However, it can be a struggle to capture gorgeous black and white macro photos. So in this article, I’m going to give you five secrets for stunning black and white macro images.
And you’ll come away with the ability to take amazing black and white shots!
Let’s dive right in, starting with…
1. Use Visual Contrast for the Most Compelling Black and White Macro Shots
Black and white macro photography is all about contrast. Without contrast, your photos will be lackluster. They’ll be boring. They’ll lack punch.
For instance, look what happens if you have a black and white without contrast:
The background is light. And so is the main subject.
Do you see how the image feels a bit…muddy? Unimpressive?
None of the individual elements stand out. It’s hard to engage with the scene.
Which means that, if you want to take stunning macro photos…
…you need to include contrast in every possible way.
Look at how this shot is full of contrast (the dark center and the light edges):
Later on in this article, I’ll give you tips for working with light to create contrast. But here, I’d like to talk about lights and darks.
Because one of the best ways to add contrast?
Is to make sure that you have a light subject on a dark background. Or a dark subject on a light background.
That way, your main subject is very clear. The viewer immediately understands what your photo is about.
And they become much more engaged because of it.
Personally, I’d recommend going for a dark subject on a light background. It’s pretty difficult to find subjects that are light enough to work on a black background.
But there are plenty of decently dark subjects that’ll stand out against a white sky!
(Try it. White skies make for wonderful backgrounds in black and white macro photography!)
2. Shoot Under the Midday Sun or During Golden Hours for the Best Contrast
Most good photographers hate the midday sun.
It’s harsh. It’s bright. It causes far too many shadows and way too much contrast.
But as you’ve already discovered…
Contrast is great for black and white macro photos. The more contrast, the better!
Which is why you should get out and shoot–when the sun is high overhead. You see, the harsh sun results in dark shadows and bright highlights. Normally, this is a macro photographer’s nightmare.
Because dark shadows and bright highlights are almost impossible to exposure for. And they result in photos that look horribly washed out. Photos that have muddy, unpleasant colors.
Black and white photography has no colors! So that’s not something to worry about. And when it comes to black and white macros, bring on the contrast.
One other time that results in some nice contrast is late in the day, during what photographers call the ‘golden hours.’ Here, the sun is softer. But it’s also more directional, meaning that it shines from a low angle in the sky.
And a low sun casts long shadows…
Which you can use for stunning black and white macro images. For more specific advice, read on:
3. Use Backlight for the Best Black and White Macro Photography
Backlight is a special type of directional light.
As the name suggests, it comes from behind your subject. So, to get some great backlight, you have to point your camera toward the sun.
You also have to photograph early or late in the day. During midday, the sun just isn’t low enough to create solidly backlit photos. But the rising and setting sun is perfect.
What’s so great about backlight?
First, it results in a lot of contrast. You see, the low sun brightens the area behind your subject–but shrouds the front of your subject in shadow.
This results in a silhouette-type photo. One that pops off the lighter background.
Second, the heavy contrast creates a very dramatic photo. Which works super well in black and white.
I recommend you get down low for backlit photos, so that the sun is blocked by your subject. This will prevent the area behind the subject from becoming too bright. Plus, it will give your subject a stronger halo effect.
You can also try to put the sun just outside of the frame. This should also prevent the background being too bright.
Regardless, make sure your subject stays nice and dark. The darker the subject, the better. Especially against an ultra-bright background.
4. Use a Clean Background for Stunning Black and White Macro Photography
If you want to capture some truly powerful black and white macro shots, you’re going to need to find a clean background.
In black and white photography, it’s very easy for the background to distract. Small changes in dark and light can create a backdrop that viewers struggle to cope with. And if that happens, your shot will fall flat.
So here’s what you should do:
Before you take your black and white photo, look behind your subject. Are there any unsightly objects that might distract the viewer?
If so, get rid of them (by removing them from the area, or by changing the composition entirely).
It often pays to get down low–on a level with your subject. That way, the background will be farther from the subject, and you’ll get much better bokeh.
You can even get below your subject and shoot toward the sky.
(The sky is one of my favorite macro photography backgrounds. When you get the chance, use it!)
I’d also recommend using a wide aperture. Something in the f/2.8 to f/5.6 range. Because the wider your aperture, the blurrier your background.
And a blurry background?
It’s a non-distracting background.
Here’s the bottom line:
If you want stunning black and white macros, you’ve got to pay attention to the background. You’ve got to make it as clean as possible.
And with a little work, you’ll capture some amazing shots.
5. Look for Bold Shapes and Lines to Engage the Viewer
Black and white macro photography is about light. It’s about drama.
But it’s also about composition.
You see, you need to carefully choose the subjects that you put in your photo. And then you need to carefully frame those subjects.
So let’s start with subject choice:
For black and white photography, you want to choose something that’s bold. Something that’s easy for the viewer to see and latch on to.
That’s why I recommend subjects that are simple shapes with very defined edges. Certain flowers are great for this: roses and tulips are some of my favorites.
Some insects are great for this, too.
Whereas certain subjects have less defined shapes. Consider a flower like an agapanthus or an azalea. They’re complex and messy. They’re chaotic. Which makes it much more difficult to capture a stunning black and white macro.
(For the record, I’m not saying that it’s impossible. Just much harder.)
It’s also important to include lines in your photos, if you can. Ideally, the lines point toward the main subject–and lead the viewer around the frame. That way, the viewer stays engaged–and is mesmerized by your main subject.
Secrets of Black and White Macro Photography: Conclusion
Once you apply these secrets, you should find yourself able to take beautiful black and white macros–consistently.
But if you want to keep growing as a macro photographer, I recommend you sign up for my newsletter.
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