Posts Tagged ‘White’

Software review: Nik Silver Efex Pro 3 gives the look of black and white film without the fuss

18 Oct

Nik Silver Efex Pro 3
$ 149 as part of Nik Collection 4

A few months ago we found a lot to like in the latest iteration of the Nik Collection, a suite of eight image processing tools initially developed by Nik Software and these days owned by French software company DxO. At the time, we looked at the overall suite with a focus on what was new. For this review, though, we’d like to take a closer look at just one of the suite’s most useful components, Silver Efex Pro 3.


Nik Silver Efex Pro 3 is a black-and-white conversion tool that goes far further than the grayscale or black-and-white tools built into Adobe Photoshop. It allows users to simulate the look of specific real-world film types, manually tuning their color sensitivity and grain with an incredible amount of flexibility and precision. For less experienced users, a generous selection of presets are provided to get you started with minimal effort.

Silver Efex allows you to make a wide range of adjustments to brightness, contrast, structure and tonality, either globally or locally using control points. You can also apply color filters, reduce haze and finish your creations with toning, vignetting, borders and more.

Even at its default ‘neutral’ setting, Silver Efex Pro’s rendering is noticeably different to that of a simple grayscale conversion in Photoshop.
Click here for the full-sized Silver Efex image, here for Photoshop grayscale or here for full color.

Available immediately as part of the Nik Collection 4 bundle, Silver Efex Pro 3 can function either standalone or as a plugin for Photoshop, Lightroom and other compatible apps on both Windows 8.1+ or macOS 10.14+. (And as of the recently-released Nik Collection 4 version 4.2, this includes support for Adobe Photoshop running natively on Apple M1 devices.)

The overall Nik Collection 4 is priced at $ 149 for new customers, with upgrades available to existing customers for $ 79. That actually makes it around $ 50 less for the full suite than Silver Efex Pro 1 or 2 used to cost standalone.

What’s New?

Let’s take a quick look at what’s new in Silver Efex Pro 3. The biggest change is to the user interface, which has been completely redesigned with a far more modern look. Gone are the busy 3D-effect buttons, bevels and drop shadows of the Silver Efex Pro 2 UI, with the new version aiming to reduce distraction with a flatter, cleaner and more modern interface.

Compared to that of version 2, Silver Efex Pro 3’s interface is much cleaner and more modern.

DxO has also updated its U-Point control point technology to reduce visual clutter, significantly increase versatility and in the latest v4.2 release, bring a modest boost to performance as well. Control points can be grouped or renamed, saved for reuse in presets, and in Lightroom Classic can also be copied and pasted between images. Their individual sliders now appear in the right panel rather than directly on the image, and the luminance/chrominance values to which they respond can be tuned.

The company has also borrowed two features from its other apps to further extend Silver Efex Pro. It now boasts both the haze-busting ClearView slider from DxO PhotoLab, as well as the ability to add one of 39 black and white film grain types from DxO FilmPack. Both of these additions can only be applied globally, rather than via U-Point controls.

User interface and controls

Just like the other apps in the Nik Collection, Silver Efex Pro 3 can be used completely standalone and without the need for third-party applications.

Works standalone but it’s best used as a plugin

As a standalone app, Silver Efex can only open images in JPEG or TIFF formats, which rather limits its utility. Since it doesn’t support Raw files standalone, many photographers will instead want to pair it with other apps.

Standalone mode is very similar to plugin mode but without the bottom-of-screen status bar you’d use to apply changes as a plugin. Instead, you must use save command in the file menu.

As well as DxO’s own PhotoLab series, it can officially be used only with Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements 2020+, Lightroom Classic 2019+, Affinity Photo 1.8+ or, as of its v4.2 release, Capture One 21. Other applications may work to varying degrees, but aren’t officially supported.

For example, Exposure X6 works even for Raw files, first converting them to TIFF format, but functions as if Silver Efex had been opened standalone. You aren’t shown the status bar at the bottom of the screen, and instead must use the file menu to save your results. And prior to v4.2, Capture One didn’t work at all, appearing fine but failing to apply its adjustments in the final step.

The good news is that a free 30-day unlimited trial is available, so if you’re using an application that’s not officially supported with the Nik Collection, you can try them together first to see if everything works before paying.

A fair few presets keep things simple for beginners

The quickest way to get results from Silver Efex Pro 3 is to use one of its presets, of which there are a reasonably generous 58 in all. They’re separated somewhat haphazardly into five groups with not-so-informative names: Classic, En Vogue, Modern, Vintage and 25th Anniversary. You can also view all five groups together, filtering them to show only your favorites or the ten most recently-used presets.

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The presets are all shown atop the left-hand pane, along with your editing history for the current image. For each preset you’re shown a small preview based upon the image you’re currently editing. These are rendered very quickly, making it easy to simply scroll through the list and find the look you’re after, or a preset that will make a good jumping off point for your own creation.

You can’t permanently modify the 58 base presets, but you can create new custom presets which can be exported and imported to allow sharing with other photographers or across multiple workstations. Your custom and imported presets are each grouped separately from the base presets, so there’s no way to quickly access favorites from all three categories or to see them all as one scrollable list.

A vast selection of controls to tune results to your tastes

Of course, while presets are great for beginners who want quick results, more experienced photographers will prefer to capture their own artistic vision, not simply borrow someone else’s.

Silver Efex Pro 3’s control list is so vast that, even with just one control point active and on a 1080p display, the right pane is still almost 3500 pixels tall. The cropped screenshots above link to the top and bottom halves of the right pane, respectively.

Thankfully, Silver Efex Pro 3 offers a huge amount of control over your images courtesy of a whopping 50+ controls in its right-hand pane. And that’s just counting the controls which affect the entire image globally. If you add one or more of DxO’s U-Point control points to the image, you’ll unlock another dozen-plus sliders per point or group of points.

Not only global adjustments, but local ones too

Each control point you add to the image is indicated with a small donut-shaped mark at its center, and while it is selected, an outer circle appears showing the extent beyond which the effect will gradually be feathered away to nothing. This outer limit can be resized to cover the portion of the image you need.

For each point, there are also both luminance and chrominance sliders, and these help you to target specific areas of the image based on their brightness and color before the black and white conversion. If you dial both sliders down to zero, the control point will effectively become a graduated radial selection, instead.

The ability to group and rename control points is very handy. In this mask view, I’ve selected the taxi’s body with one group of control points, and the road markings with another group.

Once placed, multiple control points can be grouped together. You can also rename both individual points and groups of them, and when saving new presets you can choose whether or not control points should be included. Of course, once the preset is subsequently applied to a different image, you can adjust the point positions if they don’t quite match what’s needed from shot to shot.

A closer look at the global controls

The bulk of Silver Efex Pro 3’s controls are grouped under its global adjustments header, with subgroups including brightness, contrast or structure adjustment headers, as well as tonality protection.

Click here for the full-sized Silver Efex image or here for the original color image.

Brightness can be adjusted globally, or for the highlights, midtones and shadows. There’s also a dynamic brightness slider which tries to hold onto local contrast in the highlights and shadows will brightening or darkening the image globally.

For contrast, you have a choice of either the basic contrast slider or a soft contrast slider which aims for a less harsh effect with more diffuse transitions. There are also sliders to amplify whites or blacks alone.

Under the structure header, you get both the basic structure control and one for fine structure, as well as individual controls for structure in the highlight, midtone and shadow areas. And finally, the tonality protection section contains sliders to recover lost detail in just the highlight and shadow areas of the image.

Local adjustments get a subset of these global controls

The selective colorization slider lets you bring back a specific color range to your otherwise-black and white image using U-Point selections. Image uses Full Dynamic (Smooth) preset.
Click here for the Silver Efex image or here for the original color image.

Each individual control point or group of them also offers a subset of the controls from the previous section. Confusingly, they’re grouped rather differently to those for global adjustments, though. All but the dynamic brightness, soft contrast, tonality protection and high/mid/shadow/black structure sliders have equivalents for control points.

There’s also one extra control which is specific to the control points – selective colorization. This allows you to bring some of the color back into specific parts of your otherwise black and white image, and since you can have multiple control points, you can also bring back multiple colors if you wish.

Vanquish haze with the ClearView slider

The ClearView filter in Silver Efex Pro is quite effective, but can’t be targeted only at specific areas of the image, so can cause overly-contrasty foregrounds if pushed too far.
Click here for the full-sized default image, here for the ClearView image or here for full color.

One of the new features in Silver Efex Pro 3, inherited from DxO’s flagship PhotoLab application, is its new ClearView slider. Just like its PhotoLab equivalent, it’s very effective at recovering detail and increasing contrast in hazy backgrounds and other lower-contrast areas of your image.

I sometimes found it hard to push far enough though, simply because the areas of moderate contrast in my images would start to show too much contrast before the hazy background was fully recovered. I’d really like to see DxO allow ClearView to be paired with U-Point or some other form of localized selection in a future release to help in these situations.

Color filtering without the physical filters

With traditional black and white film, if you wanted to tune the response to individual colors of light you’d do so with filters attached to the front of the lens. For example, you might attach a yellow, orange or perhaps even a red filter to make a blue sky more dramatic, or a green filter to lighten foliage.

With Silver Efex Pro, that’s all achieved post-capture with no need to fumble for physical filters, however. Red, orange, yellow, green and blue filter presets are all provided, but if you prefer you can also dial in a specific hue in one-degree increments, and you can also control the strength of the filter from 0 to 200%.

