Photography as a usable process goes back to the 1820s with the development of chemical photography.  Louis Daguerre took the first ever photo of a person in 1838 when, while taking a daguerreotype of a Paris street, a pedestrian stopped for a shoe shine, long enough to be captured by the long exposure (several minutes).  The first glass negative was made in late 1839.  George Eastman developed the technology of film to replace photographic plates in 1884. All of this in Black and white (B&W).  Color images were not to ‘arrive’ until 1861.

So, why do I like to think in Black & White?  Well, there are a few reasons.  One of them is that Black & White images remind me of the history of photography and where it all started.  But there are many more as well.  Let’s explore this further.

So, for some simple reasons as to why one should ‘think in black & white’ might be:

  • B&W  works with Portraits, scenics, studio, urban landscapes, street photography & architecture….just about any subject
  • B&W  avoids the distractions that can arise from a color image
  • B&W can help an image that may have exposure ‘problems’
  • B&W can tell a different ‘story’ about your image (this may be the most important reason!)


The image of the old boats in a field in black & white tell a far different ‘story’ than the one in color. Wouldn’t you agree?!

So, what tools are available to turn a color image into B&W?

  • RAW file to Adobe Camera Raw to Photoshop, or Elements
  • Photoshop  or Elements – B&W Adjustment Tool
  • Lightroom (all versions)

I suggest leaving your software in auto mode for converting to B&W.  I don’t think I’ve ever had an image where auto was the answer but at least it gives you a starting point!

Plug Ins like:

  • Nik Software’s Silver Efx Pro
    • OnOne’s software suite
    • Topaz’ software suite
    • And many more….

What kind of images work best? Examples might include:
• Image with a lot of detail or complex subjects
• Image with a good/broad tonal range
• Image with an odd color that overshadows the rest of the image
• HDR can help create a great B&W by…
i. Providing detail in the shadows
ii. Avoiding burned out highlight/white areas to capture that big tonal range

The Lighthouse image is a toss up for me.  I think I prefer it in color as opposed to B&W.  Again, one’s preference.

The following two images illustrate lots of detail with a broad tonal range.  HDR techniques were used here.  If an image requires the use of HDR techniques and the resultant color image looks too unrealistic then that image is a perfect candidate to be converted to Black & White.

The orange color in the next image of the dinghy is not the most appealing color so >> to Black & White it goes!

This scene from Essex, MA is nice in color but note the clouds in the black & white version. They get more ‘depth’. The old home also adds to the ‘story’ in B&W.

So, Black & White photography is best achieved by doing a few things when you’re out looking for subjects.
• Think about Black & White photography
• When you’re reviewing your images try converting some to B&W to see how they look
• Study books and articles on Black & White photography. Some images easily lend themselves to B&W whereas others simply don’t.


Finally, I would suggest that you might want to challenge yourself to create images in Black & White.

Black & White photography can be a very rewarding aspect to your photography. Think about it!

Robert Ring


  1. Jean Gaudet

    Hi Bob – thanks for this, was great! It made me re-think about some of my “not so great in color images”! I have some ‘homework’ to do in the next few weeks! Happy New Year!!!

  2. Cathy Williams

    So much new info !!! I am psyched you guys are doing this !!!
    Thanks so much to Don and Bob for being so awesome !

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