How to create memorable monotone shots

Black-and-white photography is back.

Black-and-white (monotone or greyscale) photography can have real impact - it's certainly no poor relation to colour. In fact, removing the colour from a photo can sometimes be the making of it, as the revival of black-and-white wedding photography and the appeal of monotone posters prove.

Many of the most famous and perpetually popular photographers - not least celebrated landscape artist Ansel Adams - worked in black and white. In his case, the subtle colour we enjoy today had yet to arrive, but it's safe to say his dramatic photos wouldn't have had the same impact in gaudy hues.

It seems strange, then, that so few of us experiment with black-and-white photography. Most digital cameras can shoot in monotone, but you can also get great results by shooting in colour and converting your photographs later on. In this workshop we'll cover both approaches. We describe various methods of converting colour images, and we'll show you how to set up your camera to shoot in monotone from the outset. We also assess which method offers the most pleasing results.

Not all subjects look great in greyscale, however. We'll help you decide which are the best examples to practise on.

In the 1870s, Frank Sutcliffe shot photos of sailing ships in Whitby harbour. Some 130 years later, those timeless photos are treasured pieces of art history. While we can't teach you how to take the sort of photos that may one day go on to inspire others, the advice we offer here should give you a good grounding in how to capture memorable shots.

In this workshop we've used Corel Photo-Paint X3 to process the images. This is bundled with CorelDraw X3 (£199 inc VAT, scan.co.uk), but earlier versions may be picked up more cheaply. In any case, you'll be able to replicate our results with almost any photo-manipulation package.

Convert colour photos to black and white

1. Photo editors provide various methods of converting a colour photograph to greyscale. There's usually a ‘Convert to greyscale' function. If not, turn the saturation down to 0 in the HLS channel mixer. Remember to save a copy of your photo so that you can always revert to the original.

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2. Blue skies will often end up a pale grey colour, indistinguishable from clouds. Black-and-white film photographers use red filters to block blue light and darken the sky. Reducing the blue and green channels to zero in the RGB channel mixer before converting photos produces the same effect. Adjust the brightness to compensate.

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Mike Bedford

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