Color filters can be simulated after the fact in Silver Efex Pro 3, so you can do things like darkening a blue sky with a yellow filter to help give the clouds more definition.
Click here for the full-sized unfiltered image, here for the filtered image or here for full color.

Simulate the look of real B&W film in two somewhat-contradictory ways

Silver Efex Pro 3 now offers two different tools to simulate the look of black and white film grain. The two can be used in concert together, but the division between the two tools is unnecessarily confusing.

Firstly, the film types tool lets you select one of 28 different film types and dial in your desired level of grain size and hardness. You can also control the film’s sensitivity in red, yellow, green, cyan, blue and violet channels, and adjust levels/curves. All of this is carried over from earlier version and is based on code from Nik Software, the original creator of the Nik Collection.

Through the new film grain tool, DxO now also lets you simulate the look of specific, real film grains based on the same algorithms it used to create its FilmPack plugin. In all, there are 38 film grain types on offer, including almost every black and white film type from FilmPack. For each you can adjust the intensity from 0 to 200%, and the grain size from 1.0 to 10.0.

The new film grain tool’s grain patterns have a very authentic feel, but unlike the earlier film types tool, it only handles grain simulation and forgoes any attempt to tune the film’s responsiveness to different wavelengths of light. You can, however, use both tools at once, in which case the new tool overrides only the grain pattern of the earlier one. (And you can, if you want, choose different film types in each section to, say, create a fictitious film with the light response of one film but the grain of another.)

Full-size, no-grain-added image.

A wide range of authentic-looking film grains are available in Silver Efex Pro 3. In order, these are 100% crops of the above image with no added grain, Fuji Neopan 1600, Kodak T-Max 3200, Ilford Delta 3200 and filtered Kodak HIE. All share the same Neutral profile and differ only in their grain selections.

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Finish your images with toning, vignetting, burnt edges and borders

Finally, Silver Efex provides four different categories of finishing adjustments: Toning, vignetting, burnt edges and borders. By default, these are one-click adjustments involving no more than making a selection from a list, but far more control is available if you want it.

For toning, you can not only select a color but also control strength, hue and toning for both silver and paper, and the balance between the two. For vignetting, you can adjust the strength of the vignette (which can either darken or lighten), as well as its size, roundness and center point.

For burnt edges, you control the size, transition softness and strength of the effect on all four edges individually. And finally, image borders allows you not only to choose one of 14 predefined border types, but also how thick the border is and how far it extends into the image. You can also adjust the roughness of the border, and provide a ‘seed’ number that the program should use when generating the random details in border textures.

The compare tools allow you to quickly toggle between before and after views, view the image with an adjustable side-by-side or under/over split, or see both before and after images together.

Before-and-after comparisons are quick and easy

View controls can be found at the top of the screen, and I found the comparison controls in particular to be rather handy. The leftmost of these toggles between the results of your current settings or the default black and white conversion, and holding the P key down achieves the same thing.

The central button splits the image in two either vertically or horizontally, and allows you to move the dividing line across the image to allow a careful before-and-after comparison anywhere within the image. And finally, the rightmost button gives you either side-by-side or under/over views of the full image.

The histogram tool allows you to highlight which image areas are within ten different luminance levels at your current settings, even in the loupe view. Note also the history panel at screen left.

The histogram tool is surprisingly handy, too

One last function I found to be particularly handy was Silver Efex Pro 3’s histogram tool, which sits beneath the loupe at the top of the right pane. It not only gives you access to RGB, red, green, blue or luminance graphs of your image, but also splits it into ten different luminance ranges.

For any of the ten, you can enable an overlaid pattern on the image, with the pattern color varying by the range selected. This makes it really easy to see which parts of the image share the same luminance, and I found it even more useful than the more-common technique of just highlighting the brightest and darkest image areas.

Click here for the full-sized Silver Efex image or here for the original color image.


It’s been more than a decade since Silver Efex Pro’s last major update and until just this year, it hadn’t been significantly changed since the suite’s original creator, Nik Software, was sold first to Google and then DxO.

A lot has changed in all that time, not only for Silver Efex itself but also in the imaging software market. Gone are the days when a plugin of its ilk could command the heady price of $ 200. These days you can purchase the entire eight-plugin Nik Collection for a much more reasonable $ 150, but sadly you can’t pick and choose which of those plugins you want to save even more.

Click here for the full-sized Silver Efex image or here for the original color image.

In its overhauled form Silver Efex Pro 3 is much easier on the eye than its predecessor, making it much easier to focus on your images. And while some of its new features sit a little awkwardly alongside earlier ones, once we got used to the differences between film types vs. film grain and global vs. local adjustment sliders, we found it to be pretty easy to use considering the level of control on offer.

Performance, while not mindblowing, is sufficient to prevent frustration. On my 2018-vintage Dell XPS 15 9570 laptop running Windows 10 version 20H2 and Nik Collection v4.2, most sliders update within a half-second or less of being tweaked, even those using U-Point controls to limit their effect to certain area of the image. Final renders can take perhaps 20-30 seconds, which again doesn’t feel unduly slow.

Click here for the full-sized Silver Efex image or here for the original color image.

And it’s hard to argue with Silver Efex Pro’s results. If you’re a fan of black and white photography and are willing to put in a bit more effort than simply clicking on a preset, you can get much more authentic-looking images than you would from the black and white tools in your camera or most all-in-one apps like Photoshop.

If you’re still using the previous release of Silver Efex Pro, its successor represents a no-brainer upgrade. As well as a nicer interface and more film grain types, you’ll also find the new ClearView tool and improved U-Point technology to be big improvements. And if you’re not already a Nik Collection user but want a solid plugin that can deliver realistically film-like black and white images, we’d definitely recommend giving the trial version a spin.

What we like:

  • Yields convincingly film-like results
  • Presets get beginners up and running quickly
  • Making and sharing custom presets is simple
  • Both global and local adjustments
  • Loads of controls to fine-tune the look you’re after
  • ClearView tool is quite effective at correcting haze
  • New user interface is cleaner and less distracting
  • More affordable as a suite component than its predecessors were sold separately

What we don’t:

  • Can no longer be purchased separately
  • No Raw support when used standalone
  • Presets feel rather disorganized
  • Film types vs. film grain tools are unnecessarily confusing
  • Ditto the differing global and local adjustment slider arrangements

Who’s it for:

More experienced photographers who want fine-grained control over their black and white creations, and who desire a convincingly film-like final result.

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How to Correct White Balance in Photoshop: A Guide

04 Aug

The post How to Correct White Balance in Photoshop: A Guide appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

how to correct white balance in Photoshop

When you think of white balance corrections, Photoshop probably isn’t the first program that comes to mind. In most cases, white balance is dealt with early in the workflow. And because the tools in Lightroom and other RAW processing suites do a great job, Photoshop isn’t necessary.

That said, there are occasions when you might need to alter your white balance in Photoshop – which is where this article will come in handy.

Specifically, I’m going to share four non-destructive methods of correcting the white balance.

And by the time you’re done, you’ll be able to adjust white balance in Photoshop like a pro.

Let’s dive right in.

Disclaimer: As you are no longer working on a RAW file in Photoshop, when you use these tools, you are technically not altering the white balance data in your images. Instead, you are altering the colors and tones of a PSD, JPEG, etc. Even so, the end result will appear the same as a white balance adjustment, and I will refer to it as such for the purposes of this article.

white balance adjustment example

Why correct the white balance in Photoshop

There are many reasons you may want to alter the white balance in Photoshop, rather than in a standard RAW processor (such as Lightroom).

Perhaps you’re halfway through your workflow and you change your mind about some of the choices you made at the RAW stage.

layers in Photoshop
One reason you might want to alter your white balance in Photoshop is if you need to make changes in the middle of a workflow. Instead of heading back to your RAW processor and starting from scratch, you can make the adjustments in Photoshop.

Perhaps another adjustment altered the image colors in a way that you don’t like, and you want to make white balance corrections.

Perhaps you don’t shoot in RAW at all, so you only edit your files in Photoshop.

Whatever the reason, Photoshop offers a huge variety of tools that will let you deal with this task easily and without needing to scrap any of your previous edits.

Four (non-destructive) ways to adjust the white balance in Photoshop

non-destructive adjustments in Photoshop
All of the techniques mentioned in this article are non-destructive – three by way of adjustment layers and one by making use of Smart Objects.

Below, I outline four simple techniques to correct the white balance in Photoshop.

Note that every technique is non-destructive – or it can be, as long as you use layers and Smart Objects.

Starting with your very first option:

1. Camera Raw filter

Let’s get this one out of the way right off the bat.

After all, when it comes to altering your white balance in Photoshop, the Camera Raw filter might be the most obvious option. Why? The filter opens an interface that allows you to use Adobe Camera Raw inside of Photoshop.

If you use ACR or even Lightroom, you’re already familiar with the filter interface, and it should be a piece of cake to work with.

the Camera Raw filter in Photoshop
If you’re already familiar with Lightroom, finding your way around the Camera Raw Filter is going to be easy.

To get started with the Camera Raw filter, create a new layer, then use Ctrl+Alt+Shift+E (Cmd+Alt+Shift+E on a Mac) to copy all of your previous layers and place them into your just-created layer. If you want this adjustment to be non-destructive, right-click the new layer and select Convert to Smart Object.

Now, from the filter menu, select Filter>Camera Raw Filter.

selecting the Camera Raw filter from the menu

This will open the Camera Raw filter window:

the Camera Raw filter window in Photoshop

From here, all you have to do is locate the sliders labeled Temperature and Tint:

adjusting the Temperature and Tint
Assuming the white balance was close to accurate, any changes you make at this point will be quite minor.

