There is no doubt that sometimes a black & white photograph just looks right, but why? What is it that makes black & white sometimes just work better and more importantly when should you use it? Whilst the title says when to “shoot” black & white nowadays you don’t actually need to worry about shooting in black & white. It’s more important to shoot RAW, if you do this then the world is your oyster when it comes to post processing, including turning a color image to black and white.
Some of the most famous photographers, such as Ansel, were forced to use black and white even though they did not want to. And they found that their best photographs were in black and white. Sometimes it just looks better than color.
Bad Weather- When the skies are cloudy and everything just looks dreary and washed out you may think it is just a bad time to take photographs. But if you switch to black and white you may find that this kind of weather is even better than a sunny day. It brings out the greys in a way that color cannot do.
Shapes, Textures and Lines– If your composition includes lots of well-defined shapes and textures then you should consider trying black and white. The lack of color allows the brain to focus on the shapes and textures more easily making them stand out more.
High Contrast- It is the contrast in some images that makes it work in black and white. Strong blacks and bright highlights really help bring out the detail in a subject and create impact.
To Create a Mood– Black and white can bring out starkness in an image. If you’re trying to create a sense of isolation for example then try black and white. One thing black and white will never bring to your photo is a sense of joy and happiness; in fact it tends to do just the opposite. This is what makes it so good for many types of street photography especially when the scene is a sad one.
When Colour Just Isn’t Working- Picture the scene, you come home bubbling with excitement thinking that you’ve captured a masterpiece only to get it onto your computer and find it just doesn’t look as good as you thought it would. The next thing you do is spend four hours trying to process it so it does, telling yourself constantly that the next adjustment will be the one that suddenly transforms it into the scene that you were sure it would be when you spent two hours capturing it, convinced that it was the colours that would make it. I have a trick – if the picture does not look good after 10 minutes, I try black and white. Sometimes that is all that is needed.
And I have one final piece of advice. Resist the temptation to isolate a bit of color within a black and white image unless you have a very good reason. It has been done to death and just looks clichéd. Everyone can do it on his or her phone and therefore everyone has done it on his or her phone.