Tips for Better Black and White Pictures

Tips for black and white photos         I love a good black and white photo. In college, my classmates and I shot in black and white film  (with the exception of one class) for the entire four years of college. Digital photography didn't quite make its appearance until after I graduated. It's crazy how the tides have changed completely! In college I used a manual film camera, developed the film by shaking the canister with different chemicals, let the film strip dry, then made a test sheet with my negatives using a little machine called an enlarger. Then I made photos on the enlarger, developed the photos in the darkroom using different chemical baths, and lastly dried the photos. All of this happened in a darkroom with a dim, red light bulb. This took hours upon hours of time! When digital cameras first came on the scene, I couldn't believe we had the ability to take a picture and INSTANTLY see it on a screen! I was floored by my first digital camera (it was 3.4 megapixels). Now we even have great cameras on our phones that take stunning photos. Oh how the times have changed!

Tips for black and white photos    In the same sense, many years ago, people only knew black and white photography. Imagine the excitement when the first color photographs were seen. Or the first time you saw a colored photograph of yourself!? You know on The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy's house lands and the entire movie switches to color? It's magic, I tell ya. Pure magic.

But even through all of the changes in technology, black and white photography still holds a special place in people's hearts.

Tips for black and white photosThe images have a classic look to them and they never go out of style (cue Taylor Swift song). Black and white has the ability to bring a sense of wonder to a photo. Some black and white photos are more striking than others, but what causes that? In this post I'll be talking about WHEN you should use a black and white photo and WHAT makes a great black and white photo.

Tips for black and white photos Great Light: First, it's all about the light. If you have a strong light source in your photo (ie: the sun light sweeping across your table in the morning), then it will likely look great in black and white. The transitioning from light to dark makes your eye bounce around the picture frame.

Tips for black and white photos        Contrast: Contrast in a photo will make a more striking black and white. If you have a subject standing in front of a brightly lit window with their silhouette outlined, the b&w gives the feeling of a sharper silhouette when the color is gone. The bright white compared to the dark black will make your image more striking. While contrast is wonderful, you also want your image to have tones. When a colored photograph is converted to b&w, the colors are turned to tones. More colors in your photograph mean more tonal range in your photo.

Tips for black and white photos      Shapes and lines: Photographs with strong lines and shapes always look great in b&w. Black and white photos have the ability to quiet a scene and diminish the noise, allowing you to focus on the subject matter. Shapes become stronger, edges become sharper, and textures look more pronounced.

Tips for black and white photos     Black and white can save a bad picture! If you have a photo that you love, but the light is too weird or it is a bit blurry, try converting it to black and white! Black and white hides so much. It's the white knight that can come in and save your photograph. Again, when you strip the color down, the forms and shapes will pop. This doesn't work all the time, but most times its worth a shot! I loved this little scene with my kids, but the room was really dark, resulting in a slightly blurry photo. I love the way it looks once I converted it to b&w.

Tips For Black And White Photos            Tips for black and white photos       Here is another snap where I wasn't crazy about the light. This was a little ballet recital and the back room where the ballerinas waited had poor lighting. See how their tutus and little arms and legs just make this photo so sweet? The yellow-ish floor was really distracting, but the conversion to black and white helps you focus more on the details and shapes.

Tips for balck and white photos           Tips for black and white photos             Some suggestions for converting photos to black and white:

iPhone: Whatever app you like to use for editing, just change your photo to black and white and then increase the contrast afterward. This can help your photos really pop!

Photoshop: Honestly, I use the A Beautiful Mess Photoshop actions on a daily basis when I edit for clients or when I take pictures for the ABM blog. There are different black and white actions to choose from in each collection. When you purchase an action pack, you also receive instructions to set them up and use them! 

Thanks for letting me share! xo. Janae

P.S. Are you ready to take your photography to the next level? Check out our eCourse, DSLR Basics and Photoshop for Bloggers. Or you can purchase both and get $25 off

Credits// Author and Photography: Janae Hardy. Photos edited with A Beautiful Mess actions.

  • Black and White Photos are beautiful works and allways generous. Thanks for this tips and new ideas!

  • I must thank you for sharing this useful topic. Really a worth reading post ! it explains it all so easliy ! thank you for sharing this article !!

  • I like black and white pictures rather than colourful as it looks wonderful. Thank you for such amazing tips. I hope these tips help a lot in my photography sessions 🙂

  • Awesome tips! I find I am a little intimidated by black and white photography, maybe because it looks so classic and vintage, and how could I possibly be able to do that?! The main problem I have with black and white photography is that my photos have too much contrast, I can’t decipher one object in the photograph from another. But your tip on lighting makes sense: great lighting + lots of colours = tones = superb black and white photography! Got it. I look forward to more posts on photography, great job with this one! Thank you so much for sharing.
    P.S. The picture of the little girls in the tutus in black and white is magnificent. I really like it.

