Practical tips to make better black and white photos:

Black and White Articles

Henri Cartier-Bresson Black and White Composition


1. Simple and clean background

Shoot from a high angle, make sure to look at the edges, that there are no distractions. Then make a simple and elegant black and white photo, like this image by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Note the surrealism of the shot:

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henri cartier bresson simplified pool

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2. Hand-gestures

A simple way to make more enigmatic black and white photos: capture hand-gestures!

3. Use a flash

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By using a flash, you will more edginess to the photo, and increase the contrast of the photo!

Tip: Shoot flash during the day! As an example, see this silhouette photo I shot of a man at the Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi. By even using flash during the day, it kept him as a silhouette, but still illuminated the flowers in the foreground (shot in P/program mode on RICOH GR II, with integrated flash):


Or you can experiment by shooting both with and without a flash. For example a portrait of Cindy with and without flash, shot on RICOH GR II x ERIC KIM PRESETS:

Also if you’re going to shoot street photography during the day, use a flash on your subjects who are in the shade to cause them to ‘pop out’ of the background, like I did with this man here:

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4. Silhouette

Create a more epic black and white photo by shooting at -1 or -2 exposure-compensation, to darken the background, to make your subject into a silhouette; thus making the scene more mysterious and interesting to look at!


5. Simple background

Find a simple background, like a clean white or grey wall, and wait for your subjects to enter the scene (fishing technique):

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Or what you can do is find interesting leading-lines, and wait for your subject to enter as well:


6. Photograph your subject against the sky

To create more ‘figure to ground’ (separation) between your subject and the background, just photograph them against a clear sky:

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7. Photograph shadows

To make a more mysterious photo, photograph the shadows of your subjects.

Pro-tip: Shoot shadows during sunset (around 6-7pm), when the shadows of your subject get very long, like I did with this ‘Pinnochio shadow’ woman nose:

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8. Decapitation technique

Don’t photograph the face of your subject, just ask to photograph their hands, which makes the photographs more mysterious. This is a photo of a woman’s nails I shot in Downtown LA with a flash, when she initially rejected me to shoot a portrait of her:

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9. Get very close.

Robert Capa said, “If your photos aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” It’s true. In this portrait, I shot macro mode wirh RICOH GR II, with flash in P mode. The reason the photograph is powerful, is because it feels so intimate:

10. Single eye

To make a dramatic photo, find a strong stream of light, and ask your subject to stand in front of it. Then shoot -1 or -2 exposure compensation, and only get one eye exposed.

Tip: Use the “burn” tool in Photoshop or Lightroom to selectively darken parts of the frame you find distracting. For example with this woman with braids, I burned away her right shoulder:

Black and White Photos by ERIC KIM

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