Mono Magic - tyneholm
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Mono Magic

Assignment L40

It may not be immediately obvious, but this is an assignment that will help you focus on the fundamentals of composition: shape, line, texture, and contrast. Without the distraction of color, these are the features that become important. They do, in fact, also underpin most color compositions, but in black-and-white they are vital ingredients of a successful shot. 

Very few people are able to pre-visualize images in black and white, so things to look for include a full range of tones and textures-for example, skies with layered clouds often convert well-as well as bold, graphic shapes. Simple, uncluttered compositions work best, so try to find strong lines and angles, and clear, obvious focal points. 

Working in tones rather than color can cause problems because of the way certain colors translate to grayscale-red and green, for example, can look very similar in monochrome. This impacts upon composition, as separating elements in the image can become tricky without color. Carefully compose a series of images, so there is enough physical separation-again, keeping things as simple as possible. 

There are many ways to convert color images to monochrome, but using the Black and White mix in Adobe Lightroom (part of the Hue, Saturation, Luminance controls) provides a lot of control and allows you to mimic the effects of the color filters used in black-and-white film photography. Alternatively, there are some excellent specialist apps, such as DxO’s Silver Efex Pro plugin from its Nik Collection. 

View the images


  • Base your compositions on contrast, shape, and texture. 
  • Long exposures including moving water are often successful, as this creates a natural tonal contrast between white water and darker areas. 
  • Use a polarizing filter to enhance contrast and deep blue skies, which convert well to black and white.
  • Don’t worry about noise. A lot of black-and-white films are quite grainy and a little noise in a mono image can add to the atmosphere.

Field Notes

  • If you really struggle to “see” in black and white, try using your camera’s monochrome picture style. Then, using Live View on a DSLR or the electronic viewfinder (EVF) of a mirrorless camera, you can view the scene in black and white and assess its potential. This won’t affect the Raw image, which will still be recorded in colour. 

Special Kit

  • Polarizing filter
  • Post-processing software, such as Adobe Lightroom or Nik Silver Efex Pro