“I believe that if black-and-white photography is done correctly, it can convey much more emotion and a deeper meaning than colour ever could. It’s as if by subtracting colour, the viewer is forced to add his own emotion to the images. Colour photography is like a novel that spells everything out in detail, whereas black-and-white photography is like poetry—its strength isn’t in what’s said; it’s in what’s left out.” – Heinrich van den Berg, Award-winning Photographer

It is important to note that not every image will make a great black and white one; some images and subjects will require colour to make an impact. If colour is the purpose of an image – say, for instance, your subject is a red-headed wood pecker, then black and white may not work for that particular photograph. Some photographers hold the opinion that an image lacking colour is a good candidate for black and white conversion; however, even very colourful images may be hiding some dramatic black and white potential.

The problem with colour is that it may be a distraction that interferes with the viewer’s ability to see the textures, lines and patterns as well as contrasts within an image. A large part of the time wildlife subjects are surrounded by foliage and blue sky backgrounds often allowing a trend of saturating these possible distractions to enhance the subject. With black and white photos one can take the attention away from those colours, and draw it to the subject alone.

Colourful images tell a story, while black and white can reveal a more emotional portrait of wildlife and add imagination, drama and mystery. Colour may show the actuality of a scene while black and white is a perception of the captured reality.

Ultimately, the creative and artistic side of photography lies with the photographer.

Have you often swiped through photos and put them aside as “average”? Well maybe a black and white image is lurking underneath and a conversion is possibly what’s needed to take the ordinary into extraordinary…

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There are few things more powerful than that of a male lion’s stare. Large eyes that seem to look through you rather than at you. A conversion of this Birmingham male lion portrait into black and white adds textures and enhances the intimacy as well as creating emotion in his scarred face.

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Grass of variable colours can often be a distraction from the subject being photographed. When in black and white it becomes evident at what might be looking back at you with cute and curious eyes.


When a herd of zebras stepped out onto the Londolozi runway and a dramatic cloud-filled sky drifted above, it gave us a great opportunity to try for a black and white image, something that zebras in particular lend themselves towards. The black and white stripes tie in with the dark tar and white paint of the airstrip. It becomes a merge of natural black and white juxtaposed with a human version.

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Blue or grey sky, green or brown grass – it doesn’t matter. Our focus is on the emotion expressed in the central subject – the Nkoveni female leopard.


Symmetry and equal balance with no distractions other than the main subject. A journey of giraffes breaks the skyline, emphasising their height and vantage point over other creatures they tower above. Odd numbers work better for photographs like this; 3, 5 or 7 giraffes are for whatever mathematical reason, more pleasing than 2, 4 or 6 would be…

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Two zebra stallions engage in a ruthless battle with bites from sharp canines and powerful kicks. Black and white creates a pop of their stripes and removes any other distractions as they focus on overpowering one another

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A hippo bull bursts from the water below. A fixated stare showing no emotion and only the intentions of removing any threat present. Lacking one ear, this hippo bull has clearly been through a few battles and his look tells us he will happily go through more in order to claim a body of water, females and the right to pass on his genes.

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Is there emotion evident in this close up of a rhino bull? Or is it only our emotion projected onto him? Textures of his leathery skin are portrayed in the contrast of black and white. The plight of his species resonates through simpler imagery.


A young baboon clings to its mother while a third one grooms. The stark appearance of a dead knob thorn can provide a safe haven for many animals. The high vantage point keeps these baboons away from danger.


Focus is drawn to the textures and stare of this bull elephant as it towered above us one late evening on game drive. These gentle giants have an incredible intelligence level. If only we could know of his exact thoughts?

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A lone bull wildebeest stares back at us inquisitively. This male has established a small territory of his own in prime short grassland which he will actively protect from other males in the hope of attracting females with which to mate.

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A sub-adult male lion, still fine tuning the art of hunting, locks eyes on his target ahead. Instinct combined with years of nurture. A black and white conversion emphasises his focus and tunnel vision with no other distractions from whatever his prey might be.

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A natural frame from a dead tree draws our focus into this male cheetah as he focuses on a herd of impala in the distance. Eyes assessing which individual is either young, weak or old and which one could possibly be his next meal.

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As darkness falls it becomes a time of shades of black and white. A spotted eagle owl emerges from resting in a dense tree canopy to perch itself on an dead tree and scan the grass below in search of any lurking rodent.

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A young leopard cub finds this marula tree a safe haven for a lurking hyena below. The rosettes blend into the scale-like bark of the tree while it’s well adapted, retractable claws cling on.

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The bright sunlight glare would have created a washed out colour image but by over exposing and then converting to black and white five hippos are isolated in a pool of water, cooling off in the mid-day sun and moisturizing their skin.