  • I love Black and white pictures. Your tips are truly helpful. Thanks for sharing.

  • thanks for your great content
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  • Thanks for awesome inspiring post. You have a bundle of good info in this post which really helps people in great way. And they will come for your more posts.

  • I adore black and white photography! I have fond memories of processing film (agitate) and printing contact sheets and prints. 🙂
    I just took a stroll down memory lane!!

  • I love the picture of the little ballerinas! The switch from color makes such a difference. Great tips! Can’t wait to try them out!

  • Thanks for the great tips!

  • This is a really helpful post! 🙂
    I often take photos and just get a feeling that they’re not worth posting because the colour is a bit off…so I’ll try changing it into black and white and see if I end up using far more of my photos!



  • I love how you were reminiscing about your college times when you developed the black and white film yourself. To this day part of me still wants to try that. I love shooting in film in general because as fascinating as it is to immediately see the picture you’ve taken, I love that when shooting in film you don’t really know whether it’s been a good one until you’ve had it developed. Thanks for your tips on b/w photography, I’ll try and keep them in mind! 🙂

  • Thanks for your amazing tips! I love how B&W can be so helpful in so many ways and also be unique!

  • Beautiful pics. I love B&W photos too. My dad did a photography college back then and his black and whites are still so spectacular whereas the color pics have faded.

  • The lighting is key no matter what picture you’re trying to capture. I also agree that black and white can save a lackluster photo.


  • Great tips! I never thought to use B & W to save pictures that aren’t the most appealing or are a bit fuzzy.


  • Hey! Thanks for this nice post, I thought I add something to it:
    If anyone edits photos with lightroom I can totally suggest to download the free vsco film filters which you can use in lightroom. They got some nice b&w filters (and also very nostalgic looking colored ones..)

    Have fun!

  • Something that really works in B/W is winterphotos.
    The contrast between the black and the white makes the photos som more dramatic, even though in real life the day was grey, wet and boring.

  • These are great tips! I’m definitely going to practice and work on these because when done right, black and white photos can be so breathtakingly beautiful!


  • such a helpful blog post! your so right about the whole B&W saves a dodgy photo thing, I use that pretty often!

  • Thank you so much for these tips, funnily enough I recently blogged about my first ever B&W film & was asking for tips so it’s great timing! 🙂

  • Thank you so much for these tips, funnily enough I recently blogged about my first ever B&W film & was asking for tips so it’s great timing! 🙂

  • Great tips! I happen to like black and white photos too and I’ve read from this blog before (I’m not sure which post it was) about how it can save seemingly bad photographs especially those with bad lighting. I’ve tried it and it works! Thank you! 🙂

  • I love black and white photos but I never do them because I can’t seem to get a good one. Thanks for the tips!


  • I love black and white photos. Thanks for sharing!

    xoxoBella |

  • Great post! I love black and white photography a lot!

  • I was married 19 years ago, and I told my wedding photographer I wanted 70% black and white and 30% color for my photos. Why? He was using a medium format camera (not digital). I think black and white is so classic and it remains timeless. I am STILL happy that he was able to capture the colors of my winter wedding – but most of the photos have an ageless appeal.
    Thanks for the tips!
    Michelle from

  • Black and white photos (and dark room developing) will always have a special place in my heart too!

  • Great post with some handy tips. thank you!

    Maff |

  • Great tips! So true, it is so flattering.

  • I had no clue that b&w could save a photo and make such a dramatic difference. Oddly enough I have never done a black and white photo. I am going to have to give this a try. Thanks for the tips
    Dresses & Denim

  • I’m still obsessed with black and white. It’s so classic and can create such a dreamy feel.

  • sometimes I have a difficult time deciphering went to use black & white versus color. I think this post really helped me narrow that down especially the ballet photo. I have had photos that are so rich in color that it takes away from the concept of the photo itself. I think contrast & lights are really imperative. :]

    // ▲

  • These are great tips. I like how you show that B&W can save a bad photo. I have so many bad photos that maybe I should try filtering. The woes of only using a camera phone.

  • I love black and white photography – there’s something magical about them. Thanks for these tips – I’ll definitely be trying them out!

  • I do a little photography on the weekends and I love black and whites. They make some of the most simple photos way better. I always double edit my photos. One in color and one in black and white, just to see which one I like better.

  • Thank you for these nice suggestions! Lately I’m really into photography and I love every tip that I can get!

    Happiness Treasures //

  • Many thanks for your tips! Normally I take very seldom black and white pictures but now you inspired me to do this 🙂
    xx from Bavaria/Germany, Rena

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