Secrets for Powerful Black and White Images: A Black and White Photography Series, Part 3 of 3

Nov 19, 2019

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this black and white series, I shared some tips with you on how you can create images in-camera that will result in strong black and white photos. However, creating a strong image in-camera is only half of the creative process when it comes to a black and white image. Strong monochrome photography is not complete without a good post-processing conversion. There are many different styles when it comes to black and white imagery; no one is correct. There are also many different presets for black and white images that you may find useful. My advice to you is that you should experiment in your post-processing. By doing this, you’ll find a style that you like. When processing an image for black and white, I do have a few tips to share with you. Here are those tips for your consideration.

1. Look for a strong tonal range

The tonal range in photography is simply the span of tones across an image from pure black through brightest white. The histogram below was taken from a black and white image with a full span tonal range. The left side is where pure black lives while the right side is where true white lives. I can tell from the histogram below that the black and white image represented by the histogram has a lot of dark tones but also has some bright white tones.

Here’s the image so you can see it a get a sense of what a full tonal range black and white conversion can look like.

ISO 1250, 35mm, f2.5, 1/400SS

Sometimes tonal range will need to be tweaked in post-processing. You can do that by deepening shadow and adjusting your whites and highlights. Be sure to watch that your shadows do not get too dark and clip or your highlights too bright and blow out.

2. Add contrast

Post-processing contrast typically targets the darker and lighter mid-tones in an image. Adjusting contrast bumps apart the mid-tones creating greater distance between the dark and bright mid-tones. This add, in contrast, can make a black and white image pop.

ISO 800, 50mm, Freelensed, 1/250SS

3. Adjust colour via the HSL panel

Both Lightroom and Camera Raw Filter in Photoshop have HSL panels. Adjusting this panel can be essential to creating a strong black and white conversion. The luminosity or brightness of colour can and should be tweaked within this panel. This can help a colour pop and add significant depth to any colours that do convert a little muddy in greyscale. Be sure to play with the colour sliders in your conversion and see what they can do to your black and white image.


ISO 200, 155mm, f3.2, 1/1250SS

4.  Don’t forget to dodge and burn

The dodge and burn tools are essential for making detailed, local adjustments to your black and white images. Use an adjustment brush in Lightroom along with the exposure slider or use the dodge and burn tools in Photoshop. Dodging and burning can be especially helpful to separate tones, in adding depth and can enhance texture to a portion of an image without adjusting the global tonality.  I frequently use dodge and burning techniques in my images.

ISO 500, 50mm, f3.2, 1/320SS

5.  Embrace the grain

Photographers are often encouraged to photograph at as low as an ISO as possible, as this will help avoid digital noise in an image. However, bumping your ISO or adding grain in post-processing can enhance the mood of a black and white image. Don’t be afraid to push your settings and experiment with shooting at high ISOs in your black and white work.

ISO 1600, 50mm, Freelensed, 1/200SS

There you have it! I’ve shared my best secrets for creating powerful black and white images in this three-part series. I hope you have fun creating gorgeous black and white images with the tips in this series! I look forward to seeing what you create!