Black and White Photography for Beginners

6 Jul 2016

Let me just first put it out there, I am not at ALL a technical person. Whether we’re talking televisions, computers, cellular devices or photography equipment for that matter.

I know the basics of handling my own camera and that’s about it. I feel that the technicalities get in the way and distract me from being creative.

Model with blond hair covering her one eye

Photo Credit – Wouda Pitzer

Model with wind blown blond hair

Photo Credit – Wouda Pitzer

Black and White Photography

Black and White photography means something different to everyone and has many different definitions and ‘types’ such as grayscale and monochrome. So, for the purpose of this blog (and since I’m not a boffin on the subject) I’m going to keep it very simple, sharing all the tips I’ve learned.

When in Doubt, Ask for Help

I prefer using reference images I find on sites such as Pinterest and photos the models send me. Based on those images I will the try to recreate the photograph as best I can but adding a little personal twist to it. Like it’s said, a true artist doesn’t copy, he steals! Since I don’t know a whole lot about lighting, asking for help from people that know more about the topic is the best option. Luckily I have a few friends and colleagues here at Outdoorphoto who are always happy to help and I try to take notes of how and why they do things. To be honest, sometimes I get so preoccupied with doing the prep work that I completely forget to take note of what they do with the lighting. Other times, I’ve learned that simply playing around with the light and modifiers teaches you a lot and can give you great results.

Boss Model Annabelle Cloete

Photo Credit – Wouda Pitzer

Boss Model Annabelle Cloete

Photo Credit – Wouda Pitzer

Tonal Range & Contrast

When it comes to ‘black and white’ photography there are a few factors you should keep in mind.

Tonal Range describes the various shades of gray between the black and the white in an image. A narrow tonal range generally has a softer look about it with varying shades of gray. While an image that has a wide tonal range can be describes as a high contrast image with very dark shadows (blacks) and very light highlights (whites).

Model with blond hair wearing a leather jacket

Photo Credit – Wouda Pitzer

Model with blond hair wearing a bow tie

Photo Credit – Wouda Pitzer

A Quick Overview of the Steps I Take to Create a Black and White Image:

  1. Firstly, I do all the planning, which I’ve explained in a previous blog, On Location Shooting.
  2. I always shoot in RAW because a RAW image is uncompressed, which means no information is lost and you have more control during post-production.
  3. Once the shoot is done and dusted I download all of the images into a file and open them up in Lightroom. In Lightroom I do the RAW conversion and all of the necessary editing to make the image look in tip top shape.
  4. Then I export my favourite images to Photoshop where I do the necessary beauty retouching… and finally when done, I convert the image to black and white by converting the image mode to gray scale or using the ‘enhance – convert to black and white’ option.
  5. After that I examine the black and white image I’ve got on the screen for a while and then I will tweak the levels adjustments and the curves adjustments to create the image I desire.

I have only used Lightroom and Photoshop till now but I’ve heard that NikSoftware silver Efex Pro is really good too, and it’s free!

Boss Model Annabelle Cloete

Photo Credit – Wouda Pitzer

Boss Model Annabelle Cloete

Photo Credit – Wouda Pitzer

“Why Black and White” you might think.

For me it’s just a feeling I get. I tend to convert most of my photographs to black and white to see what the image will look like, sometimes the colour image looks great and gives you that warm fuzzy feeling and other times, once converted to B&W, I simply KNOW that the photograph was made to be in black and white.

Here are a few reasons why Black and White images sometimes look more appealing:

  1. There are no colour distractions like red lips or beautiful blue eyes causing the viewer to not notice the detail in the image. This brings me to the next reason.
  2. It accentuates lines, curves and details better. So instead of looking at the beautiful green eyes or being distracted by the red lips of the model, you rather notice the curves of her body, a distinct jaw line or the way her lips curl up at the ends.
  3. It is clean, simple and minimal which can work brilliantly as art in a modern home.
  4. The fact that it takes you back to how it all started really brings out something special to me. I love the old school feeling of black and white!
  5. Lastly, it can also solve problems. I’ve encountered times when certain colours didn’t match or times when make-up colour choices where wrong and by converting the photograph to black and white I totally eliminated the unwanted distraction. Turning something that might have been a flop into something truly amazing.
Model with blond hair framing her face with her hands

Photo Credit – Wouda Pitzer

Model with blond hair

Photo Credit – Wouda Pitzer

Model with blond hair

Photo Credit – Wouda Pitzer

If you enjoyed this blog you might also enjoy reading:

Black & White Photography – It’s a love story

by Maryna Cotton


Low Key Photography

by Marcell van Aswegen

About the Author:

Wouda McMicken spends her work days as part of the driven Outdoorphoto team. She enjoys photography, especially with her treasured Nikon Film camera.


  1. Leo Theron 6 Jul 2016 at 4:23 pm - Reply

    And I thought you are a Wordsmith…

    Shows you how wrong you can be.

    Excellent shots, excellent article. Well done.

    Leo T

    • The Outdoorphoto Team
      Outdoorphoto Team 7 Jul 2016 at 8:37 am - Reply

      Thank you very much Leo. We hope you’ll keep a close eye on the blog for more interesting articles.

  2. Maryna Cotton 6 Jul 2016 at 8:59 pm - Reply

    I Love your work, Wouda. Thank you for sharing.

    • The Outdoorphoto Team
      Outdoorphoto Team 7 Jul 2016 at 8:29 am - Reply

      Well, I had an awesome teacher!

      • Tamie 31 Jan 2019 at 3:33 pm - Reply

        Who was that teacher? I want to be the student.

  3. Karin Pitzer 7 Jul 2016 at 9:50 am - Reply

    Beautiful photos Wouda! I saw the color photos and they look stunning in black and white.

  4. Madeleine 7 Jul 2016 at 6:37 pm - Reply

    So proud of u Wouda. Well done

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