Adjust these sliders as you see fit – this is your opportunity to make white balance corrections – then press OK. Job done!

a white balance adjustment in Photoshop before and after
Easy and intuitive, the Camera Raw Filter might be all you need for a quick white balance adjustment in Photoshop.

Note: The Temperature slider in Camera Raw does not correspond to the white balance Kelvin scale. Remember, as you are not using a RAW file, there is no white balance data for you to manipulate at this stage of your workflow.

2. Color Balance

The Color Balance adjustment is the least intuitive option in this article, and its sensitivity takes some time to get used to. Once you get your head around it, however, it can be a quick and powerful way to make changes to white balance in Photoshop. 

To get started, create a new Color Balance adjustment layer:

Photoshop Color Balance adjustment layer

You’ll see a selection of sliders, like so:

Color Balance in Photoshop
Although the Color Balance sliders seem intuitive, they can cause massive changes to your images with minor tweaks.

There is also a dialogue box labeled Tone; by clicking the box, you can switch between altering the shadow, midtone, and highlight colors.

Now, to warm up your image, select a tonal range and move your sliders toward the reds, magentas, and yellows. To cool down your image, push the sliders toward the cyans, greens, and blues. Adjust the shadows, midtones, and highlights until you’re happy with the results.

Color Balance sliders in action
Here, you can see how small changes make a huge difference. I barely moved the sliders, and yet look at the effect on the image below.
before and after Photoshop Color Balance
Color balance: before and after.

Tip: The sliders in the Color Balance adjustment are very sensitive. To get your desired effect, you may only need to move them a tiny amount. Also, because of this sensitivity, altering the midtones can lead to drastic results very quickly. Keep a close eye on your image and don’t be afraid to dial it back if you go too far. Also, don’t forget: if the effect does seem too strong, you can always lower the opacity of the adjustment layer when you’ve finished.

3. Photo Filter

The Photo Filter adjustment is a bit of a wild card and you may never choose it over the other options outlined here, but it’s a good example of Photoshop’s incredible versatility. Plus, who knows? Maybe you’ll like the effect.

The Photo Filter tool aims to replicate the effect of various filters used in film photography to manipulate white balance in camera. Common examples of these filters are warm-up and cool-down filters (which add warm and cool tones to your images, respectively). 

To get started, create a new Photo Filter adjustment layer:

Photo Filter adjustment layer in Photoshop

Then, in the Filter dialog box, you will find several options, including warming and cooling filters:

Photo Filter in Photoshop
Altering the Photo Filter settings can change your results drastically. Apart from the Filter presets and the density, you can also choose a custom color to apply as a filter.

In this example, I chose a warming filter to (you guessed it!) warm up the image. Note that the photo was taken during the blue hour, and that’s deliberate – I want to show you just how powerful the Photo Filter adjustment can be.

The initial effect will almost always require some adjustment; move the Density slider left to reduce the filter’s impact, and move the Density slider right to strengthen the filter.

adjusting the white balance on a mountain landscape
Here you can see a dramatic result from the Photo Filter; this blue hour shot instantly became far more neutral.

That’s pretty much all there is to it.

4. Curves

The Curves adjustment layer is one of the most powerful tools that Photoshop offers. You can use a Curves layer to adjust exposure, contrast, dodge and burn, color grade, and adjust your white balance in Photoshop.

In short, if you are not yet familiar with the Curves adjustment, I recommend taking the time to learn it in depth.

Using Curves to alter white balance is fairly straightforward. To start, create a new Curves adjustment layer:

Curves adjustment layer in Photoshop

Click the box labeled RGB to see options for Red, Green, and Blue:

adjusting Curves in Photoshop

To warm up your images, select the Red curve. Drag it slightly upward to increase the red tones in your images. Do the same to the Green curve. Then drag the Blue curve downward to de-emphasize any cool tones:

Curves RGB adjustments
Although these adjustments seem slight, they’ve had a huge impact on the image. This should show you just how powerful the Curves adjustment can be.

This process can be finicky, so keep adjusting each curve by small amounts until you get your desired effect.

If you want to cool down your image, the process is the same, but you will simply move each of the three curves in the opposite directions.

before and after Curves adjustment
The original image (left) was cooled down a bit with some minor tweaks in a Curves layer.

Correcting white balance in Photoshop: conclusion

Now that you’ve finished this article, you should be able to see that altering the white balance in Photoshop needn’t be a complicated process.

You now know four simple ways to make white balance adjustments, and while Photoshop probably shouldn’t be your first choice when working with white balance, it’s good to have a few tricks up your sleeve just in case.

Now over to you:

Which of these methods of adjusting white balance in Photoshop do you plan to try first? Do you have a favorite? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

White balance in Photoshop FAQs

Can you use Photoshop to change the white balance for an image that isn’t a RAW file?

Yes and no. Technically speaking, only RAW files grant you the ability to change white balance settings. However, you can use Photoshop tools such as the Camera Raw filter, Curves, Photo Filter, and Color Balance to alter the colors of your images – and the effect is similar to a white balance adjustment.

What’s the easiest tool for altering the white balance in Photoshop?

The Camera Raw filter. This tool offers an interface similar to Lightroom and features easy-to-use sliders.

How do I use Curves to correct colors in my images?

Work on the Red, Green, and Blue curves individually. Drag each curve until your colors look exactly as you want them.

Why would I want to use Photoshop to correct my white balance?

Maybe you’ve already started post-processing an image and only later decide you want to alter the white balance. Instead of starting over, you can use tools in Photoshop to get the job done in the middle of your workflow.

The post How to Correct White Balance in Photoshop: A Guide appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

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6 Tips to Improve Your Black and White Landscape Photography

25 Jul

The post 6 Tips to Improve Your Black and White Landscape Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Andrew S. Gibson.

black and white landscape photography tips

Are you looking to take your black and white landscape photography to the next level?

You’ve come to the right place.

In this article, we share six easy-to-follow tips that’ll improve your black and white landscapes; we also share plenty of examples, so you can understand exactly what goes into a good black and white photo.

Specifically, you’ll discover:

  • The best camera settings for black and white photography
  • How to enhance your b&w landscapes with filters
  • What to look for in a landscape scene
  • Much, much more!

So if you’re ready to capture black and white shots like the pros…

…then let’s get started!

1. Learn what scenes work well in black and white

When shooting in color, you can rely on the strength of hues to create drama and interest. Often, the key to good color landscape photography is to find a dramatic scene and photograph it in the most beautiful light possible. That’s why so many color landscape photos are taken during the golden hour or just after sunset.

Black and white landscape photography is very, very different. Without color, you have to work to create strong compositions. You can’t rely on color contrast and golden light; instead, you need to learn to look for the building blocks of photographic composition, such as leading lines, shapes, patterns, tonal contrast, and texture. In other words, you must learn to see in black and white.

For example, this photo works well in black and white because of the contrast between the twin waterfalls and the dark rocks:

black and white landscape waterfall

Educate yourself about black and white landscape photography by looking at the work of masters, like Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, who worked predominantly in black and white. Also, look at what modern-day photographers are doing on Instagram and 500px. Some names to search for include Cole Thompson, Rob Dweck, Arnaud Bertrande, Thibault Roland, Joel Tjintjelaar, and Nathan Wirth.

When you look at their work, ask yourself: What makes their black and white landscape photos so dramatic and powerful? What light are they shooting in? What photographic techniques are they using? How do they approach composition? The answers will teach you a lot about black and white photography and will help you understand which elements and scenes lend themselves to black and white and which are best avoided.

2. Look for tonal contrast and texture

I touched on this in the previous tip, but I want to emphasize it here because it’s so important.

Tonal contrast is the term used to describe variations in brightness between different parts of the image. Take the photo below as an example; the jetties are dark and the sky is much lighter. That is tonal contrast. And it looks amazing in black and white.

lighthouses out at sea in black and white

The alternative – low tonal contrast – tends to look very mushy and flat. Tones don’t separate out, key elements fade into one another, and the composition loses impact. Remember: You can’t rely on changes in color to differentiate key elements, so it becomes all about the tones.

Texture (and contrast between textures) is super helpful, as well. If you think about the elements that appear in landscape photos – cliffs, rocks, grass, trees, mountains, oceans, along with human-made objects like piers, jetties, and old barns – you’ll notice that they all have distinct textures. Some feature rough, heavy textures, while others are intensely smooth.

In the photo below, the arch, the cliffs in the distance, and the rocks in the foreground are all heavily textured. The sea and the sky are much smoother. There is a strong contrast between the roughness of the rocks and the smoothness of the sea and the sky.

long exposure rock at sea

And thanks to that textural contrast, the photo is much more impactful!

3. Shoot in black and white mode

Did you know that your digital camera can teach you to see in black and white?

All you have to do is set it to its black and white (monochrome) mode. Your camera’s rear LCD will show you a black and white Live View feed – and if your camera includes an electronic viewfinder, it’ll turn black and white, too (you can literally look at the world in black and white – how cool is that?).

As you can imagine, constantly looking at the world through a black and white LCD or viewfinder helps you see how black and white scenes are rendered. This, in turn, makes it easier to see how a photo will turn out in black and white. And it’s also just far easier to compose black and white shots in black and white because you can see how tonal contrast, texture, lines, shapes, patterns, and light will affect the landscape.

camera with black and white LCD

One note, though: Don’t forget to set your camera to shoot in RAW. RAW files contain all the information captured by your camera’s sensor, including color – so if you decide you don’t like an image in black and white, you can always convert it to color and process it that way instead.

