5 Tips for Stunning Black & White Photography Edits
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. Shoot in RAW format
  2. Focus on contrast and texture
  3. Use black and white specific editing tools
  4. Dodge and burn for depth
  5. Play with light and shadows

Turning a color photo into a dazzling black and white image isn't as simple as hitting the 'monochrome' button. It's an art that requires a keen eye, a bit of creativity, and the right editing techniques. This blog shares five black and white photography editing tips that will help level up your monochrome game. Let's dive into the first tip.

Shoot in RAW format

When it comes to black and white photography editing, shooting in RAW format is a game-changer. RAW photos offer you the most flexibility and control during the editing process. Here's why:

Preserves More Details

RAW format is like the digital equivalent of a film negative. It captures all image data recorded by your camera's sensor. This means you have more details to work with — a vital aspect when you're dealing with black and white images where nuances in tone, texture, and contrast are key.

Greater Dynamic Range

Apart from more details, RAW format also provides a greater dynamic range. It gives you access to the full spectrum of shadows and highlights. This becomes particularly important in black and white photography editing, where the play of light and shadow can dramatically define your image.

Flexible White Balance

Shooting in RAW lets you adjust the white balance in post-processing without degrading the image quality. So, if you didn't get the white balance right in the camera, no worries! You can tweak it during editing to get your black and white tones spot on.

Remember, the goal is to create a black and white image that is dynamic, rich in detail, and full of contrast. Shooting in RAW format is a big step towards achieving this. It gives you a wide canvas to apply your black and white photography editing tips and create stunning monochrome images.

Focus on contrast and texture

Once you've shot your image in RAW format, the next step is to focus on the contrast and texture. These two elements are essential for creating depth and interest in black and white photography.

Boosting Contrast

Contrast is the difference between the lightest and darkest elements of your image. High contrast images tend to look more dramatic, while low contrast ones have a softer feel. Here's how you can enhance contrast during editing:

  • Adjust the Brightness and Contrast Sliders: Most photo editing software tools have sliders for brightness and contrast. Play around with these until you find a balance that brings out the best in your image.
  • Use Curves or Levels: For more control over contrast, use the curves or levels tool. These let you adjust the contrast of specific tonal ranges, which can be helpful for bringing out details in the shadows or highlights.

Enhancing Texture

Texture gives a sense of touch to an image—it's what makes you want to reach out and feel the photo. In black and white photography, texture can add depth and detail that color might otherwise overshadow. Here are a few ways to enhance texture:

  • Sharpening: Sharpening your image can make textures pop. But remember, less is more. Over-sharpening can lead to a harsh, unnatural look.
  • Clarity or Structure Sliders: These tools increase mid-tone contrast, which can bring out texture. Again, use these sparingly to avoid overdoing it.

Ultimately, the goal is to create a sense of depth and a tactile quality to your black and white images. By focusing on contrast and texture, you can transform a flat, dull photo into a dynamic, three-dimensional masterpiece.

Use black and white specific editing tools

Once you've set your contrast and played with texture, it’s time to take advantage of black and white specific editing tools. These tools can help refine your image further, providing you with more control over the black and white effect.

Monochrome or Black & White Mode

Most photo editing software comes with a basic black and white or monochrome mode. This tool simply removes the color from your image—a great starting point for your black and white edits. It's like taking a blank canvas and gradually adding layers of depth and detail.

  • Desaturate: This is the simplest way to convert an image to black and white. Just pull the saturation slider all the way down.
  • Black & White Mode: This is usually a step up from desaturation. It allows you to adjust the brightness of different colors in the black and white mix, giving you more control over the final look.

Black & White Adjustment Layers

For even more control, use black and white adjustment layers. This feature lets you manipulate the tonal range of each color channel, giving you the ability to influence how each color converts into grayscale.

  • Photoshop's Black & White Adjustment Layer: This tool lets you adjust the grayscale mix based on the colors in the original image. For instance, you can darken a blue sky or lighten green foliage, all while working in grayscale.
  • Lightroom's B&W Panel: Similar to Photoshop's tool, the B&W panel in Lightroom lets you adjust the grayscale mix. Bonus tip: try using the Targeted Adjustment Tool (TAT) to click and drag on specific areas of your image. Lightroom will then adjust the corresponding color sliders.

Using these black and white specific editing tools can give your photos a professional edge. Remember, editing is an art—patience and practice will lead to stunning results.

Dodge and Burn for Depth

Our next stop in this journey of black and white photography editing tips is a technique as old as photography itself—dodging and burning. Used properly, these tools can add a significant depth to your black and white imagery.

Understanding Dodging and Burning

Dodging and burning, in simple terms, is the process of selectively darkening (burning) or lightening (dodging) specific parts of your photo. This technique can enhance the three-dimensional look of your image, emphasizing the lighting and shadows.

  • Dodging: This tool lightens up the areas of your image upon which it's applied. Use it to draw attention to key elements in your scene, or to lighten overly dark shadows.
  • Burning: The burn tool does the opposite—it darkens areas. It's very useful for deepening the shadows in your image or toning down overly bright highlights.

Implementing Dodge and Burn in Your Editing

Most editing software—like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom—have built-in dodge and burn tools. Here's a straightforward way to use them:

  1. Select the Dodge or Burn tool: Start off by selecting the tool you want to use. Remember, dodge to lighten, burn to darken.
  2. Choose a soft brush: A soft brush ensures a gradual transition between the edited and unedited areas, maintaining a natural look.
  3. Set the exposure low: Start with a low exposure (around 10%) to make subtle changes. You can gradually increase it if needed.
  4. Brush over the area: Use the brush to paint over the area you want to lighten or darken. Multiple strokes mean more effect, so build it up slowly for the best results.

Playing with light and shadows by dodging and burning can be a game-changer. It might take a few attempts to get it right, but once you do, the depth and drama added to your images will be worth it.

Play with Light and Shadows

Our final tip in mastering black and white photography editing is to properly manipulate light and shadows. While this might sound similar to dodging and burning, it's a completely different concept, focusing more on the initial capture and overall composition of your shot.

Understanding the Role of Light and Shadows

Light and shadows are the soul of black and white photography. They define shapes, textures, and depth. In color photography, you have a whole spectrum of colors to tell your story. But in black and white, it's all about the grayscale tones. The interplay between light and dark is what can make your photos pop.

How to Effectively Use Light and Shadows

There's no magic button in your editing software to 'add' light or shadow—it's more about how you capture and later enhance these elements.

  • Shoot in Varied Lighting: Don't shy away from harsh lighting. It can create dramatic shadows, which can be a powerful element in black and white photography. Similarly, softer light can give a completely different, more subtle feel.
  • Look for Contrast: When composing your shot, look for high contrast scenes. They often translate well into stunning black and white images.
  • Edit for Impact: In your editing software, use the contrast, highlights, and shadows sliders to enhance the light and dark areas.

By understanding and playing with light and shadows, you can bring a whole new level of depth and emotion to your black and white photos. So, why not grab your camera and give these black and white photography editing tips a try?

If you're passionate about black & white photography and want to enhance your editing skills, don't miss the workshop 'Intro To Black & White Photography' by Caleb Stein. This workshop offers valuable insights and techniques to help you create stunning black & white photography edits that will make your images stand out.