or even less if you register for more than one content stream).

The Photography Dash starts on 1st July. Register for the Black and White Stream, or the concurrent "Color Photography" or "Lightind De-Mystified" streams (or all!).

The dead trees look more forlorn without the bright blue sky or water. Image by Dash Participant Sue Fenton

Course Schedule

Here's what we'll be covering during the Black and White stream:

1. Converting to B&W (the quick way); Seeing in Mono

We'll start by covering the quickest way to convert your image to black and white, and I'll give you some tricks so you can start to 'see in mono' - see your scene as it will look in black and white before photographing it.

2. Great B&W Subjects: Portraiture

In Day 2, I'll show you the tricks for creating stunning black and white portrait photos. I'll tell you what settings to use with your camera to ensure your portrait will look the best in black and white, as well as how to know ahead of time if you'll have any distracting elements taking away from your main subject.

Portrait by Dash participant Leisa Holland

3. Light / Shadow / Texture

Because of the absence of color, lighting, texture and particularly shadow are much more important elements of your composition. In Day 3, I'll show you what to look for when composing your black and white image, how to recognize (and highlight) great textures, and how to nail down the perfect shadows.

Image by Dash participant Kate Robinson

And Plenty More

During the rest of the month, I'll show you why abstract images work particularly well in black and white and give you exercises so you start to see the world as graphical elements (like cubes, spheres and lines) which will help your black and white composition skills.

And I'll give you plenty of examples and challenges to excite your creative juices.

But Don't Take It From Me...

Just three of the hundreds of glowing testimonials I have received for the Dash:

My nephew is taking photography in college. When I sat down with him not too long ago to compare notes, I was surprised to hear he knew nothing of ISO, Exposure Triangle or Depth of Field. It saddened me that my brother is paying thousands of dollars, and I have learned so much more in just a few months of dashing for just pennies! The lessons are simply written, easily applied and produce astounding results. Not only my photography, but also my love for photography have grown tremendously thanks to David's invaluable lessons.

-- Christine Austin, Pennsylvania, USA

feel the Dash is the perfect way to learn how to use your [camera] - I was a complete novice with my newly acquired SLR and had only used auto on my point and shoot before I joined the Dash. The way the challenges are set up makes you have a go and share your attempts with the community, good or bad, who offer advice on how you can improve your shots or just offer praise, which is always greatly appreciated. I feel I have a family of like-minded friends in the community even though I have never met them personally - it is a lovely idea and works amazingly well - thank you David and helpers for all your support along the way!

-- Lynda McGennity, Preston, UK

My photographs have improved dramatically since your dash. No more flat or dull photos, now I have eye popping photos on which I never thought I could accomplish until the dash. I am excited on David's future dashes, I do only have one problem though, it's addicting and to much fun!!!!! :) Thank you David for all you have taught me.

-- Sarah Hamilton, PA, USA

Join the Photography Dash Today

Take your own photography skills to new heights, have loads of fun, and have the opportunity to share your creations with fellow photographers from all around the world with the Photography Dash.

I'd love to see you there!

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  1. fanie says:

    Thanks black and white realy works stunning to receive jour tips thanks

  2. steve jones says:

    just read your reply to jim. easy way to do the course

  3. steve jones says:

    love your courses david unfortunately I will be on leave for 6 weeks so will have to pass on this one, hope you will run it again in the future

  4. Jim says:

    Is there a set time to see the class or is it something I can just watch at my leisure? August is a very busy month for travel. What days of week are you doing this and at what time. I am on Pacific coast.
    Please let me know so I can see if i can work it in the schedule.

    • David Peterson says:

      Hi Jim,

      Yes, you can participate in all the challenges at a time that suits you. There are no 'live classes' so you don't have to be at your computer at a set time. You can read the course material whenever it suits you (even after the course ends) and complete the challenges anytime too.

      I send new course material out twice a week per stream. Wed and Sat for Black and White, and Thu and Sun for Macro.

      I hope that helps.


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