Tech Tip: What Makes a Good Black & White Image?

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A lot of my posts have been fairly technical recently, so I thought I’d address a little more of the creative side of photography. I love black and white photography, so I thought I’d explain a little about my vision for how I decide if an image will be converted to black and white or not. There are three main things I look for when determining whether to convert an image to black and white. I hope you enjoy this post. I’ll cover some tips on editing black and white images in a future tech tip!


1) Good Light

The light is very important to making a good black and white. If you’ve ever had a black and white conversion that looked drab and gray, the chances are the light just wasn’t there for a good conversion. Dramatic light lends itself very well to black and white, because it gives a lot of contrast between the light and dark parts of the image. It also often has a moodier feel to it that seems more raw when you strip the color away.

The reason good light is so important is that it gives you a wide range of tones in your image. You want to have a range of tones in your image from bright to dark.  If the light is ideal, you’ll automatically have a nice range of tones because it will be very bright where the light is hitting and very dark in the shadows far from where the light is falling. In less ideal light, you may have to accentuate the range of tones when editing so that you can darken the shadows/blacks and brighten the lighter areas.

Black and white silhouette of girl reading in a library window

Black and white image of girl in directional window light



2) Textures & Patterns

A good black and white conversion can really bring out the texture in an image. Things like water, hair, plants, concrete, and food often have great textures for a black and white conversion. Stripes, polka dots, or other geometric patterns can also add interest in a black and white image. There’s a macro picture in the gallery of a serving platter with a really neat circular pattern that I took knowing I’d convert it to black and white.

Black and white image of textured platter

Timeless black and white image of a girl in a field of grain


3) Distracting Elements

By converting an image to black and white, you can remove a lot of distracting elements from the frame. It removes distracting or competing colors, and background items often fall into shadow and completely disappear. This brings the attention to your subject, the light, and the emotion in an image. Converting to black and white can also give a timeless feel to the image by stripping away modern colors and details, and giving the look of an old black and white image. Color can also be a distraction in situations where you have indoor or mixed lighting or where there are strong color casts, and converting to black and white can simplify the image by removing these undesirable colors.

Black and white image of a girl shouting in excitement

Black and white image of girl reading in a library through the stacks

I hope you enjoyed this Tech Tip Tuesday! Comment below to let me know what you think, or if you have any questions about this or other topics you’d like me to cover in the future.


My name is Kelley, and I am the owner of Kelley K Photography, a portrait photography business based in Smyrna, Georgia. I am a member of the Click Pro network of photographers since 2016. In addition to photography, I have 20 years of experience in the IT industry, including consulting, technical writing, web design and hosting, and IT regulatory compliance. I publish weekly Tech Tips on my blog, Instagram, and Facebook, as well as offering mentoring to photographers on technical issues relating to photography, from Lightroom to web hosting.

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