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Peering out of the shadows of a strangler fig entwined with a leadwood, the natural frame of branches draws our attention in on the expression of the Ximungwe female.

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An elephant’s tail swishes over its back leg. While waiting for an animal to walk into a space for that perfect photograph you might find the creative shot lies where you didn’t expect it to be. Only a tail and hind leg was visible as this elephant fed in a thick bush. Shadows, detail and texture are expressed in this black and white representation of coarse hair and wrinkles.

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What do the next few years or less hold for the Majingilane male lions. A Majingilane male stares past us, his dark mane allows you to focus on his pale face, locking your gaze to his.


A Birmingham male lion stares into the darkness in absolute silence, listening for any sounds of other lions nearby. With an astounding sense of hearing and sight only he will see or hear what he is looking for. The side light and outline of his iconic shape create mystery. Suggestion and leaving a lot out can often be far more evocative than a full reveal in a photo.

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A Tsalala sub-adult runs to the sound of the distress call caused by an impala being suffocated. Eyes locked on a potential meal only meters away. Black and white removes all distractions allowing us to focus on the subject, much like this young lion focused on the meal ahead.

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A rhino rests in a pool of water, cooling itself in the head of the day. Its eyes, nostrils and precious armory are the only parts that protrude. What would a rhino be without its horn? Black and white draws our attention to what matters.

About the Author

Alex Jordan

Field Guide

Born in Cape Town, Alex grew up on a family wine estate in Stellenbosch. Spending much of his young life outdoors, Alex went on many a holiday into Southern Africa’s national parks and wild areas. After finishing high school, he completed a number ...

View Alex's profile


on The Power of Black and White

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Marinda Drake

Stunning black and white images Alex. I do go through my photos and discard some that does not look and feel right. I am going to try and convert it to black and white and see what happen. Great tips.

Alex Jordan

A great idea. You could potentially be amazed. Thank you for the kind words.

Jeff Rodgers

As a long-time fan of black and white images, thank you for a fantastic blog and all of those terrific photos.

Alex Jordan

Thank you Jeff!

Michael & Terri Klauber

Alex, All we can say is Wow, Wow, Wow! Your images are dramatic and expressive. We love the way they have us focus on the smallest details on these beautiful animals. Thanks for the reminder of the incredible power in B&W photography!

Alex Jordan

Thank you very much for the kind words. You summed up exactly what i was trying to express.

Darlene Knott

Beautiful B&W creations, Alex. I especially liked the Nkoveni female leopard and the Birmingham male lion. I love experimenting with black and white in LR. Overexposing is interesting to do while shooting as you did with the hippos. I have done that with zebras and cheetahs. Excellent blog post. Thanks!

Alex Jordan

Thank you so much Darlene! Keep experimenting.

Mary Beth Wheeler

Some powerful images, Alex. The first, the face of Birmingham male, really resonated with me. I often go back over my shots and play with removing the color – I think I’ll try it again!

Alex Jordan

Thank you. Yes the image of the male lion peering around a tamboti tree is one i do enjoy. Play around with black and white, you can easily be amazed.

Dina Petridis

I suppose you know also the website of Nick Brandt’s black and white photographs ?

Alex Jordan

Unfortunately not but will look it up. Thank you

Callum Evans

An absolutely range of images!! I’ve been experimenting with B&W for a few months now and I’ve managed to get a few really incredible results! It really brings out textures, like you said, and also can hold a lot more emotion and meaning

Alex Jordan

Thank you Callum. Yes you are completely correct. It emphasizes the textures, contrast and emotion.

Callum Evans

Pleasure Alex!!

Denise Vouri

I completely agree with your assessment of B/W images, and when I’m editing, I often convert to see how it looks. Oftentimes you can achieve more details when converting. Big cats and zebra are especially beautiful in b/w.

Do you think it’s important to overexpose when confronted with difficult light situations-too much contrasting light? Thanks!

Alex Jordan

Hi Denise. Thank you for your comments. It’s great creating a duplicate image and doing a black and white conversion. As i mentioned, there’s a chance an ordinary image can become an amazing one.
Overexposure is all light and scenario dependent. It depends on what type of photograph you are wanting to capture. As most wildlife photographers shoot in aperture priority mode with evaluative metering and the rule is to overexpose if your subject is much darker and contrasting than the environment it’s in. Overexposure in very contrasting light can allow for a good high-key image (that’s if it’s the style you going for).

Wendy Hawkins

I am not a fan of B&W images, but I see what you have here & maybe when I go to Addo I will try it too! Thanks for your awesome range of pictures 🙂

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