7 Black & White Film Photography Techniques

7 Black & White Film Photography Techniques

With the digital age, black and white photography has made a huge comeback. As a result, many photographers are converting to monochromatic shooting for a more classic look. 

The most challenging thing about shooting with B&W film is that the world appears in color. However, this may be a fantastic learning opportunity since light becomes the sole information in the photo; it is the theme of every photograph. 

If you're a black and white film photography newbie or simply want to improve your skills, keep reading for some great techniques.

The Benefits Of Black And White Film Photography

There are many benefits to monochromatic film photography. One of the best parts is that it may help you view the world in a new light. When removing color from an image, it forces you to pay more attention to light, shadows, and composition. It can help you to create exciting and more artistic photos.

Another benefit is that it gives your images a more timeless look. B&W photos tend to have a classic feeling that is often cherished by many.

If you are interested in trying this type of film photography, check out our film camera collection. We also offer a wide variety of film stocks to help you get started.

Start With One Film Stock

There are various black and white film stocks available, and it can be challenging to know where to start. We recommend choosing one film stock for your first 10-20 rolls. 

Sticking with specific film stock initially allows you to become familiar with how that particular stock reacts to different situations when shooting. As with color film, each B&W film responds differently and has its own characteristics. For example, there are variations in how it renders the highlights, deep blacks, or middle tones. 

Two of the most common black and white films we see at the lab are Ilford HP5 & Kodak Tri-X. These are both 400-speed films that allow extra light stops compared to a 100-speed film. 

A product package of Kodak Tri-X 35mm black-and-white film.

Once you’re familiar with your first B&W film stock, it’ll be easier to see how others differ when shooting and developing. Then, who knows, you might stick to a specific film stock after trying various options. 

Pushing B&W Film

Pushing black and white film means shooting it at a higher ISO than its rated speed. For example, if you are shooting Tri-X 400 film, you could push it to 1600 and get decent results. Pushing film can be a great way to get more exposure out of your shots without having to decrease the shutter speed.

This method is perfect for situations where you need more light, but it’s nowhere to be found. Try pushing your black and white film 1 or 2 stops. So if you’re shooting a 400-speed film, you’d be treating it like an 800 or 1600-speed film. 

It's important to note that you have to develop the film with the push in mind; otherwise, your images may come out darker. When developing at the lab, you can request to have your film push processed. The film is set in developing chemistry for longer than usual, which makes up for the lack of light during capture, allowing you greater flexibility with B&W film photography. 

You won’t need to change film mid-roll as the 400-speed images being pushed will not be negatively affected if you capture some images at ISO 400 and others at ISO 800. Film handles overexposure very well and will scan beautifully.

Embrace The Rule Of Thirds 

This compositional principle says you should divide an image into nine equal parts. The theory implies that placing your subject at one intersection will create a more balanced and pleasing composition. By doing this, you intentionally guide the viewer's eye to the important elements of the photo.

A Black and white half face of a male statue looking on the left.

While the rule of thirds isn't set in stone, it can be a helpful guideline when composing your shots.

Overexposing B&W Film

Overexposing black and white film can help to create high-contrast images with deep blacks and bright whites. In addition, it's a great way to add drama to your shots.

Three elephants were captured in a black and white photograph, standing next to each other.

Overexposing film is a fantastic method to ensure you're getting as much analog information from the scene as possible. When the lab scans your film, the scanner may be able to prevent an image from being overexposed by lowering its density during scanning. Overdeveloping your film doesn’t make the image brighter; it only creates a more dense negative.

Theoretically, the more refined a scan is, the more detailed the information for scanning, and the better it can reconstruct an accurate image. Our experts may also change the density or brightness of the scan to match what was seen in the original scene. Many photographers, including the founder of Reformed Film Lab, overexpose their film by one stop. It's also a way to avoid underexposed photographs as a safeguard.

Light, Light, And More Light

Shadows and light are two of the most essential black and white photography elements. By carefully controlling these elements, you can create images with a sense of depth and dimension.

You have to pay attention to the direction of light as backlighting can create some beautiful effects, but it can also make your subject appear dark and silhouetted.

Light is all that matters when it comes to photography. When it comes to color film shooting, most individuals are concerned with the hues they perceive at the moment of capture. So the colors of a stunning sunset, taking portrait photos on location, or ordinary photographs are all critical.

Naturally, B&W film eliminates the color palette. Instead, the emphasis is on the light's impact on your environment. When out shooting, pay close attention to the light you are seeing. Is it a high-contrast scenario or a mild overcast daytime in front of you? 

A black and white panoramic view of mountains and a lake in front.

When looking for the various light patterns, you'll consider things differently than you would if you were photographing a subject. If your scene has a high contrast ratio, meter for the shadows as you do not want them underexposed when taking a photograph.

Express Contrast Through Texture

One of the great things about black and white film photography is that you can use texture to express contrast. It can be anything from the texture of a person's skin to the rough surface of a stone wall.

To make the most of texture, we recommend using a macro lens. It allows you to get close to your subject and capture all the details.

You can also experiment with different film stocks. Some stocks are more sensitive to texture than others, so it's worth trying a few to see which ones you like best.

Black and white blooming flowers.

Keep An Eye On Light Sources With Street Photography

With black & white street photography, it's essential to keep an eye on light sources as they can often create exciting effects in your images.

For example, shooting into the sun can create lens flare, while using a light source as a backlight can create a halo effect around your subject.

Both of these effects can add drama and interest to your shots, so it's worth paying attention to light sources when you're out shooting.

A black and white view of a long road with buildings on both sides and parked cars.

Have Fun With Black & White Film Photography

Monochromatic film photography can be fun, and the techniques we’ve covered in this post should help you shoot beautiful images. As you experiment with different ways to expose and develop your black and white film, remember that having fun is paramount. The world is fascinating, so go out there and capture it in all its monochromatic glory!


  • Smita Rane

    What a dreamy photoshoot! Every image is a work of art.

  • Priya Shinde

    Hello, Found your post interesting to read. Good Luck for the upcoming update.This article is really very interesting

    < a href=”https://www.blushingbride.co.in/">best wedding photographer in patna

  • Marc Caraballo


  • Brian Murphy

    This is such a great post for beginners and more seasoned photogs alike. It shows that even people who’ve been around the block a few times have something to learn. One question (not sure if you can answer comments): when you overexpose say 400 speed by a stop as the post mentions (so, metering at 200), you’d then develop at box speed right?

  • Justin Evans

    I’ve been shooting film for over a decade, I recently challenged myself to put exclusively b&w stocks through all my cameras no matter the subject. It’s amazing what you will learn about your photography habits and how you can improve and also be inspired by having to think outside the box. Long time b&w lover. Thanks for the write up.

Leave a comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.