4. Learn to use neutral density filters

Neutral density filters are the secret weapon of the black and white landscape photographer. Grab one (or more) of these accessories, and you’ll be able to capture jaw-dropping images beyond your wildest dreams.

(Am I exaggerating? Honestly, I don’t think so. Neutral density filters are a huge deal.)

But what makes ND filters so special?

ND filters are basically dark pieces of glass that go in front of your lens and prevent too much light from hitting your camera sensor. In other words, ND filters block out the light.

Now, as a landscape photographer without an ND filter, you’ll often be using a shutter speed between 1/2s and 1/125s, assuming you’re shooting with a relatively narrow aperture of f/13 or so (which is generally a good idea).

But what if you want to increase your shutter speed for creative effect? By lengthening your shutter speed, you can blur water, stretch clouds, and create all sorts of other cool effects that look amazing (especially in black and white).

Unfortunately, in most situations, dropping the shutter speed beyond 1/2s or so just can’t be done. The light is too strong; if you try it, you’ll end up with an overexposed image.

Unless you have an item that can block out the light – such as a neutral density filter! The ND filter keeps your camera from overexposing the scene even when you’re dealing with lots of light. That way, you can get the stretchy clouds and blurry water that you’re after.

For an example, check out the photos below. The first was taken at dusk with a shutter speed of 1/5s; slow enough to introduce some blur into the water, but not slow enough to really flatten out the water while making the clouds turn into interesting streaks:

relatively short seaside rock exposure

Then I added a neutral density filter and made the next photo using a shutter speed of 180 seconds. The water is completely blurred, and the clouds have moved across the sky for a streaking effect:

long exposure black and white seaside landscape photo

Bottom line:

Neutral density filters give you control over your shutter speed, which you can then use to enhance your black and white landscapes.

5. Don’t just take photos like everyone else

Black and white landscape photographer Cole Thompson has an interesting idea. He practices what he calls “photographic abstinence,” where he doesn’t look at the work of other photographers. The theory is that it enables him to see the landscape through his own eyes without being influenced by other people’s photos.

I’ve never taken this idea to its extreme; I believe it’s important to research an area before you go to find its most photogenic parts. But the problem is that the most powerful images you see during your research tend to stick in your mind. The natural tendency is to want to create similar images – which then end up looking like everybody else’s.

Resist this urge. Instead, take some black and white images that are truly you.

Let me give you an example. A few years ago, I visited the Playa de las Catedrales (Cathedral Beach) in northern Spain. Search for it on Google or 500px, and most photos will look something like this, showing the cathedral-like arches for which the beach is named:

arches in black and white

Anybody who visits the beach will naturally want to take photos of those arches. They’re the reason the spot is famous, after all. But this can be a hindrance when it causes you to miss other possibilities.

So after getting my rock arch photos (such as the shot displayed above), I really started looking. I saw some rocks in the sea that made an interesting minimalistic composition. I made the following photo:

long exposure rocks in water

It doesn’t feature the arches the beach is famous for. But it’s more personal to me and was more satisfying to make.

6. Travel when you can

All the photos that I have shown you so far were taken while traveling – and unless you are lucky enough to live in a breathtaking area, it’s likely that, like me, you need to travel to find inspiring landscapes to photograph.

Even if you do live somewhere with spectacular landscapes, you will need to travel to expand your experiences and add depth to your portfolio. All my favorite landscape photos were taken while traveling, and the two activities really do go together very well – travel is more interesting and exciting when there’s a purpose behind it, and landscape photography can give you that purpose.

Without travel, I would never have experienced and photographed places like this (taken in Bolivia):

mountain landscape

At the same time, I recognize that traveling is costly and time-consuming. So even if you can’t travel, try to cultivate a traveling mindset – where you see the world around you with fresh, new eyes. Tackle more familiar scenes with this newfound excitement (and you’ll be amazed by what you start to see!).

Black and white landscape photography: final words

Hopefully, this article has given you plenty of helpful tips and tricks for black and white landscape photography.

So get outside. Give black and white shooting a try! It’s a new way of seeing the world – and one that can be a lot of fun.

Now over to you:

Do you have any tips for black and white landscape photography? Share them in the comments below!

The post 6 Tips to Improve Your Black and White Landscape Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Andrew S. Gibson.

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Black and White Photography: A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Started

22 Jun

The post Black and White Photography: A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Started appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Andrew S. Gibson.

black and white photography a beginner's guide

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?

In this article, I aim to answer all those questions. I’ll explain the value of black and white, how to do it, plus I’ll share some tips along the way!

Black and white photography

Why is black and white photography important?

In the photographic world, black and white is an art form of its own. Some would even say the best photographers work in monochrome. It’s a medium with a rich history; look at the work of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, or Henri Cartier-Bresson for some truly stunning examples.

Just as importantly, working in black and white can help you become a better photographer. 


It’s all about seeing.

Color is very powerful. It tends to dominate photos – to the point that beginners struggle 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.

seaside black and white
Black and white emphasizes the textures of the rocks and sea in this landscape photo.

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!

black and white portrait
Black and white portraits emphasize expression and light.

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 Lightroom, Photoshop, 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.

However, if you’re new to photography, I recognize that you may want to work exclusively in JPEG, and that’s okay. Just know that you’ll probably want to switch to RAW eventually (it’ll deliver better image quality in the long run).

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.

Here’s a shot before adding a color filter:

black and white church with less contrast
This scene works quite well in black and white, but it’s not nearly as dramatic as it could be.

And here’s the shot after applying a red filter:

Black and white church with red filter
Applying the red filter setting makes the blue sky go much darker, creating a dramatic version of the same scene.

There is also a place for green filters, which can bring out more detail in green subjects like leafy forests.

Those four colored filters (red, orange, yellow, and green) have made their way onto most digital cameras as black and white settings.

Quick tip: Don’t forget about contrast!

If you take a photo in dull light – in shade, for instance, or under a cloudy sky – the photo may look flat (i.e., two-dimensional), especially in black and white.

So what do you do?

You compensate by increasing the contrast. A contrast boost will deepen the shadows, brighten the highlights, and make your main subject pop!

Here’s a portrait without a contrast adjustment:

b&w portrait with no contrast adjustment
The model was standing in the shade when I took this photo. The light lacks contrast, and the black and white photo is flat.

And here’s the same portrait, but with a contrast boost:

Black and white portrait with contrast adjustment
Increasing contrast creates a much stronger image.

To my eye, the final (adjusted) result is much more powerful.

You can increase the contrast after the photo has been taken (in Photoshop or Lightroom), or you can do it in-camera by adjusting the contrast setting (see your manual if you’re not sure how to do this!).

Composing in black and white

Remember how I said black and white forces you to think about other key elements, such as shape and form?

It’s true. And it’s the reason why composition becomes so important when shooting in black and white.

Unfortunately, there’s not really a quick solution to capturing good compositions; a lot of it just depends on your ability to see shapes, lines, and textures (which you can develop through practice or study or simply by looking at great photography).

However, there is one item that can improve your black and white compositions:

The aspect ratio.

You see, certain aspect ratios (such as the 1:1, or square format) make composition easier. Whereas other aspect ratios (such as most cameras’ native 3:2 ratio) make composition tricky.

So after you’ve set your camera to Monochrome mode, I recommend heading into the settings and changing the aspect ratio to Square. It’ll improve the way you frame scenes (and if your camera has an electronic viewfinder, it’ll let you see the new aspect ratio in real-time!).

Black and white photography in a square format
Cropping to the square format emphasized the shapes of these three pots.

Toning in black and white

Toning is the process of adding color to your images, but only after they’ve been converted to black and white.

This can give very cool effects – for instance, it can turn your shots yellow or purple or red.

Now, your camera may allow you to tone your photos when you take them. But the effect is usually very heavy-handed, which is why I recommend you avoid in-camera toning.

Instead, test out toning in post-processing. You can have lots of fun applying a single tone to your images (such as a nice sepia). And if you want to get really creative, you can add multiple tones, an effect called split toning.

Black and white photography: final words

Black and white is a beautiful medium to work in, one that you will appreciate even more as your skills grow.

In the meantime, have fun and enjoy yourself. You are following a path trodden by some of the most famous names in photography!

Now over to you:

Have you tried shooting in black and white before? How did it go? Do you have any favorite black and white subjects? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

The post Black and White Photography: A Beginner’s Guide to Getting Started appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Andrew S. Gibson.

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10 Tips for Beautiful Black and White Headshots

01 Apr

The post 10 Tips for Beautiful Black and White Headshots appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

10 tips for beautiful black and white headshots

Black and white has long been a popular way to capture headshots with impact and visual interest. The lack of color helps to emphasize the subject while discarding information that isn’t relevant. 

And in this article, I’m going to share 10 black and white headshot tips to help you get the best results.

Let’s get started.

Headshots vs. portraits

black and white headshots
A headshot is always a portrait, but a portrait (including a closely cropped portrait) is not always a headshot. Remember, headshots (no matter the type) come with a specific goal.

If you’re new to portrait photography, it might help to clear up what a headshot actually is before you try to create one.

Portraits: In general terms, a portrait photograph is a representation of a person. Portrait photography is a broad genre that encompasses nearly every subgenre that involves photographing people. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking studio portraits, street candids, or fashion photography. If it has a person in the frame, it’s probably a portrait.

