How to create modern black and white photos without fancy editing software

I am all finished with our gallery wall in our living room and I’m so happy I was able to incorporate dramatic black and white photos of our own travels.


When planning the gallery wall, I really liked these prints I found on Etsy, which are very inexpensive to buy as a digital download, and then you can print them at Vistaprint (inexpensive large poster prints – especially for odd sizes) or Walgreens  (always has great deals on smaller prints up to 8×10 and standard size poster prints). (If anyone has any other go-tos for printing photos let me know! I use Walgreens because it’s close to me and Vistaprint because it is inexpensive to print and ship).

Lake, Old Building, Modern Architectural, Snowy Trees, Snowy Mountain, Foggy Mountain, Foggy Cliff, Birds, Another Foggy Mountain, Horse

Aren’t they gorgeous? I love them all, and I still plan on using some of them as standalone pieces in our home…

But I kept thinking about all the photos I take when we travel that just sit on my computer. Beautiful art is great no matter what, but how much better is it if you knew the person who painted it, if you searched it out in a junky thrift store (finding an original painting or photograph feels like you found buried treasure), or better yet, if you created it yourself!

I decided I was going to try to recreate the feeling of these modern, graphic black and white photos with photos we have taken ourselves.

When choosing the photos, I looked for DRAMA. Photos with a lot of white space (sky or a body of water or a simple background) highlight the shape of whatever juts into the frame (a building, trees, boats). Pictures with interesting shapes, sharp lines, or shapes that contrast with each other in the same frame have drama (the people in the mountain print above). Sharp contrasts in tones (very dark next to very light, like the mountain next to the foggy sky) are dramatic. And close ups of just part of an animal (the horse), an object (the buildings), or a group of the same things (the birds), perhaps at an interesting angle. These parameters might seem vague, but use your instincts and experiment. Don’t be afraid to search Etsy for black and white minimalist photographs and try to find one that is similar to photos that you have taken. Or, use them as inspiration to go and take a new photo to use!

Here are some photos I edited when I was pulling options for our gallery wall.

Architectural Photo from Greece

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Church Photo from Greece

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Clouds Photo from Plane Ride to Greece (I only take photos in Greece you guys)

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I just used the most basic of editing software for this — the Windows Live Photo Gallery that came with my computer. I know you can do a lot more with better software, but I thought it would be great to show how ANYONE can make their photos look better, even without advanced programs like Photoshop.

Architectural BEFORE AND AFTER

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First, I used a black and white pre-set filter.

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You can see how it looks kind of dull with just the filter.

So, I increased the shadows, brightness and highlights, just enough to make it look bright without making it blown out and losing the sharp contrast between the dark and light.

Then, I adjusted the contrast to make the light and dark look more dramatic.

And, finally, I sharpened the image to accentuate those really clean, architectural lines and the beautiful texture of the stucco building.

I included a screenshot of the editing panel below:

adjustments black and white architectural

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I added the pre-set black and white filter:

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Then, I cropped it tighter to get rid of some of the visual distraction and play up the contrast between trees and architecture.

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Then I made the edits.

Since the white church and the sky are similar colors in the black and white scheme, I could only increase the shadows (and not the overall brightness) without the photo looking overexposed.

Then I upped the contrast quite a bit to make the beautiful architecture of the bell tower stand out.

Finally, sharpening to make the building and leaves pop against the sky.

black and white adjustments church.PNG

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First, I cropped out the plane window frame.

Then, I adjusted the exposure. Increased highlights this time to make the clouds pop without lightening the background. And increased contrast and sharpening to make it all more dramatic.

clouds adjustments

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Then, in black and white.


And that’s it! So to recap:

  1. Use a pre-set black and white filter.
  2. Crop to accentuate drama/contrast and decrease visual distractions (and/or to fit your desired frame).
  3. Play with brightness, shadows and highlights to get the most dramatic juxtaposition between light and dark while also maintaining the brightest photo possible.
  4. Increase contrast and sharpen to make it all pop.


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