Pro tips for producing winning B&W images; enter The Mono Awards 2022 now

Thinking of entering The Mono Awards 2022, presented by SanDisk? Last year we quizzed the judging panel to get their top tips on how to capture and produce the most compelling and engaging black and white images. Below they share a whole host of precious pearls of wisdom across the three catgories as to how you can improve your chances in this year’s competition.

For those unfamiliar with the awards, they are run in partnership with Australian Photography, and proudly presented by major sponsor SanDisk and supporting sponsors Midland and Kudos Cameras. The competition is searching from the most talented photographers in Australia and New Zealand producing in black and white. Standard pricing ends after 15 May.

You can enter the competition at this link. 

ANIMAL

In a black and white image, there isn’t any colour to create differentiation. Utilising the full range between full white and full black allows a photographer the opportunity to create a visual hierarchy that guides the viewer’s eye around the image. This typically occurs where the image is brightest, or where there is the greatest area of contrast between bright and dark.Matt Palmer 

© Andrew Dickman. 3rd, Animals. The Mono Awards 2021.
© Andrew Dickman. 3rd, Animals. The Mono Awards 2021.

For colour images, it’s often recommended to avoid grain, or digital noise – but for black and white images, digital noise can add a layer of texture and depth, which elevates the overall look and feel of the image and emphasises areas you want the viewer to notice most. Alex Cearns 

With respect to contrast, ensure that the black and white has some punch. In my experience, there isn’t an instant black and white conversion that fits all images. William Long 

Learn to make the most of the local adjustment tools in your RAW editing programs, particularly when editing monochrome images. These tools let you do so many things, from applying local contrast through to darkening and softening elements within the frame, and the great thing about doing this work in RAW is that you can even save different versions of the edit as you work, then click between them to decide what you like most. And the beauty of this process is that it is all non-destructive! – Anthony McKee

© Diana Fernie. 5th, Animals. The Mono Awards 2021.
© Diana Fernie. 5th, Animals. The Mono Awards 2021.

Before your final edit, check the levels control and see if your image looks better when you make sure that you have a true white point and black point in your file. Jackie Ranken

Pay attention to textures, shapes, and patterns in order to create interest and drama. By bringing these elements together in one frame, you can add intense interest and emotion. Helen Whittle

Be creative, challenge yourself, and think outside the box. Captivate the viewer with a surprising angle. Capture a unique subject that looks mundane and make it look special, or add more surrounding or foreground content to add more layers of context to your photograph. Douwe Dijkstra 

© John Wiseman, 6th, Animals. The Mono Awards 2021.
© John Wiseman, 6th, Animals. The Mono Awards 2021.

PEOPLE

Setting your camera in RAW and then in monochrome mode can allow you to ‘see’ in black and white on the back of your camera. You will still have the colour data to work with later if you wish, but you will have the benefit of instantly seeing what is working and what isn’t in black and white. I find this a great way to shoot in any situation where I do not have control over the environment or its colour. Matt Palmer 

By removing all colour from your images, you take away a layer of distraction. Everything has equal status and so to emphasise what the photographer wants others to see, elements like tone, contrast, and exposure need to be tweaked. It’s a balance of these things, combined with strong and interesting subject matter, which makes impactful and memorable black and white images. Alex Cearns 

© Karen Waller, 3rd, People. The Mono Awards 2021.
© Karen Waller, 3rd, People. The Mono Awards 2021.

Work on a correctly calibrated monitor and regularly calibrate it with a proper hardware calibrator. Images lacking shadow detail may have been edited on monitors with the brightness being turned up too high. William Long 

Many photographers are taught that it is a good thing to keep things, simple but too often we are creating boring images; photos that lack a narrative for an audience to engage with. Given the chance, I prefer to advocate for “value added” photographs, images that have a subject, but also additional subplots within the frame. Nowadays anyone can photograph a portrait or a landscape; as serious photographers, we should be using our skills to see and capture a more sophisticated view of the world. – Anthony McKee

© Michelle Young, 6th, People. The Mono Awards 2021.
© Michelle Young, 6th, People. The Mono Awards 2021.

Keeping it simple is the best plan. Keep the information where it is needed and don't be afraid to lose detail if it becomes a distraction. Sometimes too much detail can lose the centre of focus. Capture the images in the camera, and not via post production. Chris Reid

Be authentic and believe in yourself. Be brave and follow your instincts. Sometimes we make images that thrill and excite us, but we are too scared to show others because they are not “the usual”. Jackie Ranken

Learn how to enhance your black and white images in post-processing. Learning how to use your editing software effectively when processing your black and white images can change your image from average to award-winning. By making global and local adjustments to the contrast, clarity, and tone curve, you can skilfully direct your viewer around the frame, adding depth and story to your image. Helen Whittle

© Peter Holton, 7th, People. The Mono Awards 2021.
© Peter Holton, 7th, People. The Mono Awards 2021.

PLACES

The strength of black and white photography is highlighting shapes, lines, composition, and the qualities of texture. The best images lean heavily on these strengths while introducing atmosphere, feeling, and even narrative. Matt Palmer 

Shoot in RAW to ensure the best tonal results in your black and white images. This also makes it easier to edit shadows and highlights. RAW files enable you to manipulate your images the most and give you full control over all enhancements. You can truly produce the result you saw in your mind’s eye. Alex Cearns 

© Graeme Gordon, 3rd, Places. The Mono Awards 2021.
© Graeme Gordon, 3rd, Places. The Mono Awards 2021.

Adobe’s black and white conversion options have improved immensely over the years, however it’s worth exploring and creating your own through Photoshop, as opposed to choosing one of the instant, one-click options. William Long 

Without colour to distract us, monochrome photography forces us to focus on the more critical elements of photography, namely our use of narrative and emotion, light and design. Rather than just assuming that we have to stay within the rules of light and design though, there is nothing to stop us putting extra effort into these elements. Explore adding additional light into your images (or subtracting light if necessary) and learn how to extend your use of design. Keep asking yourself, ‘How can I make a photograph more interesting?’ – Anthony McKee

© Wayne Riley, 5th, Places. The Mono Awards 2021.
© Wayne Riley, 5th, Places. The Mono Awards 2021.

Make sure to be bold because drama is key to black and white photography, where the dominant mass draws in the eye and the highlights and shadows let the eye wander around the image. Chris Reid

Practise, practise, practise. The more time that you can dedicate to your passion, the more you will enjoy it and be rewarded by it. Jackie Ranken

© David Munro, 8th, Places. The Mono Awards 2021.
© David Munro, 8th, Places. The Mono Awards 2021.

Learn to see in black and white. Understand tonal contrast and how colours translate into black and white. By having this knowledge, you can quickly scan a scene and decide if it will convert well into a dramatic black and white image. This type of study can take a bit of practise, but it’s worth the time and effort. Helen Whittle

Don’t be afraid to use big areas of rich blacks or bright whites. Compositions with negative space can beautifully isolate and/or highlight your subject and add impact. Douwe Dijkstra 

 

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