How to create black-and-white photography.

Stepping into the world of black-and-white photography isn't just about switching off the colour on your camera; it's a deep dive into the very essence of visual storytelling.

Black-and-white photo of snowy mountain

The importance of black-and-white images.


In the absence of colour, every shadow, every light, and every texture tells a story, bringing out emotions and details that colour might overshadow. Whether you're capturing the rugged beauty of the Aussie outback, framing the intricate details of Melbourne's laneways, or simply decluttering your digital collection, mastering the art of monochrome can add a whole new dimension to your photography.


Historical significance.

Black-and-white photography is steeped in history, a nod to the days when capturing images was a novel feat. Icons like Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange showed us the world through their lenses, turning everyday scenes into timeless pieces. In Australia, photographers have long used monochrome to capture the stark beauty of the
landscape, from the sun-drenched shores of Bondi Beach to the haunting quiet of the bush.


Timeless beauty.


When photography was invented, all photographs were monochrome. Now, black and whiite photos carry a timeless elegance, stripping back the distractions of colour to focus on the raw beauty of the moment. It's all about the way light plays across surfaces, the stories etched in faces, and the dramatic interplay of shadows and highlights that allow photographers to explore their craft in a different way. 


Back to basics.


Black-and-white photos can also be a helpful way for beginners to learn the art of photography. By eliminating the complexity of colour, you can better understand your camera tools and explore how light, aperture, ISO and shutter speed affect each other. Creating black-and-white images can let you approach photography as an art form, a study in light and composition, instead of just a way to document memories.



Black-and-white photography tips.


Embarking on the journey of black-and-white photography can transform the way you see and capture the world around you. Here’s how to dive in and explore the captivating realm of monochrome imagery:


Finding inspiration.


Start your adventure by soaking up the work of monochrome legends. Whether it's Fan Ho's evocative street scenes of Hong Kong, the conservation-focused eye of Nick Brandt, or Ansel Adams' majestic landscapes, let their mastery guide your lens. For a local twist, why not explore the works of Australian photographers who capture the spirit and contrast of our diverse landscapes in stunning black and white? Their perspectives can offer a rich source of inspiration, showing how the absence of colour can reveal the soul of the subject. 


Monochrome photo of two small boats in water navigating between buildings
Black-and-white photo of boat on water between two buildings
Black-and-white photo of person standing against wall

Images by Fan Ho

Monochrome image of mural underneath a bridge

Image by Nick Brandt


Know your camera gear.


Knowing your gear like the back of your hand is crucial. Adam Long, a seasoned photographer and educator, suggests starting with the basics of aperture, shutter speed, and depth of field. These are the building blocks that'll let you play with dynamic range. If your camera offers a monochrome setting, use it as a tool to visualise the world in black and white directly through your viewfinder, helping you concentrate on the interplay of light and shadow without the distraction of colour.


Train your eye.


Transitioning to black-and-white photography is an exercise in seeing differently. Bright colours no longer play a leading role; instead, it's all about the gradients of grey, the textures, and the contrasts. Practice by photographing a variety of subjects, from the grandeur of natural landscapes to the intimate details in urban architecture. This variety not only sharpens your visual acuity but also enriches your photographic vocabulary.


Black-and-white photo of a photographer taking a photo of a person riding a bike

Explore the art of editing.


The digital darkroom is where your black-and-white visions come to life. Shooting in RAW preserves the intricate details of your images, offering more flexibility when you switch to monochrome during post-processing. Tools like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom are invaluable, offering presets and adjustments that transform your colour captures into nuanced black-and-white compositions. Delve into post-processing tutorials to learn how adjusting exposure, contrast, and even applying grain can add depth and emotion to your photos.


Mastering composition.


In black-and-white photography, composition becomes paramount. The absence of colour means that contrast, texture, and the way you frame your shots do the heavy lifting. Look for leading lines, interesting patterns, and textures that stand out even more when stripped of colour. Playing with negative space can also add a dramatic touch to your compositions, creating striking visuals that captivate the viewer.


Lighting techniques.


Lighting in black-and-white photography isn't just about illumination; it's about using light and shadow as sculpting tools. The right lighting can accentuate textures, deepen contrasts, and highlight the form in a way that colour photography can't match. Experiment with different times of the day to see how the angle and quality of light affect your subject. Overcast days can provide a soft, diffuse light that's perfect for portraits, while the harsh light of midday can create bold contrasts and deep shadows for dramatic landscapes.


How to Make Black and White Photos in Lightroom | Adobe Creative Cloud



Adobe Photoshop tools for black-and-white photography.


Adobe Photoshop is a treasure trove for photographers keen on diving into the nuanced world of black-and-white imagery. It's packed with specific tools and features designed to elevate your monochrome photos from good to breathtaking:


Channel mixer.


A powerful tool that allows you to tweak the intensity of different colour channels in your image. Converting to black and white using the Channel Mixer gives you control over how each colour translates into a shade of grey, enabling you to fine-tune the contrast and tone for a more dynamic result.


Black & white adjustment layer.


This feature provides a straightforward way to convert your colour images into black and white. What sets it apart is the ability to adjust the brightness levels of different colours, letting you modify how each hue contributes to the final grayscale image.


