A Class on B&W

I really love black and white photography, my introduction to beautiful striking black and white photography was a showing of Yousuf Karsh's work. His play with light was like a tall glass of cold water on a hot day - and I drank it right up. Then when I began to study the art of photography I was introduced to Ansel Adams, another black and white photographer - whose eye for composition turned every image into a three course meal for me. I ate it all up. 

...let's move on before my weird food and drink analogies make you too hungry to read the rest of this blog. 

Despite my familiarity with some masters of black and white photography in the early stages of my career, black and white photography always seemed to escape me. Black and white images became my crutch: when a picture looks like crap in color, make it black and white... because SURELY that means it's still art, right? Or don't know how you are going to edit this image, and it's late, and it's hour seven of straight editing and you are too tired to care? Make it black and white... Even now when I know a bit more about what I am doing, all these years later, I still have clients who see my black and white image ask to see it in color (breaks my heart EVERY time!).

So it is about time we sat down and looked a little deeper into the B&W - and who better to help us dive into the intricacies (and let's face it the AWESOME) of this genre, then our own resident master of black and white - Elizabeth Gleese of Elizabeth Gleese Photography!

Let's take a look at her portfolio and dissect what makes her images so amazing! Then we will take what we learned (and maybe a free gift) and apply it to create our own beautiful black and white image!


This image is a PERFECT example of using the composition to draw your eyes to your subject. With her face obscured and her head framed your eyes are drawn to her inquisitive eye right in the middle of the image. Without the distraction of color, black and white images rely heavily on composition to help tell the story. 

The lines in this photo draw your eye to the mom and boy, you see her hands playing with his feet as she watches him nurse, something she has probably done since he was born. This is the story that this image told me, thanks to the composition. 


The focus of your image helps to tell your story, whether it is in color or in black and white, but it is never more clear when color is stripped away. In the above image I am drawn to the hands holding and supporting this sweet little girl, the love on their faces are perfect, but the hands show that the love is strong and all encompassing, not to mention you lose track almost of which hands belong to mom and which belong to dad, symbolizing how much, as one, they love this being they created together. 

The focus here brings you into this moment, this couple once two are now three. And her exhaustion, his gratitude, and how his arms are around them both, draw you into the moment with them. You can feel his thoughts are to protect and comfort his two loves. You can feel how, for them, they are the only people on the planet in that moment.

The use of negative space can help you focus on your subject, you can do that by using the expanse of a large wall or the sky behind your subject. In this case having the background so blurry, and somewhat dark helped draw your eye to his face. This helps to tell the story because you follow the direction he is looking, wondering what he sees.


Nothing is more beautiful to me than the play of light and dark in a photograph, and black and white images only seem to highlight that contrast. 

With the way this image is shot, it's almost like there is a spotlight that is on their hands, the contrast between that and the dark background shows you exactly what this image is about. It draws your eye and helps to tell the story. 

These three main elements of a good black and white image all add up to deliver an emotion and a story. And like the scratchy sounds of a record being played, the nostalgia of a grainy black and white image takes us back to a simpler time, a time when black and white wasn't a fad, when it wasn't a fix for a bad photo, but a time when it told a story, and held immense emotion. 

the nostalgia of a grainy black and white image takes us back to a simpler time, a time when it told a story, and held immense emotion. 

I want to encourage you, dear reader, to take your camera out today, and intentionally shoot a black and white photograph.

Play with focus, light and composition, and let your camera tell the story. Shoot in color, but plan to only see black and white. Look for interesting angles, different compositions and use that light and focus to highlight what story you are trying to tell.

Here is my attempt.

To help you with your challenge today I have a brand new ACR preset to give you for FREE! Today's Gift is this beautiful Deep&Rich B&W ACR preset that I used to edit my image above!!

It celebrates highlights and shadows, adds clarity and a gorgeous deep vignette. It will help you make your beautiful black and white image shine!

Click here to download your free preset! And feel free to share this post with your friends so they can play with this beautiful preset too!!