Using Black & White in your Photography

I’ve always liked seeing really good black and white images and like most people, I feel that black and white photography gives some shots a certain ‘something’.  But I’d never really used B&W much in my own photography – rarely considered it, except occasionally when I’ve wanted an image to look ‘vintage’.  Mostly, I’ve tended to see how I can improve the colours in post-production rather than taking colour away!

Then a few weeks ago, I saw a post on Facebook that got me thinking.  It was a simple photo of a sportsman being carried off the field injured.  The original wasn’t a particularly striking image and not much seemed to be happening – but in black and white it took on a whole different mood and it became very powerful.  Without the colour it made you want to study the image more; look at the facial expressions, study the actions and interactions, and create a story around what was happening.  In the original image, the colour was actually a distraction which was removed once converted to B&W!

So I gave this some thought, then I started to go through some archived (forgotten) images and tried it out.  I found I had loads of shots that really didn’t come out anything like I thought they would at the time of taking – particularly with candid street photography.  I have taken many such shots which through the viewfinder seem like they have elements of real interest, then when I see them on the screen they have no real interest at all; and all the post-production colour tweaking doesn’t improve them at all.

But in many cases, converting to B&W does add something – it freezes a moment in time better by taking away the distraction of colour, encouraging the viewer to look at the detail, which helps convey the story you first saw through the viewfinder!  Or that’s my theory anyway!

So, why not try cpnverting to Black and white when:

  • The photo’ really needs the viewer to study what is going on in a ‘split-second in time’
  • You want to convey a vintage documentary look
  • The image you had in mind just doesn’t seem to cut it in colour
  • You want a gritty or industrial look – for instance with machinery or architecture; also some portraiture

Anyway, here’s a couple of images that were previously consigned to never seeing the light of day.  I’ve included the original unedited version to compare to the mono edit.  I think they have a new lease of life in black and white.  What do you think?


A street performer using a diablo - black and white photograph with thumbnail of the original colour shot
Taken in fairly low light, the original was drab and uninteresting – in B&W the audience involvement is more evident and there is a ‘story’ behind the shot.  The image is still a bit grainy and the bottom left corner (someone’s head) needs editing out, but it’s definitely much better in mono.


The original was nondescript – two life-size models of guards outside a cafe. Once the colour is removed the focus becomes much more about the guy in the middle. He is captured moving off very purposefully. Where is he going? Is he in a rush? Was his experience in the cafe a good one – or perhaps not?


Paul Wilson

I am a freelance photographer, video-maker and blogger based in Surrey, UK. I've been taking photos for years - you know those days you've heard about when you actually used to put film in your camera then waited for your photos to come back from the developer!

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