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Want to Create Bold B&W Images? Color and Light Matter

Bold B&W images are some of my favorite types of photographs to create and deliver to my wedding clients. I love everything about them — the feel of them, how they easily eliminate distractions, highlight the emotion present in an image, and evoke a nod to an earlier era.

A common misconception about black and white photos in this day and age, though, is that it all happens in Lightroom or Photoshop after the fact — that you just click one button to run a preset or action and you’re done.

As a photographer, I think that the thought process you go through before the shoot when you’re planning, during the shoot while you’re photographing, and after the shoot, while editing is vital for achieving the look you want and creating iconic and bold B&W images.

bold black and white image of bride and groom.
The thought process you go through before, during, and after your shoot is vital for achieving the look you want for your B&Ws. All Photos © Jennifer Boris

For example, if you want a bold, high-contrast black and white, it could be as simple as educating your clients beforehand on what colors work well for your photography style and vision.

Certain shades of red and pastel colors often do not translate well in black and white because they appear as varying shades of gray and often look muddy.

On a wedding day, I know if a groom is wearing a gray suit, I won’t be able to achieve the rich look I love for black-and-white photos the same way I could if he was in a black or navy tux because I won’t have the contrast of dark color against the bride’s white dress.

Taking the colors of what I’m photographing into account helps to set my expectations when I’m editing and helps me understand why the photos may not look how I want them to look in black and white.

[Read: Beauty in Black and White: How to Find a Tonal Balance with Different Types of Light]

direct sunlight
First in color (shot in direct sunlight) and then (
Bride and groom in direct sunlight
… In black and white. Evaluate the light you are shooting in and how it will impact the contrast you are seeking in your black and white.

During a shoot or a wedding day, I’m also constantly evaluating the light I’m placing my couples in — what direction it’s coming from, if it’s diffused, what it’s reflecting off of — because I know the type of light I choose will impact how my photos look in black and white.

While I love shooting in shade, I know it often doesn’t produce the best black-and-white images because there’s not a lot of contrast happening with the lighting. It’s rather flat light. On the contrary, if we have a clear sky and sunshine on a wedding day and I backlight my couple, the shadows from the sun and the quality of light will help produce a bold black and white with high contrast that pops.

color and light factor in to bridal portrait at window.
First color…
Directional window light image of bride and bridesmaids.
… Then in black and white. My favorite light to shoot in for black-and-white shots is the light coming in through a window.

My favorite type of light to shoot in for B & Ws is directional light; I’m often utilizing the light that is coming in through a window. This type of lighting is very flattering and readily shows off the highlights and shadows as it falls across a subject and gives your images lots of depth and dimension.

I especially love it for photographing a bride solo — it beautifully illuminates all of the details of the wedding dress and draws attention to them. It is also a good strategy to use for couples if they don’t have dark colors in their outfits and you still want to create a high contrast of black and white for them. You can use the dimensional light to create the dark colors you need for a bold edit by utilizing the shadows it creates as your black color in the image.

[Read: How to Photograph Natural Light Morning to Night]

color version on bride before conversion to B&W.
if you’re missing a pure black point (above), play with the shadow and black slider to create a bolder image (below).
Creating Bold B&W images, bride in B&W
Want to Create Bold B&W Images? Color and Light Matter 25

Once your shoot or wedding is complete and you get your images into your editing software, that’s when all of the pieces of your intentional thought process come together and you can create a black-and-white image that really shines. One of the most important aspects of creating a bold, high-contrast black and white image is having a pure white point and a pure black point in the image.

In Lightroom, this can be achieved by adjusting tone curves or sliders until you can see the upward arrows on the top corners of your histogram turn white. If you are missing a pure white point, you can adjust the highlights or white slider bar until it appears.

For a pure black point, you can adjust the shadows and the black slider. The exposure, contrast, and clarity sliders can also impact the white and black points so I recommend playing around with the different sliders and seeing how they impact your image. Once you have a combination you like, save it as a base preset to help you achieve the look consistently.

Just like the color photographs you capture and the care you take into getting the tones just right in them, your black and white photos should be created with the same intention and care to detail for the most impact and the highest number of bold B&W images!

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