Gradient map.


By applying a gradient map, you can map the grayscale values in your photo to a specific gradient. This can add depth and dimension to your black-and-white photos, creating a range of moody atmospheres depending on the gradient chosen.


Dodge and burn tools.


These classic darkroom techniques are replicated in Photoshop, allowing you to lighten (dodge) or darken (burn) specific areas of your image. They're perfect for emphasising details or adding drama to your black-and-white photos.


Here's a quick step-by-step to get you started:

  1. Open your image in Photoshop and create a Black & White Adjustment Layer to convert your photo into grayscale.
  2. Experiment with the Channel Mixer to adjust the contribution of different colours, enhancing the overall contrast and depth.
  3. Use a Gradient Map for artistic effects, selecting a gradient that complements the mood you're aiming for.
  4. Refine your image with the Dodge and Burn tools, focusing on areas you want to highlight or recede.


By familiarising yourself with these tools, you'll unlock a whole new realm of creative possibilities in black-and-white photography. Each adjustment and tweak brings you closer to achieving those striking, emotive images that only monochrome can convey

Challenges in black-and-white photography.


Beware of clichés.


It's tempting to fall into the trap of recreating those iconic shots we've all admired. Ariel Wilson, an artist and professor, notes, “I often see beginners replicating images they’ve seen out in the world, just to see if they can do it. And of course they can do it!” but the true magic of black-and-white photography lies in carving out your unique path. “I would much rather see people walk out their front door and photograph the block that they live on,” says Long. Your unique perspective is what will set your work apart.


Navigating contrast issues.


Contrast is the heartbeat of black-and-white photography, but striking the right balance can be tricky. High contrast can inject drama and mood into your images, yet too much can obliterate subtle details. Conversely, low contrast might capture nuances but can render your image flat. Experimentation is key. Use tools like Photoshop's 'Levels' and 'Curves' to tweak your images until you find that sweet spot. And remember, the time of day can dramatically affect your shot's contrast—early morning and late afternoon light can provide a softer contrast that highlights details without overwhelming shadows or highlights.


Preserving detail in shadows and highlights.


Detail is everything in black-and-white photography, especially in the shadows and highlights where it's all too easy to lose the intricate textures that give your image depth. To keep these details crisp, practice shooting in RAW to capture as much information as possible. When editing, play with the 'Shadows/Highlights' adjustments in your favourite editing software to gently coax detail back into those extremes. It's like finding the hidden stories in the darkest corners and brightest spots of your image.


Print your black-and-white photos.


There's something inherently rewarding about holding a tangible print of your black-and-white masterpiece. Whether you're printing from a darkroom or your digital setup, seeing your work in physical form can offer new insights into its composition and tonal range, aspects that might not be as apparent on a digital screen. Consider using different types of paper to see how they affect the mood of your prints—matte papers can soften an image for a vintage feel, while glossy papers make the contrasts pop for a more modern look.

Australian artistic influence.


Australia's unique landscapes and urban environments offer endless inspiration for black-and-white photography. From the haunting expanse of the Outback, where the play of light and shadow brings an eerie beauty to the land, to the bustling streets of Sydney and Melbourne, where history and modernity collide in stunning architectural forms, there's a story waiting to be told in every corner. Embrace these scenes to capture images that resonate with the spirit of Australia.


Unleash your monochrome vision with Adobe Photoshop.


Adobe Photoshop is your passport to the intricate realm of black-and-white photography. In this world, the lack of colour doesn't limit your vision; it expands it, sharpening your focus on the essential elements that shape your images: the deep contrasts, the intricate textures, and the fundamental forms. This journey with Photoshop isn't just about removing colour; it's about delving deeper into visual storytelling, encouraging you to explore and capture the world in a way that highlights the stark beauty and compelling narratives hidden in the interplay of light and shadow. 


Embrace the transformation that black-and-white photography brings. With your camera in hand and Photoshop at your fingertips, step into the grayscale and unveil the masterpieces waiting to be discovered.


Share your vision.


We're eager to see the world through your lens. Share your black-and-white masterpieces on Adobe's community forums and social media. Let's inspire each other with our explorations into the grayscale, showcasing the beauty and depth that black-and-white photography brings to our digital age.



Do more with Adobe Photoshop. 

Create beautiful images with Photoshop brushes, Content-Aware Fill, Photo effects, Neural Filter, Sky replacement and the many tools photographers rely on. 

Explore the Photoshop family of apps. 


You might also be interested in…

Portrait photo of woman with freckles on black background

Creating great portrait photography.

Take a step closer to perfect portraits with tips and advice from professional photographers.

Still-life image of blooming yellow daffodils in low light

The art of still life photography

Improve your composition skills by learning the art of still life photography.


Building a great landscape photo.
Explore ways to artistically capture scenic views with tips on landscape photography.

Father with their child piggybacked on them looking out a window

Find your truth in fine art photography.

Follow your passions and explore the conceptual layers of creating artistic photos.

Get Photoshop Lightroom.

Edit, organise, store and share photos from anywhere.

7 days free, then A$14.29/mo incl. GST