4 Lighting Tips for Shooting Beautiful Black and White

If you're going to be shooting in black and white, understand that the rules for lighting are a little different.

Black and white photography can be absolutely beautiful, because it utilizes the essential elements of early cinema, like shadow, texture, and intensity. However, if you're heading out to light a black and white project with the same process you use for lighting color, you might want to come up with a different game plan. 

Luckily, this video from Aputure will help. In it, cinematographer Justin Jones, who has worked with the likes of Diplo, Anderson Paak, and Trippie Redd, offers up four helpful tips for filmmakers who may have never shot or light a black and white project before and goes over several of his lighting setups to give you a better idea of how to approach yours. Check it out below:

Even though the tips Jones talks about in the video are extremely important to creating a beautifully lit black and white scene, they're really not all that complicated to pull off. Perhaps the most essential things you should know about lighting for black and white projects (as well as ones in color) are different aspects of light—not its color, in this case, but its quality, shadow, texture, and intensity. 

According to Jones, here are the four main things you should think about when lighting for black and white:

  • Forget about color temperature: You're not shooting in color, so don't worry about the color temperature of your bulbs and fixtures, because it's not going to register anyway.
  • Focus on light quality: First of all, what is light quality? No, it doesn't describe how "good" or "bad" the light is but instead refers to how the light "behaves," how it affects and interacts with your subject and its surroundings. "Hard" and "soft" light are key concepts of light quality. So, since you're shooting in black and white, light quality becomes extremely important to your visual storytelling.
  • Use shadows to create texture: Since there isn't color there to break up the visuals and make things look interesting in your shot, shadow becomes a huge asset. Use shadows to add texture and depth. Use cookies and branches and blinds to create interesting shapes that move (or don't) in your scene, otherwise, your frame is going to look rather flat.
  • Intensity is the magnifying glass: When you shoot in color, you can use them to tell your audience what to look at, whether it's a bright red doorknob, like in The Sixth Sense, or an emerald green dress, like in Vertigo. Shooting in black and white—you don't have that option. However, you can use light intensity to draw your audience's eye to important areas of your frame, so whatever it is you want them to look at, make sure it's the brightest lit object, area, or person in the shot.

Up next

Learn 13 film lighting techniques every filmmaker should know, and get a primer on EVERY type of light and how to use them all!

What are some other helpful tips for lighting/shooting a black and white project? Let us know down below.     

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Your Comment


nice.. something to keep in mind though is when shooting in BW, color can actually become incredibly important, using primary colors and black and white color filters can be a key way to control contrast, choosing a red car or a blue car combined with filters can make it either totally stand out or become hidden in the scene, just take note from DP Phedon Papamichael from his work on ‘Nebraska’, just because it’s monochrome, doesn’t mean color doesn’t matter.

June 23, 2018 at 12:41PM

Devin Pickering

Yes, this is true, color and color temperature DOES matter and affects tonal values because of changes in color frequency. FX compositors use a technique where you flip into separate RBG channels and match up the tonal values with their back plates.

June 25, 2018 at 4:42AM


Just what I needed. A client recently approached me to shoot their next project in black and white...

June 24, 2018 at 11:58AM, Edited June 24, 11:58AM

Luis Garcia

Where's TED????????

June 27, 2018 at 8:20AM

Michael Dean
DP, Editor