Seeing In Black & White - Tilly Clifford

18 February 2016 3:32:13 PM AEDT

I often find myself having a tough time deciding whether I prefer an image in colour or black & white. One of the best pieces of advice I was given whilst studying photography is colour can be a distraction. In the early days of photography there was no choice between colour or black & white, now days with the advanced post production options available we have the choice of colours, filters and tones to change the way an image looks and feels. It’s important to note not all subjects are fit for black and white. Particular subjects rely on colour for impact and interpretation. Below I have listed some helpful hints to assist in creating the perfect black and white photograph.


Choose lighting that's relevant to your subject. Often harsh light can create a more dramatic and effective scene for landscape and architectural photography, while portraiture is most definitely more successful in softer light. It’s important to consider your subject choice and utilise the appropriate light to create the best black and white image.

Seeing In Black & White

The soft light in this image creates the perfect amount of light and dark shades, drawing attention to the middle of the frame.


Visible texture in an image is critical in black and white photography. Harsh light will undoubtedly affect the texture of an image; particularly creating a flat two-dimensional look. To avoid this, shoot in soft light, morning or evening and add contrast in post-production to emphasize where needed.

Seeing In Black & White

The texture of the man’s skin and the light and dark tones surrounding this area create an instant impact.

Tonal Contrast:

Tonal contrast is the different shades of grey tones that you see when you convert an image to black and white. The lighter the colour the more highlighted the grey tone will be. Considering the tonal contrast of an image is essential to a successful black and white photograph. Having a combination of both light and dark areas in an image will create the tonal contrast necessary for visual impact.

Seeing In Black & White

The darker tones in the background and the lighter tones of the bride and grooms clothing work perfectly together in creating the right amount of tonal contrast. The white flowers scattered throughout the dark background of the image accentuate this even more.

Composition and Shape:

Composition is another important aspect to the black and white image. Often a simple composition works best, utilise lines and depth of field to create a focal point for the image. From here the conversion to black and white should be simple and effective. Black and white format is most successful with strong lines and shadows. Avoid composing images with bland sky’s and same shade negative space as you may struggle to bring out the tones and contrast necessary for the black and white photograph.

Seeing In Black & White

The flowing lines and movement of the dress create the perfect composition for a black and white frame. In this image it’s the combination of lines and tones that make for an impactful black and white frame.

Most importantly learn to see things in monochrome!

Seeing In Black & White

Tilly Clifford

If you like Tilly's work, check out her portfolio and galleries here...


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