I love photography as there are no set rules and no real right or wrong way of taking pictures… There is most definitely a technical side to photography and understanding settings is very important but photography as a whole is flexible and the possibilities are endless. One of these possibilities is converting your photographs to black and white. I really enjoying exploring black and white photography as it can often enhance a photograph and can drastically change the mood of an image.

How does one go about creating a black and white image though? What do we look for in a black and white picture? Should we be thinking black and white before we have even pressed our shutter?

Not every picture we take will look good in black and white so understanding how colour works and how light can be used in different ways is a huge advantage before converting any image. When converting an image it is important to have different tones. The difference in tones creates contrast, which results in the subject of your picture to pop or stand out. If there is only one tone in an image the conversion will look flat and lose intensity. In wildlife photography conditions are not always easy. The light can be flat, the colours may lack in vibrancy and the scene may be difficult to capture.

I always take a brief moment when out in the field to see what I am capturing. If conditions and the external elements are ideal and I have great colour in my images then black and white doesn’t even cross my mind. A colour image is only valid when we have the correct tone and beautiful light. My thought process starts to change when I see drastic highlights and shadows, which produce contrast or if there is a variety of different tones in the image. I find my mind starting to wander and instead of erasing the image or giving up, I try think of other options that I can use to portray my subject and more often than not it is as simple as a black and white conversion.

Instead of deleting an image or saving it in a file which you may never look at again, try converting it. Something that many people do not know is that once you convert the image to black and white, you can still use the colour toggles in various post processing software to actually draw out or underplay certain tones. Play around with these different colours individually or manipulate the contrast, shadows or highlights. By playing around, combining these elements and thinking outside the box you will start to define your own unique style. The worst that can happen is that we learn from our mistakes and we give ourselves a deeper knowledge and understanding of what we need to do the next time we have a similar opportunity.

makotini

Blowing out the background of an image that is lost in colour can detract from your image. Once converted to black and white though, the blown out background allows the leopard to pop.

buffalo

High contrasting light can be a simple yet very effective conversion. In the image, harsh light and deep shadows create an intense stare and mood.

sparta-cub

The conversion to black and white can also allow you to flatten parts of the image that are not as important, allowing you to create contrast in the aspects that you most want the viewer to see.

xidulu

Any colour contrast can impact an image whether it is in colour or black and white. A light subject with a dark soil allows the subject to pop.

cheetah

High key images are one way to turn a flat photograph into a piece of art. What otherwise may have been a dull image has changed dramatically by creating less distractions from the subject. As I said in my introduction, there are no rules so play with your post-processing and in-camera setting to develop your own style.

hyena

Once light starts to fade, capturing colour may be difficult and an image can appear flat. In this case a young hyena waits patiently its mother to return. Black and white creates the mood and draws the viewer’s eye straight to the subject and intensifies the youngster’s facial expression.

mashaba

Contrast is the key for me in this image. In a colour image it may have taken a while for the viewer’s eye to land on the leopard, whereas with black and white the eye is drawn to the subject immediately.

hippo

Light and dark tones are used to create a mood or dramatise a scene. Here dark tones highlight the water droplets as a hippo breaks the surface of the water.

coalition

Black and white can also help to deepen the detail of an image, showing up the individual hairs on these lions faces.

Filed under Photography Wildlife

About the Author

Trevor McCall-Peat

Photographic Guide

Trevor joined Londolozi from Balule Game Reserve, and with this head start in guiding, he was up and running in no time as a Londolozi Ranger. Trevor has a unique style in photography, capturing images from fresh angles that most wouldn’t see. This ...

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6 Comments

on Converting To Black And White

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Senior Moment
Guest

Stunning conversions, I must admit that I was planning to bring some B&W film with me but it is still in the fridge.

Liam
Guest

Awesome pictures Trevor, please still be there when I’m back next year!

Mary Duwve
Guest

Just beautiful. I love black and white photos. Thanks for sharing

Praveen Singh
Guest

Great shots , Trevor ! Remember us 6 from India at Pioneer Camp June end. You were terrific ! Pity that you got unwell on our last day at Pioneer and we could not meet & thank you at the time of leaving . Hope you have fully recovered ! Regards to you & Victoria from all of us . See you , hopefully, next year ! Cheers.

Jill Larone
Guest

Beautiful pictures Trevor! Thanks for sharing.

Alice Ross
Guest

AMAZING AS ALWAYS Trev – your creative eye never ceases to impress – you make me SOOOOOOOOOO PROUD!!! Your enthusiasm and passion for photography is astoundingly clear and your images are brought to life!!! Keep doing what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life!!!!

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