Headshots: Headshots are a subgenre of portrait photography. The difference is that headshots serve a very specific purpose. Whether it’s actors’ headshots or corporate headshots, the purpose is to sell something. That something could be an actor’s ability to fit a role’s physical requirements, or it could be your business professionalism.

Headshots are limited to close-up images of the subject’s head. They can also include head and shoulders as well as half-length shots. Before capturing a headshot, it’s important you understand where and how the photo will be used so you can get the right shot for the right purpose.

Tips for black and white headshots

black and white headshot of a man
Canon 5D Mark III | Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Macro | 50mm | 1/80s | f/5.6 | ISO 100

There are no hard and fast rules for creating headshots. However, following these tips will hopefully help!

And as always with photography, remember: There is no one way to do anything.

In other words, nothing listed here is a rule of any sort. If a tip fails to help you get the results you want or need, then discard or revamp it.  

1. Remember that a headshot is different from a portrait

portrait vs headshot

Yes, we’ve already discussed this – but when you’re in the middle of a session, it’s easy to get caught up and start changing your approach. This may not be a problem in a normal portrait session, but with headshots, you need to make sure you’re focused on the specific end result. If you change tack and the results aren’t showing your subject in the desired manner, you’ll have wasted time and effort on images that are unsuitable for the subject’s uses.

One way to help keep you on track is to ask your subject to share the purpose of their headshot. Allow them to be as specific and detailed as possible. Once you have an answer to that question, you should find it much easier to stay on track. 

If you are photographing an actor with representation, ask them for their agency’s headshot guidelines (or ask the agency yourself). This will give you a strict set of limitations and help to ensure you get the required result. 

2. Getting it right in-camera is just as important as ever

black and white vs color portrait comparison
By shooting with black and white in mind and getting it right in-camera, you can help make the conversion process much easier.
Canon 5D Mark III | Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Macro | 50mm | 1/125s | f/5.6 | ISO 100

Depending on where your headshots are going to wind up, you might find that you can’t do any edits beyond basic retouching. You should be allowed a black and white conversion and some basic blemish removal, but much more than that might not be acceptable. 

Therefore, do whatever you can to get your images right in the camera. Light your images well with good exposure and good contrast. Learn your lighting patterns and use a meter if you have to. 

Get this step right, and you might find that you have little more editing to do beyond the actual black and white conversion.

3. Start in color

It might be tempting to set your camera to a black and white mode at the point of shooting. You can do this – but if you shoot JPEGs, I would advise against it.

By choosing this route, you will be discarding a huge amount of color information at the very beginning. For the best conversions, you’ll want to later manipulate your color information to get the very best black and white results.

(However, note that RAW shooters can use a black and white mode while still retaining color information.) 

4. Avoid shooting to crop

cropped portrait
By cropping down to a head-and-shoulders composition, you discard most of the information in the frame. Instead, try to get your compositions right at the shooting stage.

This might be controversial, but I’ll stand by it. When you are creating black and white headshots, try to get your composition as close as possible to how you want it to end up.

Doing this will ensure that your images are as big as possible and have as much detail as possible when you pass them on to your client. If you shoot before cropping out significant parts of your image, you will lose out on a large chunk of resolution.

5. Control contrast with light, not post-production

woman in the studio
Using a medium-sized octabox up close allows for extremely soft light, thus controlling the contrast. Also, at camera right, you see a background light that reduces the overall contrast in the image.

This point goes back to getting it right in-camera, but specifically for lighting.

One of the quickest ways to ruin a portrait is to add a lot of unnatural contrast in the post-production phase.

Avoid this by setting up your lights to get the contrast you want from the very start. 

You can do this through modifier selection and lighting ratios. 

6. Use fill to control your contrast

headshot with and without fill light
Left: Without fill. Right: With fill. Here you can see how a fill light might help you lift the shadows and control the contrast in your images.

If you want to decrease contrast, make sure to do it in-camera.

You can do this with fill light. Whether you work with a dedicated second light source or a reflector, introducing fill into your images is a great way to control exactly how your black and white headshots turn out.

7. Think in values rather than color

black and white headshot of a woman
In this image, you can see four distinct areas of value: The highlights of the skin, the midtones of the sweater, and two shadow areas for the hair and the background. Being able to see these at the time of shooting will help you design your black and white headshots better.
Canon 5D Mark III | Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Macro | 50mm | 1/160 sec | f/4 | ISO 100

Because you are starting in color, it can help to think of things in terms of values.

At its most basic, value simply describes where colors fall on a spectrum between pure white and pure black.

Now, once converted to black and white, almost everything in your images will appear as a shade of gray. If you can visualize how the colors you see with your eyes will be represented in a black and white conversion, you will be better able to design your lighting before your subject even arrives. 

How do you learn to do this?

Practice. A lot of it.

Get out there and photograph anything and everything you can, then convert to black and white so you can build this skill.

Remember, different conversion techniques affect color and value in different ways, so be sure to practice with as many conversion methods as possible. 

8. Minimize details in the frame

Because we are talking about headshots, you’ll need to remember that the entire point of the photograph is the person. Any extra details will only serve to detract from your subject.

So do what you can to minimize the impact of the background, the subject’s clothing, and other elements in the photo.

For backgrounds, you can focus your efforts on finding the cleanest, most non-distracting backdrop. For clothing, ask your subjects to dress without distracting elements that would take the focus off of them. Patterns can be fine, but it might be best if you avoided particularly bold choices like leopard-print and zebra-stripe tops.

9. Focus on form

black and white headshot of a woman
When you are lighting your subject, take the time to ensure that you’re using the light to shape their features in the best way possible.
Canon 5D Mark III | Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Macro | 50mm | 1/100s | f/9 | ISO 100

This goes back to basic lighting skills.

You need to shape your subject’s face in a flattering way that also helps it stand out in the frame.

You are trying to minimize other details, so it is the subject’s features you must focus on. Make as much use of them as you can. 

10. Eyes and expressions are more important than ever

black and white headshot examples
With headshots, expressions and eye contact are more important than ever. Do what you can to develop a rapport with your subjects.

As the goal of a headshot is to make your subject look as good as possible, and as you have already reduced the impact of distracting elements, your subject’s eyes and expression become more important than ever. 

Lighting for the eyes will keep them bright and prominent in the frame. Doing this also means you won’t have to spend time processing the eyes, which might work well for your client’s requirements. 

Also, to get the best expressions, ensure that your subject is comfortable and that you have a good rapport with them.

Black and white headshots: (not) the end

On their own, headshot photography and black and white photography are broad topics that are truly impossible to distill into a short list of tips. However, I do hope that these ten tips for black and white headshots will help you get started on your journey.

As always, none of these tips are rules, just guidance. If you feel that something I said doesn’t suit you or your photography, that’s perfectly fine.

Now over to you:

Which of these black and white headshot tips did you like the most? Do you have any tips for black and white headshot photography? Share your thoughts (and photos) in the comments below!

Tips for better black and white headshots.
Should I shoot headshots in black and white mode?

If you’re shooting in JPEG, no. But if you’re shooting in RAW, you can decide whether to shoot in black and white or color (you won’t lose any image information in either mode).

Is black and white a good option for headshots?

Yes. Black and white allows you to strip down the information in the photo to its key elements (in this case, the person whose headshot it is).

What kind of light should I use for headshots?

Any soft light that flatters your subject is a good choice.

How should I do black and white conversions for my headshot photography?

Use whatever method suits you and your workflow best. Photoshop and Lightroom both offer great options for black and white conversions.

The post 10 Tips for Beautiful Black and White Headshots appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

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12 Tips for Stunning Black and White Street Photography

25 Mar

The post 12 Tips for Stunning Black and White Street Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

12 tips for stunning black and white street photography

Black and white street photography is classic and timeless. Stripping away color renders a rawness and an alternate reality to street life.

But merely removing the color will not make a compelling street shot. If you want to create strong street images with no color, you need to be intentional. And that’s what this article is all about.

I’m going to give you 12 tips for capturing beautiful black and white street photos. And by the time you’re done, your classic street photography will be much improved.

Why is black and white great for street photography?

Choosing monochrome for street photography can make for great images. That’s because black and white photos often appear more emotional or mysterious. There’s something missing, so we automatically have a sense of wonder.

Whether you are out in the streets or working on the highway, your street photos will convey a different mood in black and white. If you’re intentional about creating this feeling from the start, you can make your photos more compelling.

So how do you take beautiful black and white street photographs?

Here are my 12 best tips:

1. Start well

Pay attention to your camera settings so you can capture in-focus and well-exposed images.

When you nail your settings, you’ll get image files you can work with in post-production. 

For instance, you’ll be able to manipulate a well-exposed image without risking quality degradation. Even with the simplicity of black and white, you need to be careful to maintain image structure.

So know the look you want to capture, then choose the camera settings that will achieve it.

Black and white street photography portrait. © Kevin Landwer-Johan
Nikon D800 | 35mm | 1/320s | f/4 | ISO 400
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

2. Think in black and white

Digital photography means it’s easy to capture images in color and later decide to render them in black and white. This will sometimes create good monochrome photos, but not always.

Thinking in black and white and intentionally shooting without color is best.

Despite the amount of control that’s available when converting color photos to grayscale, pictures deliberately taken for black and white editing are often stronger.

3. Look at light and tone contrasts

Without color, you must rely more on tone and light to shape your images.

When you compose your photos, look for where light and dark meet. How do these tones relate to each other? What graphic impact do they have on your composition? 

Tone is largely dictated by light. If you are out in the street on a sunny versus a cloudy day, this will affect the style and mood of the photos you’ll be able to take.

