travel photography in black and white

Shooting Better Travel Photography In Black And White

Black and white travel photos are probably your go-to style if you’re into the documentary side of travel photography

Black and white travel photos help convey a different message to that of colour photos.

They help create mood and convey human stories better.

Why is that?

Maybe it’s because travel photography in black and white was the original form of travel photography. Way before everyone had a smartphone in their pockets and a low-cost airfare just a few clicks away.

One where we were genuinely learning about new cultures and the people who lived in these far away countries.

In the early days, each black and white photo brought back from trips abroad was an educational experience and a rare glimpse into the lives of others.

Whatever the reason is, shooting travel photography in black and white is a great technique for capturing documentary style snapshots of daily life.

Especially if you learn a few simple tricks to step things up a gear…

Low light? No worries…

There’s no need to worry about cranking the ISO up when shooting in black and white.

Like I said before, black and white photography takes people back to the way things used to be in the days of film.

Most people know that higher ISO = more graining.

Graining on a black and white photo
Credit: Jack Patrick

Well, graining isn’t such a big deal when shooting black and white images since it’s reminiscent of old film photography which was quite grainy itself in normal conditions. It just seems to work.

Convert to black and white AFTER taking the photo

By shooting in RAW mode and then converting the image to black and white in post processing you get much more flexibility when it comes to editing.

If you shoot a JPEG in black and white straight out of the camera you won’t be recording as many different spectrums of light as you would shooting in RAW.

In RAW you capture a lot of colour information including greens, blues and reds.

Converting to black and white after taking the photo
Lightroom allows you to manipulate the different colour channels even after converting to black and white.

By being able to manipulate these spectrums, even when a photo is in black and white, it will give you the ability to really play around with tones and shades a lot more and ultimately give you more freedom while you’re editing.

You’ll learn a lot about light

Shooting photography in black and white can really teach you a lot about light.

You won’t be able to capture the beautiful golden light during the golden hour but that forces you to focus more on the contrast between dark and light, the direction of light and the amount of light on a subject.

Light and shadows forming a pattern on a woman's face
The shadows forming a pattern on this woman’s face are a great example of what contrast can add to a black and white photo – Credit: Valentina Aleksandrovna
A man framed by a shadow in a black and white photo
What drew me to this photo is the way the photographer used a heavy shadow from surrounding buildings to frame the man walking past – Credit: Nicholas Green

Learning to shoot in black and white will help you expand your skills in using light and contrast to aid in composition.

It puts the emphasis on other elements of composition

Without colour, other elements such as patterns, textures and shapes become more obvious and important.

When composing a photo you can put this technique of using textures and patterns into effect to create bold images that have an abstract feel to them.

travel photography in black and white
Credit: Tim Mossholder
Pattern formed by branches from surrounding trees
Credit: Merlin Janke

In these cases, colour would distract the viewer from the patterns and textures and they wouldn’t have such an impact as they do.

Using naturally occurring textures as elements of your composition in black and white travel photography is one way to get your creative juices flowing.

Artistic License

I tend to find that when editing colour photos I try to represent the scene as accurately as I can. I don’t go overboard on the saturation, contrast, or clarity.

But when you are editing in black and white, you can really bump up things like the contrast to levels that would look unnatural and, in my opinion, awful on a colour photo.

It allows you to be more creative and alter the scene much more.

High Contrast Image
This image has had the contrast turned up very high and even some heavy dodge and burning added that would look unnatural and over the top if it was in colour – Credit: Thomas Millot

From an artistic perspective, black and white photos are more forgiving in the editing suite.

Shooting travel photography in black and white is a creative challenge every photographer should try their hand at

If you don’t photograph in black and white much then you should give it a go.

I personally love the challenge of focusing on the different elements of composition that make a great monochrome image.

You have to be in a totally different mindset, which helps you to see scenes in a different way. Instead of relying on colour to get the viewer’s imagination going.

If you are up for the challenge, tag us in your best black and white travel photos on Instagram using the hashtag #WTPFeature and we will share the best!


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *