Black and white photography:
why, when and how

Two photographers reveal why they choose to shoot in black and white, their different approaches and share tips for getting the best results.
A black-and-white shot of a leopard in the branches of a tree.

Wildlife photographer Clement Kiragu often uses black and white photography to highlight the drama of his animal shots, such as this leopard peering through the branches of a tree. He prefers to shoot in colour and convert his images to black and white in post-production. "Because I've been doing photography for so long, I know how a scene will look in black and white," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) at 1/640 sec, f/6.3 and ISO1000. © Clement Kiragu

Black and white photography is enduringly popular across genres for its timeless quality and ability to focus the gaze on a subject, without distractions. But what's the best way to capture images when you have mono in mind?

Of course, shooting RAW is always a good idea as it gives you the freedom to explore editing treatments at your leisure, but there's no definitive 'right way' to shoot black and white. You switch your camera to black and white mode if you're the type of photographer who prefers to see an accurate preview of your final image. But equally, converting colour images into black and white is easier than ever thanks to editing presets in programs such as Canon's Digital Photo Professional (DPP).

Photographers André Teixeira and Clement Kiragu are both adept at creating striking black and white images – André in his wedding work and personal street photography, and Clement in his wildlife images. Here they reveal how and why they turn to black and white over colour, and their different approaches to capturing and processing their striking images.

A black-and-white portrait of a couple holding hands on their wedding day.

Wedding photographer André Teixeira uses black and white to emphasise emotional moments. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM) at 1/2000 sec, f/2 and ISO200. © André Teixeira

A black and white shot of a couple on their wedding day. The bride is wiping away a tear from her eye.

"My wedding clients don't usually specify that they want black and white images but occasionally, if they are photography enthusiasts, they do ask on the day," says André. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/1000 sec, f/1.8 and ISO200. © André Teixeira

Shoot in Monochrome mode

André explains that black and white is perfect for many of his wedding photographs. "For me, black and white is really a way of emphasising emotion," he says. "When you look into someone's eyes in an image without the distraction of colour, I think you have a stronger connection with the subject."

As Canon Ambassador Helen Bartlett revealed in her black and white photography tips, André says he prefers to preview his black and white shots in-camera. "We see things very differently in black and white, so even though I shoot in RAW to retain the colour information, I set the Picture Style on my Canon EOS R to Monochrome. I also add a little extra contrast because I know that I will increase this in post-production to give me darker blacks, and it just makes for a smoother shooting workflow.

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A black-and-white shot of a long, candlelit table at a wedding dinner. The guests are raising their glasses in a toast.

To get an accurate preview in the EVF of his Canon EOS R, André switches to Monochrome Picture Style when shooting RAW. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM lens at 1/160 sec, f/2 and ISO3200.

A black-and-white image, shot from above, of a bride walking down a spiral staircase.

André says he treats his Canon EOS R almost like a film camera, and turns the LCD screen off. "The EVF gives me the black and white preview, and I don't want to take time during a shoot to stop and check the images," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/15 sec, f/11 and ISO200.

"Using a mono preview means that I can focus on the light and the composition and the moment, instead of worrying about whether the colours will match across a set of images or any unwanted colour casts. The Canon EOS R is amazing in this regard. It's so incredible that these days we have electronic viewfinders that can show what you're shooting as the camera sees it, which makes it much easier to compose and even to check the exposure.

"I set up one camera for black and white photography and another for colour before I start shooting, as I hate having to make technical adjustments during a wedding. I don't think too much about colour temperature and white balance and all those sorts of things even when I shoot colour, because you need to be very focused for hours during the day.

"When it comes to converting the RAW files to black and white, I simply use an off-the-shelf profile I bought for Lightroom. One click and the image is almost ready. I sometimes add a little bit of noise or grain, just to add a timeless quality to the image. I like the classic black and white analogue look, and it's very easy to achieve that digitally."

A black and white shot of an elephant and calf walking through long grass.

Clement often uses black and white to hide distractions in a scene and to help his subjects, such as this elephant and calf, stand out. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II at 1/1600 sec, f/6.3 and ISO1600. © Clement Kiragu

Convert colour images to black and white

Wildlife photographer Clement Kiragu has different reasons for turning to monochrome. "I find myself shooting intentionally for black and white if I feel the colour in a scene will be distracting in the final image or if I'm shooting in the middle of the day when the sun is directly above the animal. You can't really take a good photo in this light, but what you can do is overexpose the shadows and then turn the image into a fabulous, minimalistic black and white shot when you carry out your post-processing. It really makes the animal stand out and the image looks almost like a painting."

Clement shoots with his Canon EOS-1D X Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III), Canon EOS 5DS R and Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) and then converts his colour files to black and white later. "Because I've been doing photography for so long, I know how a scene will look in black and white; I don't really need to set the Monochrome Picture Style to see how the image will look without any colour on the Live View screen.

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A black-and-white shot of the head of a male lion silhouetted against a dark background.

The drama of the head of this lion silhouetted against the dark background is enhanced in black and white. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II at 1/3200 sec, f/6.3 and ISO400. © Clement Kiragu

A black-and-white shot of a cheetah leaping onto the back of a topi antelope.

Not all of Clement's black and white shots are intentional – he expected this shot of a cheetah hunting a topi antelope to work well in colour, but converted it to black and white to eliminate the heatwaves created by shooting with a telephoto lens in the middle of the day. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II at 1/4000 sec, f/6.3 and ISO1000. © Clement Kiragu

When it comes to processing his RAW files, Clement says he does very minimal editing. "I just open the files in Photoshop, maybe add a little contrast, a bit of brightness, then I'll just go to the black and white conversion," he explains. "I will sometimes push the magenta and yellow a little bit, and perhaps add a vignette if the shot needs it, but that's about it. I really don't do much to my black and white wildlife images.

"There are always scenarios where a shot that you intended to be in colour works better in mono. I photographed a cheetah hunting a topi antelope and expected it to work well in colour because the grass was very brown, which gave the scene some contrast. But shooting with a telephoto lens in the middle of the day meant that heat waves distorted the image. Even though I had captured a great moment, it was not pin-sharp, and the only way I could get it to work was to convert it into black and white and add a little sharpening.

"Equally, there are some situations where black and white does not work at all. For example, leopards live in very dense forests. This kind of rich, green territory really brings out the animal's markings, and removing the colour would make the image so flat. You would lose all those rich colours, and the contrast and depth would disappear."

Marcus Hawkins

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