Editing in black & white is my favorite! The first photographs I took were on black & white film and you never forget your first love.
So today’s post is all about taking + editing a great black & white image!
I think there is a common misconception when we think about editing b&w imagery – people think it’s easy! Just desaturate and you are all set. But thinking that a good b&w photograph can be achieved just by removing the color does a great disservice to the art that is black & white photography.
On the left, I just desaturated the image without any editing first and on the right is the same image with several edits done before I removed the color. The difference is subtle but I think it has big impact – especially in the lightest and darkest tones of the image. Image one is definitely flatter and the edited version has much richer tonality.
Let me show you a few of the tools we have in Camera+ 2 so you can nail your black & white edits.
The first, of course, like I always say is:
Read a full walkthrough about shooting in raw here.
The reason you want to shoot in raw for black-and-white specifically is because of your tones. We’re going to talk about tones a lot. They are really important in a black and white image. When you have more data, you can get richer blacks and brighter whites. It’s just the right recipe for a perfect black and white photo. You can absolutely achieve a wonderful black and white photo without shooting in raw. I don’t want to discourage you if that’s not your preference but I definitely do recommend raw.
Composition is an important part of any photograph but I find it particularly important when you shoot b&w. Something about removing all the color really makes those leading lines stand out!
Be intentional with those leading lines. Where will your viewer’s eye be drawn in the image? Without a bright color to catch their eye first, a winding road or streak of light might send their eyes right to your focal point.
You also need to think about the balance of an image. A good photograph does not have to be perfectly symmetrical but the overall balance does need to feel equal. Especially in a black & white image because, again, there are no loud colors to demand your viewer’s attention. Let me show you an example.
Here you can see that something feels off – Why is that? It’s not a bad photo, but something just don’t seem quite right. But when you compose the same image like this:
The image is much stronger because it has better balance. This balance was achieved by using the rule of thirds when composing. Camera+ 2 has a tool just for that! You can turn on the grid in the tool menu (upper left corner of the shooting screen). This will give you the lines you need to use the rule of thirds right on screen.
And my favorite thing about composition is that the more you shoot, the more this will all become second nature to you. You will start to do it without thinking. You can train your eye to see the perfect composition just like *that*.
Once you have the shot we move into the Lightbox and start our edit. If you shot raw, you’ll start in Raw Adjust. Here you can edit as you would normally for a color photo. No seriously. Treat the image like it’s staying in color first and it will look better when you remove the color!
The first thing to edit is White Balance. I know that seems strange because white balance is about the color but I promise it matters.
Let me show you an example:
There is a difference between these two photos. The first, the WB is wrong. And the second, I corrected it first and then desaturated.
This is because the white balance affects more than just the color. It affects the tones. And once you turn it black & white, those tone changes will be visible in your midtones. The way you edit the white balance will affect the way your gray tones show up later.
The easiest way to watch you midtones is with curves – you can find curves in Raw Adjust and in The Lab.
The histogram appears behind the curves line and if you watch that you can see what your midtones are up to. We talk more about the histogram in this post.
But basically, as you make your edits, you want to make sure that the histogram doesn’t come too far in on either side because that indicates you are missing data in your blacks and your whites.
Then head to the lab and it is time to desaturate. It’s super easy, just drag the slider all the way down.
At this point, if you are happy with the way your image looks you can be done or you can continue editing your contrast if the image needs it.
Contrast is important in b&w images because it’s all you got. There is no color to create the drama! Just your tones. There is no right or wrong way to use contrast in an edit. Every photographer has their preferred levels. Personally, I like a LOT of contrast. The richer the black tones the better! But it’s also very popular to have the dark tones be matte. And that’s a gorgeous look too.
There are a couple ways to play with the contrast of your image in Camera+ 2.
The first is Brightness + Contrast.
Or you can go back to curves to change the black and white tones. You can do this by dragging the points in the corners.
If you don’t want to do all that and you are looking to get great b&w images quickly, we have options for that too!
Skip right to The Lab and use Magic ML. Your image will get a quick pro edit and then you can slide over to saturation and desaturate it.
For an even quicker B&W edit, pick one of our black & white filters.
My favorite is Classic in the Social pack but there’s also Ansel, Noir, and more!
These are the perfect one-tap edit for black and white images!
Happy shooting! Don’t forget to tag us on Instagram and Twitter with #cameraplus2 so we can see your black & white art!