How to master black and white photography

Photography by Michele Abriola


The language of black and white has always sparked debates in the world of photography. Thinking in black and white is a bit like approaching a binary language. It is a very particular and sometimes extremely personal way of thinking that is not always easy to understand.

Black and white is a philosophy, the right and the wrong, the zero and the one.

Often like a sort of sitting by our psychologist, we entrust to our black and white our innermost thoughts, our hidden passions, our anxieties and our fears, sometimes our silences. Without any distraction, only substance, only shapes, only shadows, lights, the volumes take shape and the three-dimensionality increases.

Approaching a good black and white means in absolute shape to a thought.The approach in “digital dark room” that accompanies our development must be able to realize what our mind has previewed during the shooting phase. It must be able to tune into that essential and private part that no one can read except us.


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File raw in ACR

In the digital age the development of a black and white photography can follow different paths using different approaches. We can use different methods with “priority to camera raw” or  “priority to photoshop”.

The study of channels, partial or total merging of part of them for the creation of new ones. The use of the calculations method. Apply image together with the methods of layer blending. The use of the channel L in LAB exported in RGB and maybe combined with the K channel of CMYK. The mixer channels or the the black and white adjustment layer. The roads are really many. Differences are substantial.

Factors such as time, final quality, precision that make us lean towards one rather than the other.

I prefer to start from the development in camera raw. The basic criteria used for the development of a black and white start by a step by step approach, sectioning the whole image. An old method that come from what was the analogue print of a negative. Essentially I prefer to use the good old method of dodge & burn together with all possible combinations of instruments, now very powerful, which camera raw makes available.

And so, after a simple conversion of raw from color to black and white, the study of photography begins literally calmly piece by piece to shape the already fully clear vision in mind…


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Conversion from color to black and white


The degree of precision and profundity in dissecting the image also depends on the factors previously mentioned.

A “stituation appraisal” is underway during which all many factors are analized. Texture, lights, contrast, shades, blacks, are locally modified by burning, or dodging, until the final target is reached. In my workflow I can not ignore the use of the film grain simulation. I use, always for reasons of time more than for precision, the tool made available by camera raw.

I prefer to start from my own B&W preset included in CINECOLLECTION Vol.1  before the final step in photoshop where I necessarily do a final passage of local and global contrast adjustment, the amount of which is often a function of the type of paper on which the photograph will be printed.

Is useful to have a process that is as much reversible as possible creating a map of interventions.

What is developed in a way tomorrow will be subsequently refined or totally distorted if something is not in line with what the previsualization had highlighted during the shot. One of the most important advantage of digital era today is the total reversibility process.


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Summary map of dodge and burning

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The goal is to reach a value of L equal to about 90 in the highlights and 8 in the dark areas. Values that for a print on baryta paper, guarantee a good perception of details and the tonal passages of those areas.

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Final step with global and local contrast in PS


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