Think about how the light looks in black and white – and work with it because you cannot change it.

Black and white street photography portrait of a tattooed man. © Kevin Landwer-Johan.
Nikon D800 | 35mm | 1/100s | f/2.8 | ISO 400
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

4. Think “figure to ground”

Figure-to-ground photography is when the main subject sits in stark contrast to the background. This means your subject is most prominent in your photo, even if it only occupies a small portion of the frame.

You can create this look when your subject is in the sun and the background is in the shade:

Black and white street photography drummer. © Kevin Landwer-Johan.
Nikon D800 | 105mm | 1/1000s | f/2.8 | ISO 400
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Or when your subject is in the shade and you have a very bright background. (A silhouette is another example of figure-to-ground photography.)

5. Find a good background

Finding a good background is important for color or black and white street photography. However, when working in monochrome, your background choice is influenced more by lighting. 

Will a background that’s completely in the sun or in the shade suit your subject best? Will the type of images you want to create be stronger if there’s more or less tonal contrast in the background?

Once you find a good background, be patient. Wait for some interesting activity to occur – and when it does, take a photo.

6. Be comfortable with what you’re doing

The more comfortable and confident you are when you are out taking photos, the better your images will be.

So if you’re not comfortable in one location, move somewhere else, because worrying about your situation will distract you from being creative.

When you are comfortable, you’ll be able to think more clearly and visualize the scene in black and white. Focus your thoughts on how the parts of your image will look. Observe the colors and imagine how they will look when converted to grayscale.

Don’t get consumed with worries about how other people will notice you and what they might think.

Market street photography. © Kevin Landwer-Johan.
Nikon D800 | 35mm | 1/250s | f/5.6 | ISO 400
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

7. Aim for timelessness

Black and white street photography can have a certain timelessness to it.

But how can you deliberately create a timeless effect?

Look at what you’re including in your compositions. See if you can create some images containing nothing that would indicate when they were taken.

For instance, avoid things like cars and motorcycles. Smartphones are another element that dates a picture.

Think about the items you include and ask yourself:

Would they have been in your picture if you had taken it fifty years earlier?

This can be a fun exercise and could be developed into an ongoing project.

Tricycle taxi in the market, Black and white street photography. © Kevin Landwer-Johan.
Nikon D800 | 35mm | 1/1250s | f/4 | ISO 400
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

8. Compose well

Be aware of everything you include in your frame. Make sure to only shoot what’s relevant to the main subject and to the style of photograph you want to create.

If you are capturing too much and it’s not making your photo stronger, move closer or change your focal length. 

Look at the light and shadow and use these intentionally as compositional elements. Include strong shadows to help shape your images. Frame your subject with light and dark areas.

Don’t only focus on capturing a moving subject at the decisive moment; make sure to include it meaningfully in your composition.

Man resting in the market. © Kevin Landwer-Johan.
Nikon D800 | 35mm | 1/4000s | f/1.4 | ISO 400
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

9. Use negative space

Filling your frame does not mean it needs to be cluttered. When it’s intentional, negative space in your black and white street photography can be used very effectively.

When space is left in a photograph without purpose, it weakens the image. But deliberately including empty space will often create a more compelling image.

Think about the lighting and tone in the empty space. Is it going to take away from the main subject? Or will it help the main subject stand out?

Street photographer. © Kevin Landwer-Johan.
Nikon D800 | 35mm | 1/160s | f/5.6 | ISO 200
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

10. Take your time

Whatever genre of photography you enjoy, taking your time and not rushing will empower you to capture better photos.

Slow down. Observe what’s happening around you as you are out taking black and white street images.

Look for patterns of movement. When you find them, they will help you predict the best times to take photos.

Watch for when the decisive moment happens and be ready to capture it.

Market porter in black and white. © Kevin Landwer-Johan.
Nikon D800 | 35mm | 1/2000s | f/3.2 | ISO 400
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

11. Manage your camera settings

Being in control of how your camera autofocuses and exposes your photos means you can be more precise and more creative. 

I prefer to use single-point focus as it allows me to focus on the part of my composition I want sharp. If your camera has touchscreen focusing, you can do precise focusing very quickly and easily.

Manual mode and semi-automatic exposure modes put you in charge of which tones in your image will be well exposed. Sometimes, you may want shadows to render black. Other times, you may want highlights to completely blow out while you capture shadow detail. You can manage all of this in Manual mode.

Turkish market street photo. © Kevin Landwer-Johan.
Nikon D800 | 120mm | 1/800s | f/2.8 | ISO 400
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

12. Use a higher ISO

Setting a higher ISO allows you to use a faster shutter speed and a narrower aperture.

And when you want to freeze movement, a fast shutter speed is invaluable.

So don’t be afraid to boost your ISO!

Black and white street photo of a woman sewing at the street side. © Kevin Landwer-Johan.
Nikon D800 | 35mm | 1/200s | f/3.2 | ISO 160
© Kevin Landwer-Johan

Black and white street photography: conclusion

Black and white street photography looks classic. But capturing images with the intention of rendering them in monochrome requires that you think carefully about the light and tones in your compositions.

So before you head out with your camera, take a look at some black and white street photography from the masters. Check out Bruce Davidson, William Klein, and Robert Doisneau, for starters. Look for the secrets of style in their work and let it inspire you.

And remember the tips I’ve shared today!

Now over to you:

What’s your favorite tip from this article? Which tip are you going to implement immediately in your work? Share your thoughts (and your black and white street photos) in the comments below!

Woman in a street parade. © Kevin Landwer-Johan.
Nikon D800 | 105mm | 1/320s | f/2.8 | ISO 400
© Kevin Landwer-Johan
Why is street photography often black and white?

Because it’s classic and timeless.

How do you change a street photo to black and white?

All image-editing software allows you to convert images to black and white. Desaturating is the simplest way to make a color photo black and white, but it will not bring out the best in the image. You will see better results by controlling the conversion.

Should I shoot in black and white or convert later?

You can adjust your LCD so it shows you a black and white image. On cameras with electronic viewfinders, you can also do this with the display. When you capture a RAW image, it’ll be in color; by converting to black and white from a RAW file, you’ll get the highest-quality results.

What does black and white do to an image?

Black and white can make an image look timeless!

The post 12 Tips for Stunning Black and White Street Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Kevin Landwer-Johan.

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Street Candy Film announces new MTN100 black and white 35mm film

05 Mar

Street Candy Film writes that they make ‘the tastiest black and white films around.’ It offers even more black and white film now with the addition of Street Candy Film MTN100 to its catalog, joining its previous film, ATM400.

MTN100 is a black and white ISO 100 film. The film is taken from a Motion Picture Film and promises to take your ‘black and white photography to the next level with a classic cinematic look and fine details.’ MTN100 is a panchromatic film ideal for outdoor and indoor photography. You can process it as a normal black and white negative or with a reversal kit to create direct positives.

Click to enlarge

Street Candy writes that MTN100’s primary features are beautiful contrast, fine grain and rich details. It comes as a 36-exposure 35mm roll in Street Candy’s recycled paper film canister. Regarding the canister, Street Candy Film introduced the first alternative to plastic film canisters in 2020. The canister is made of recycled cardboard and is printed with soy ink.

Street Candy Film MTN100 is available for preorder now. It is available in small quantities ahead of its April release. The minimum required purchase is two rolls, which costs 21€. For ordering information, click here.

Image shot using Street Candy MTN100. Click to enlarge.

Although not new, it’s worth doing a quick rundown of Street Candy’s ATM400 film. The panchromatic black and white negative film was originally coated for use in security surveillance cameras. It was used in banks, ATMs, offices and other places in need of security before digital surveillance became commonplace. Street Candy states that the ISO 400 film is easy to shoot, forgiving and delivers ‘beautiful contrast while retaining rich details throughout its wide dynamic range.’ ATM400 starts at 19€ and comes in 36-exposure 35mm rolls, which like the MTN100, are hand-rolled.

Street Candy ATM400 key features. Click to enlarge.

If you’d like to check out images shot by photographers using Street Candy Film, the company hosts an online gallery. To see the companies other product offerings, including merchandise for analog photography fans, click here.

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Black and White Still Life Photography: How to Do It (And Why It Matters)

18 Feb

The post Black and White Still Life Photography: How to Do It (And Why It Matters) appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

black and white still life photography: how to do it and why it matters

In the quest to improve your photography, sometimes the best approach is to slow down, concentrate on the basics, and be purposeful and deliberate. Working in black and white will do that. Making still life images will do that.

Combine the two, and you get black and white still life photography – which is an excellent way to make some great images and become a better photographer while you’re at it.

black and white still life of an hourglass
One of my most successful images of all time is this very minimalistic monochrome composition. It taps into the power of black and white and still life.

The power of monochrome

I will often use the terms monochrome and black and white interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference.

Black and white photos are just that: images with tones from white through black and all shades of gray, but with no color information whatsoever.

A monochrome image, on the other hand, might have a color tint. For instance, you can create a warm, sepia-toned shot or a cool, cyanotype photo. A single color – with various shades – would be present in the image.

black and white boot in sepia
A sepia-toned image is monochrome, but not black and white in the purest sense.

But note that this article applies to both black and white photography and monochrome photography equally.

Why black and white?

Early photographers had no choice because they couldn’t shoot in color. Monochrome images were all they could make.

Of course, this ultimately was not a serious limitation; many of the most iconic photographs ever taken are black and white. Surely even non-photographers have seen what might be one of the most famous black and white still life photos of all time, “Pepper No. 30” by Edward Weston. And I can confidently say that Weston’s photo would not be better if it had been made in color.

Today, the default choice of most photographers is color. Because our world is in color – as are most of the photos we encounter – “seeing” in black and white is a skill you must develop.

You must learn to look at a subject with an eye toward the basics – the “bones” of an image, if you will. Shape, form, tone, and texture are those bones, and the best black and white images play to those strengths, where color is unnecessary and even a distraction.

black and white still life photography of a road
Is this the yellow brick road? Perhaps, but the strength of the shot is “good bones” in all the areas monochrome excels: shape, form, tone, and texture. It also utilizes some good compositional elements. Color is not needed.

Learning to see in black and white will, of course, make you a better black and white photographer. But if you can see in black and white while recognizing and taking advantage of the structural elements of a subject, you’ll become a better color photographer, as well.

Color then becomes an enhancement to an already-good image – one with a solid “bone structure” of shape, form, tone, and texture.

Why still life?

My two favorite genres of photography are probably still life and landscape.


It could be because they are so opposite. In landscape photography, you can rarely move the subjects in your scene, you compose by where you stand, and you don’t have much control over the light. Often, you must wait for the light to be just right, and you must be ready if and when such a moment happens.

shells in black and white
The elements, the layout, the composition, the lighting, the camera position; you’re in control of everything when you make a still life photo.

Still life photography makes you the master. You set the scene, deciding what to add in and take out. You arrange the objects for the best composition, you choose the camera position, the lighting, and any additional components comprising your shot.

Then, when you’re satisfied and ready, you take the photo.

In a word, still life photography give you complete control.

forks and shadows
Where can you find subjects for black and white still life photography? Where can’t you?! How about the silverware drawer? Here are some creative still lifes with a few forks.
onion still life
You might also find good still life subjects in the vegetable bin….
still life of root vegetables
…or get back to the “roots of photography” with a subject like this.
wood abstract
When considering subjects for black and white still life photography, remember what gives an image “good bones:”
abstract still life
Shape, form…
droplets in black and white
leaf close-up
…and texture.

Then add another distinct advantage. Consider this definition:

“A still life is a work of art depicting mostly inanimate subject matter, typically commonplace objects which are either natural (food, flowers, dead animals, plants, rocks, shells, etc.) or man-made (drinking glasses, books, vases, jewelry, coins, pipes, etc.).”

A real advantage of still life photography is that your subjects are still. They don’t move.

So in still life photography, it won’t matter if your shutter speed is 1/30s or 30 seconds. Being able to have such flexibility over your choice of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO is huge, and it opens up all kinds of possibilities that other genres of photography don’t offer.

Light painting is one of those unique possibilities. Since you don’t have to deal with a moving subject, you’re free to “paint” a subject with light during an extended exposure.

And this makes for some dramatic still life shots:

tabletop still life with grapes and glasses in black and white
A still life subject that doesn’t move lends itself well to light painting. If you need a 15-second exposure and still want to stick with ISO 100, it’s no problem.


Lighting for black and white still life photography comes back to the advantage we already identified:


The lighting instruments you choose, the modifiers you use, the number of lights and their placement – it’s all within your control.

Let’s break this down a bit more:

  • White balance – Since you’re processing in black and white, you can ignore the color temperature of your lighting instruments. And this frees you up to use all kinds of light sources, from flashlights, LEDs, and daylight to candlelight, fluorescent lights, and incandescent lights. Yes, as you convert an image into black and white, the color tones will respond differently. But you can handle adjusting your black and white tones if your white balance is initially off. I’ve often “rescued” impossibly bad color images simply by converting to black and white.
  • Placement – We spoke about the “bones” of shape, form, tone, and texture, which exist in all photos but are more readily apparent in black and white. In black and white still life photography, you get the opportunity to accentuate these “bones” with your careful consideration of lighting placement and control. Want to emphasize texture? Rake a hard light across the subject from the back or side at a low angle. Do you want a soft look? Try a broad light source, like a softbox, that illuminates the subject from the front. You can light your subject to create the look and mood you’re after. As the saying goes, “No rules, just right.”
football with light and shadow
Want to create some dramatic texture? Use a single hard light source – in this case, a simple flashlight – and rake it across your subject’s surface from the side.
ping pong paddle in black and white
Or you could have the low, late afternoon sun backlight your subject, again to emphasize texture.

A camera trick to help your visualization

In order to make this trick work, you must shoot in RAW.

(Also, I highly recommend you shoot in RAW all the time. Here’s why this is important.)

Now, when shooting in a RAW format, your camera will always capture a color image (and that is what you want).

The playback image you see on the rear LCD, however, will not be the RAW file. Instead, it’ll be a JPEG representation of the image.

So if you want to get better at seeing in black and white, why not switch the JPEG to black and white while keeping the RAW image in color? That way, after taking an image, you can immediately see it in monochrome – but you’ll still keep all the color details for post-processing later.

Bruce Wunderlich, a fellow dPS writer, describes how to set up your camera to do this. He promotes it as a way to better compose color photos, and it is good for that – but if monochrome is where you’re headed, it’s even more beneficial.

So read Bruce’s piece, set up your camera accordingly, and you will have a real aid in making black and white photos.

pattern of circles
A still life doesn’t have to be a tabletop object, nor must it be shot under artificial light. This agricultural implement was shot outdoors in bright sunlight. The story of the shot is the repeating patterns. The yellow and red colors of the machine would only have distracted the viewer. Having my LCD set to preview the image in black and white helped me visualize the shot!

Editing for black and white

After a session of black and white still life photography, you’ll bring the images into post-processing as RAW color images.


Yes. Even if you’ve set up your camera using the recommendation above – where the LCD displays your images in black and white – your actual RAW images are still in color.

That’s a good thing. It’s during editing that you will convert your photos to black and white.

This will allow you to determine how various colors will be converted to monochrome. For instance, back in the black and white film days, you could darken the sky by shooting with a red filter. Because the red filter would block most of the blue light, the sky was rendered very dark on the black and white film.

Today we can create those effects during editing. When converting from color to monochrome, you can adjust the luminance of specific colors (e.g., you can darken the reds, the blues, and the yellows), thus affecting the overall look of the image.

Lightroom offers a nice black and white conversion tool, and there are a number of good articles on black and white conversion in Lightroom, such as this one by Andrew Gibson. You may also wish to try other methods of black and white conversion. A popular option is the Nik Silver Efex Pro plug-in from DxO, but there are dozens of other programs and methods for converting from color to black and white.

Without the limitations of having to make the color in a photo “look right,” you are free to creatively take the tonality in your black and white images wherever your creativity leads you.

apples converted to black and white
The original image at left; a black and white conversion with boosted green luminance in the center; a black and white conversion with decreased green luminance on the right.

Age your photo

Here’s another fun black and white still life photography trick:

Replicate a vintage black and white look!

First, make sure you find the right subject. I recommend working with old collectible objects. Then capture the shot and enhance it afterward with effects such as sepia toning.

It can be a fun and instructional exercise to gather some objects, set up a pleasing composition, light it, photograph it, and create a monochrome file complete with sepia toning.

period still life
Collect some items to create a theme, make your still life black and white image, then edit it to produce a “period look.”
bottles with faded edit
Take your “aged” still life even further with some special effects!
black and white still life photography light and old book
Gather some objects, decide how you want to set your scene, light it, take your shot, then go for an antique look with a sepia tone.
Canon 50D | Canon 50mm f/1.8 | 1/15s | f/22 | ISO 800

Black and white still life photography: Now go do it!

You can and should read up on the concepts and techniques of photography, but there’s only so far “book learning” will take you.

Black and white still life photography will slow you down, make you think, concentrate your efforts, and force you to really study things.

You just have to dive in and do it!

So gather some subjects, decide how to arrange and light them, determine where you want to place your camera, what focal length you will use, how you will expose the image – all of those things.

Think about what you’re doing, what you’re trying to communicate, and why you’re making the photo.

Take your shot, evaluate it, consider what might make it better, and shoot it again.

Then repeat! There’s no hurry. You’re making photographs, not taking snapshots. You are the master when you practice black and white still life photography.

And that, as they say, is the beauty of it. Go make some great shots!

As always, leave your comments, questions, and photos in the comments section below. Best wishes!

water droplets on a plant
This was shot outdoors after the early morning dew beaded up on this lupine leaf. I put a piece of black cardboard behind the leaf, then did some further clean-up in the edit.

The post Black and White Still Life Photography: How to Do It (And Why It Matters) appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

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7 Tips for Black and White Portrait Photography

17 Jan

The post 7 Tips for Black and White Portrait Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

tips for black and white portrait photography

In the era of digital cameras capable of capturing millions of colors, why would you choose to do black and white portrait photography?

For me – and many others – it’s a simple matter of aesthetics. A good black and white treatment has a way of stripping unneeded information from an image, helping you emphasize specific elements without the distractions color can create.

And fortunately, portrait photography is a genre where black and white images can really shine.

However, like any photographic technique, there are tips you can follow to make sure your images have the most impact. In this article, I offer 7 simple tips that will instantly improve your black and white portraits – no matter your level of experience.

So if you’re looking to take your black and white portrait shooting to the next level, read on!

1. Start with black and white in mind

Black and white portrait photography tips

For many photographers, black and white is more than a creative choice at the post-production stage; instead, it’s a mindset. If you can start creating an image knowing that you ultimately intend it to be black and white, you can take steps to ensure that all of the elements of a good monochrome image are in place before you press the shutter.

