How To Create a Dramatic Black and White Photo

Mountains Along Apache Trail

Finding a good black and white photo isn’t always as easy as many people might think at first. The most important thing to remember is that color photos will always convert to a better black and white image than a photo shot as a black and white in the camera. Why is that? Because the camera is simply making an arbitrary conversion and once it’s saved, that’s what you get. On the other hand, if you start with a color image and proceed to make the black and white conversion in a program such as Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop, you have full control over the intensity of each color. Using these tools you can decide if you want an intense, bold look, much like Ansel Adams, or scale it all back for a more subtle and softer tonal shift.

With that being said, however, not every image you take will make a good black and white. Even successful color images don’t always translate well to black and white photos. It requires an image with a striking composition with many complimentary colors working together to pop out important subjects. This will give you a great amount of contrast that will really separate the lights from the darks, or vice versa. As you can tell with the last photoblog post and this one, cottonwood trees against a red, sandstone canyon make for a spectacular black and white photo because as we all (should) know, red is the complimentary color to green, and thus, the two against each other will create an infinite amount of dramatic compositions. This is the primary reason I found so many great photos from Coyote Gulch in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area to convert over to black and white. Had the cottonwoods been changing color for the fall season, they wouldn’t have made very good black and whites at all since yellow and red are so close to each other on the spectrum.

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