Mobile photography, based on smartphones with increasingly advanced technologies, starts out in colour. For those approaching photography, black and white often conjures up images of the past, of the very earliest photographs, when using colour wasn’t an option, or reminds them of a ‘classic’ and somewhat dusty style of photography; so why do so many master photographers use (sometimes exclusively) this method?
When you remove the colour from an image, it becomes extremely simplified: without colour, you are left with shapes, lines, light and shadow. A simple image is more easily understood even at first glance and usually has a greater impact on the spectator.
To experiment this style, try transforming colour photos you have already taken into black and white – you can use a free app, such as Google’s Snapseed or your iPhone’s own editing tools. Not all colour photos work better in black and white, but some are more suited to it than others:
Photos that contain geometrical lines and shapes
Lines, perspectives and structures are enhanced by the simplicity of black and white, which lends itself very well to architectural photography.
Photos than contain textures
What is a texture? Within an image, it is a three-dimensional motif, such as the weave of a fabric or the rough surface of a wall. In the photo above, the covering of leaves, devoid of colour, gives the idea of an almost velvety feeling.
Photos with strong contrasts
When the contrast between light and shadow is the most important aspect of a photo, black and white can give it that something extra and make the shot more dramatic. The effect is accentuated even more in a silhouette like the one in this photo.
Photos with cloudy skies
With suitable contrast and perhaps the use of a red filter, clouds can become more dramatic and sharply outlined than they appear in a colour photo.
Photos taken in low light conditions
Smartphone sensors can struggle when there is not much light, and end up taking images with unpleasant dominant features, such as yellowish halos; using black and white enables you to create a clearer and cleaner night-time photo.
Apps for taking and editing black and white photos
There are lots of iPhone apps that allow you to take black and white pictures and apply basic effects; most of them, as well as letting you see the image in monochrome before you take the picture, also allow you to apply black and white filters digitally.
There are 4 coloured filters that are commonly used in black and white photography – yellow, red, orange and green. Each one lets its colour through and darkens the others to different extents; for example, a red filter lets red light through but blocks green and blue. This is reflected in lighter or darker shades of grey.
This enables you to highlight clouds by darkening the blue of the sky and it makes photos taken in mist or fog clearer.
It helps to differentiate the colours of leaves and makes skin tones more natural.
This creates dramatic and intense effects; blue skies become black, like in a storm. This strong effect greatly increases contrast, but it can be too aggressive in some cases.
This comes somewhere between the yellow and red filters; it increases contrast but less dramatically than a red filter. In portraits, it hides skin irregularities such as freckles and sunspots.
This is used, above all, to photograph foliage and nature; it lightens the leaf colour and increases the contrast with flowers. It makes trees and grassland stand out in landscapes.
This is a powerful and versatile photo editor, which I use with all of my photos: the app allows you to transform your image into black and white and adjust the luminosity and contrast, apply the four colour filters and choose a film “grain”.
This is an app with an intuitive interface that allows you to transform your photo into various monochromes by applying personalised vignetting and finely adjusting the lighting.
This app allows you to see the image in black and white and see the effects of adjusting the contrast, luminosity and applying filters (with adjustable intensities) before you take the shot. If you already know you want your image in black and white, this is an ideal and simple solution.
This is one of the apps with black and white editing with the most options: the rather basic interface allows you to apply real time adjustments, filters, and film grain. Recommended for those who take a long time to study their shots.
I hope that this article helps you to discover black and white mobile photography, both as an opportunity to improve colour pictures that don’t work out and to provide a simple and effective view of the world.
Davide Capponi is a photographer who is passionate about mobile photography and image editing. His works have been exhibited in Italy and abroad and published in Italian newspapers and magazines. He is a founding member of the New Era Museum, neweramuseum.org. You can contact David via his blog davidecapponi.com, on Instagram instagram.com/rubicorno, on Facebook www.facebook.com/davidecapponi.iphoneography and on Twitter twitter.com/Rubicorno.