Things like tonal contrast, lighting contrast, and appropriate expressions from your subjects are all elements that are difficult, if not impossible, to fix after an image is taken.

If you have trouble imagining how an image may look in black and white, try using the monochrome setting on your camera. While I don’t recommend you use an in-camera black and white conversion for your final image, as long as you shoot in a RAW file format, then all of your image’s color data will still be present in the file, and Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw will reset the photo back to color once it’s imported.

Working in black and white will give you an idea of how an image will look without color, while still providing the highest amount of versatility in post-production.

2. Keep the eyes sharp and well-lit

Black and white headshot in black and white

In the majority of portraits, the most important part is the eyes. Eyes are usually the focal point that the rest of your image is built around.

And this is especially true in black and white.

Due to the lack of color, a black and white image often breaks down into graphic forms and shapes. Eyes are shapes that everyone recognizes, and they immediately capture the attention of your viewers.

So make sure that your subject’s eyes are well-lit and in-focus for a stunning black and white portrait.

3. Expressions are emphasized in black and white portraits

woman's expression emphasized in black and white

As with the eyes, other facial features become very prominent in a black and white portrait.

Use this to your advantage by conveying emotion in your images. Even tiny changes in your subject’s expression can make a difference. Things like a raised eyebrow, a twitch at the corner of the mouth, and smile lines under the eyes can all be used to great effect.

Here is an exercise you can do with your portrait subjects to get a mixture of great expressions:

Prepare a list of words or phrases, then ask your subject to react to each one.

The words you choose can be simple descriptors of emotion, such as love, sadness, joy, anger, and melancholy.

For more diverse expressions, try abstract words. You can even go for funny words, such as cheeseburger, politics, Teletubbies, or Hulk smash. Plus, if you have a subject who’s tense or nervous, this can easily lighten the mood.

4. Do your lighting carefully

Black and white portrait headshot

When it comes to lighting black and white portrait photography, there are no hard and fast rules. If you like high-contrast images with hard gradations in tone, then choose a harder source of light. If you like soft tones and subtler images, then you want a softer light source.

It’s all about personal preference, here. If you’re not sure what you like, search for black and white portraits on the internet. Find the first ten black and white portraits that stand out to you the most and see if you can deconstruct the lighting.

Then try to use those lighting techniques in your own images!

5. Add contrast with light

tips for black and white portrait photography

If you want to create high-contrast black and white portrait photos, the best advice is to add contrast with light, not Photoshop.

Small global adjustments are okay and won’t hurt your images, but definitely do not crank the Contrast slider to 100. Try to keep it between +15 and -15.

For local adjustments in post-processing, use a dodging and burning technique of your choice. The key point here, and in all post-production, is subtlety.

Ultimately, you can use contrast adjustments while editing. But strive to make the largest changes with your lighting setup!

6. You can’t save a bad image with black and white

If you’re working on an image that you feel isn’t up to scratch and you ask yourself if it might work in black and white, the answer is probably “No.”

A black and white treatment will often emphasize the flaws that made you question the image in the first place – and a bad photo is a bad photo, regardless of its color scheme (or lack thereof).

7. Choose black and white in spite of color

Certain subjects practically beg to be shot in black and white.

Other subjects may not be so obvious.

Bright, punchy hues make for vivid color photos. But by removing the color element, you can completely change how a subject or scene is perceived. When you want to ensure your viewer is focused on a particular element, color can become a distraction.

So try getting rid of it.

This can be a difficult concept to understand without seeing it in action, so I have included the color version of one of the black and white portrait photos above.

Look at the image, then ask yourself: How did my perception of the photo change? What did I notice first in each version of the image? Do I respond differently when I see the image in color versus black and white?

headshot with bold colors

Hopefully, you can see that even though bold colors can make for vivid images, so can a lack of color.

Black and white portrait photography: Conclusion

If you’re new to black and white portrait photography, do remember that these are guidelines, not rules.

So if you need to stray from my tips to get the result you’re after, do so without hesitation.

Finally, if you try black and white and you like it:

Welcome to the addiction!

Now it’s your turn:

Do you have any tips for black and white portraits that I missed? Do you have a favorite black and white portrait technique? Share your thoughts in the comments!

The post 7 Tips for Black and White Portrait Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by John McIntire.

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3 Rookie Mistakes to Avoid When Shooting on a White Background

04 Jan

The post 3 Rookie Mistakes to Avoid When Shooting on a White Background appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Lily Sawyer.

white background photography mistakes

Because white background portraits are so common, many people think it’s an easy effect to achieve. Simply put your subject in front of the camera against a white background (preferably with a flash or strobe), and take the picture.

white background photography mistakes examples

Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. Using the method described above would result in a photo with either a gray, dull, or muddy-toned background. The best possible result would be an off-white background after you have done some edits. That’s not the only issue, though; you’d see unwanted shadows everywhere, too.

I have replicated the setup with my little model, Sven (Kristoff’s beloved reindeer in the movie Frozen). It is easier doing this with a small-scale subject, as the lights are huge in comparison. With people, to do this to scale, you need to have massive octaboxes and flags. But this tutorial will show you the process clearly.

So here are three rookie mistakes to avoid when trying to achieve 100% pure-white background photography:

Mistake #1: The background is not lit properly

The background must be lit with approximately two stops more light than the subject. For example, if you want to photograph your subject at f/8, set your background lights to two stops brighter, so your meter reads f/16 on the background.

Note: You need to meter foreground and background lights separately, so that when metering for the main light (on the subject) you would turn the background lights off and vice versa. When both the background and main lights are on, your meter should still give you f/8 on the subject, because you are metering the light that falls on your subject and not on the background.

The photo below (right) shows what it looks like when you don’t light the background at all. You get a tone and color other than the intended white. In the photo on the left, the background was lit, but there was no main light illuminating the subject. Therefore, the resulting image is almost a silhouette of the subject.

white background photography mistakes examples

My camera settings for all the shots in this setup were ISO 250, 1/160s, and f/8 (though the background gave a meter reading of f/16). The speedlights were set to 1/16th power (I rarely use my speedlights at full power, because the batteries run out very quickly).

The camera was a Nikon D750, which handles noise superbly, so ISO was not an issue. Two SB-910s and one SB-900 speedlight were used for this setup.

The photo below shows the setup with only the left background light firing.

white background overall setup

You will notice in the two images below that only the right background light fired in the left photo, and only the left background light fired in the right photo. Such lighting is acceptable, of course, if that was your intention. The main light was positioned at a 45-degree angle on camera right. I wanted to bounce my flash onto the white rogue bender to modify the light.

example white background photos

You may also notice that in the left photo (above), there is a very slight shadow of Sven on the background behind him – because the left background light didn’t fire. When the background light did fire on the left, this shadow was eliminated (right photo, above).

Below is the setup with all three lights firing correctly.

overall setup for a high-key look

Now that you have your background and main lights set up, you need to make sure these lights only hit the intended subject. This leads us to the next rookie mistake: separation.

Mistake #2: Not enough subject-background separation

Because the background lights are so much brighter than the foreground light, you need to separate them from the main subject. There are two key ways of doing this:

  1. Flagging
  2. Distance


You can use anything black to flag your lights: the black side of a reflector, black cardboard sheets, or black foam core.

Black does not bounce light; instead, it absorbs light. It also blocks light from seeping through to places where you do not want it. If you don’t flag (block) your background lights, your subject will end up with a halo effect and look very backlit.


Once you have flagged your lights, you need to position your subject far enough away from the background (and from the background lights) that any light spillage won’t touch your subject. This depends on your personal preference and intention, of course – you may want some spill on your subject for a certain look or effect, or you may not.

If you do want some spill, make sure to run a few tests with various lenses, as chromatic aberration may occur around the edges of your subject due to the abundance of light. Some lenses are prone to chromatic aberration regardless of aperture, while others perform very well even at wide apertures, where chromatic aberration is most commonly observed. Also, be careful with the amount of spill you allow – you don’t want to chop off parts of your subject from the spill overexposure.

white background photography mistakes examples

The photos above show a properly-lit Sven. The two background lights fired at f/16 and the main light fired at f/8. There are no unwanted shadows on the background, as was my intention.

However, I wanted to have a reflection and shadow in the foreground. This leads nicely to the third rookie mistake to avoid: a floating subject.

Mistake #3: The subject is floating

If you do not include some floor shadows, your subject will look like it is floating on white air, or like it’s cut out and pasted on a white sheet of paper.

The best tip for avoiding floating subjects is to use a reflective surface such as translucent white plexiglass, or white tile sheet, as a base for your subject to stand on. You can adjust the opacity of the reflection in Photoshop during post-processing, but having the reflection shows that your subject is planted firmly on solid ground.

floating subject example
The left image shows Sven floating, but the addition of the reflection (right) shows Sven standing on solid ground. The latter looks more pleasing and natural, and not like a cut-and-paste job.

Bonus mistake #4: Overexposed background

Be careful not to add too much light to the background. If you go past pure white and really overexpose a shot, the white will start almost glowing around the subject, just like if you had sun flare outdoors.

This lowers contrast and makes your subject look like they have a bit of a halo. You can see this overexposed effect in the images below:

overexposed background portraits

White background photography mistakes: Conclusion

I hope this little tutorial has shed some light on basic techniques for creating a white background, and that it has solved any and all mysteries regarding how to achieve such a look.

If you have other, more advanced techniques, do share them in the comments below!

The post 3 Rookie Mistakes to Avoid When Shooting on a White Background appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Lily Sawyer.

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