Tokyo Skyline 2024

Highlights 1 – Tips for Better B&W Photography


This year the BWvision website will celebrate its 15th anniversary of sharing skills, insights, and knowledge related to photography and art. Over the years we’ve published many original and unique articles on how we approached methods and techniques for B&W processing.

We were amongst the first, to publish a free and in-depth tutorial on long-exposure photography in the summer of 2009 – see the Wayback Machine here, and here and here. Now long exposure tutorials are flooding the Internet but back then there was no one who published a comparable in-depth and free tutorial. We also published many B&W processing tutorials in which I challenged traditional processing methods and techniques by offering alternative and more precise ways of processing B&W Fine art photographs. That was highly unique in 2009 and actually still is. Many of those methods and techniques have since found their way into photographers’ workflows worldwide.  Here is a tutorial from early 2012 where I explained with a photo published in 2010, how to create presence in B&W architectural photographs, something that is nothing new now, but a novelty in the early 2010’s.

We had a first in many ways and on many levels. 

As a result, it is not so easy anymore to find the most relevant information on my website, let alone information that is still up-to-date. Also, most of the tutorials from 2014 and earlier are still being re-formatted for the new website, and although some articles will come back, others need updated content.

So I’ve written a short series of new but more compact articles highlighting the most important articles from the past 15 years.

The first in that series condenses some of the most important B&W processing tips I shared over the years and still stand the test of time.

B&W photography tips in the field

  • When in the field you save time behind the computer if you are aware of the contrasts around your main object (Figure). Masking starts in the field. So make sure to have proper and uniform contrast in and around the edges of your object. The best way of masking is always contrast-based. Even Photoshop’s AI selection tools are largely contrast-based when it comes to ‘finishing’ the mask.
  • Also, in the field, try to see in contrasts and luminance values and see ‘through’ the colors. It requires practice and that’s all that’s needed. It’s not difficult. This way you will have better B&W photographs.
  • Do not use B&W as an alternative when you intend to create a color photograph that didn’t work out in color. You may succeed sometimes but it doesn’t make you a good B&W photographer. It makes you a bad color photographer. 
  • Shooting in diffused light often results in a flat and bland image. A flat image is actually perfect for B&W photography. This way you have a ‘blank and neutral canvas’ that you can mold according to your artistic vision more easily than when you have a high-contrast image.

B&W photography tips in the processing phase

  • Always think in terms of Figure-Ground relationships. The figure is the most important object in your photo, Ground is all the rest, even your sky is the Ground.
  • Analyze the photo first and how you want it to look. Use the information revealed by luminosity masks to see what’s technically possible: is there enough detail, light, shadow, and separation in certain areas you find important? 
  • Based on that analysis you start creating the hard masks to isolate objects and planes.
  • The human eye is always drawn to the area in a photo with the highest contrast and the brightest light. Therefore, ensure that the Figure has the highest contrast or the brightest light. Or both.
  • There’s this idea that every photograph should cover the entire tonal range. That is a good rule of thumb, but it isn’t necessary. I have seen some of the most beautiful and meaningful images covering only half of the histogram. 
  • Composition is paramount but it isn’t always what you think. When it is about composition, the ubiquitous rule of thirds or golden ratio principle aren’t always the primary rules of composition. Most of the time they are secondary rules of composition. In architectural photography for example it is more important to emphasize dynamics, scale, volume, visual energy, and amplifying the architect’s design. Hence your composition should reflect that. And that is something the traditional compositional rules don’t account for. Or take portrait photography. There it is about the interaction between the sitter and the photographer, and to reveal the sitter’s essence through the artist’s eyes, that’s what you focus on instead of worrying about the rule of thirds. Only afterward use the rule of thirds to line elements up more effectively. But it should never take away from the essence of portraits.

Next time another article with highlights from past articles. And it will also show how we were always at the forefront in B&W fine art and architectural photography and in long exposure photography.

Talking about being at the forefront: I’m announcing a very special architectural workshop together with the launch of this article. The first workshop after an absence of 10 years from organizing and leading fine art architectural workshops. And if you know me, you will know I will come up with things that will make you reconsider what fine art architectural photography is and that this will not be a workshop for those who like to stay in their comfort zone. The workshop series just launched with an early bird of €100 off until May 25th, 2024. Here’s more info on this series of architectural workshops called RAW & Uncharted Architecture Sessions. Perhaps, 15 years from now that will be another point to look back at when novelties were introduced.

Share this post

8 Responses

  1. Joel,
    I have long enjoyed your writings, when by chance I stumbled onto your website back about 2009. Your dedication to the creation of a of process to reveal the beauty through a black and white image is appreciated by many artist that have the same desires of expression. Your work from Japan looks amazing.

    1. Thank you John – I will always keep developing new methods, techniques and insights. The biggest risk in art is when you start copying yourself in an attempt to stick with the success it resulted in.
      Thanks again,


Leave a Reply

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.