Beyond Color: expressing your vision in black and white

  • sooc photo of Iceland by Colorado photographer Cole Thompson

Beyond Color: expressing your vision in black and white

Fine art photographer and Click Away presenter Cole Thompson has always preferred black-and-white; it’s how he “sees” as an artist. This summer, Cole shared his vision with Click Magazine (“Vision Quest,” July-August issue) and generously added some advice on creating your own high-impact black-and-white images. – Susan Brinkley

There’s all the difference in the world between a black-and-white image created in the camera or simply de-saturated, and an image that you’ve planned and processed as a black-and-white expression of your art.

First, there’s the way you evaluate a scene. Without color to capture the viewer’s attention, you have to focus more on composition, lines, contrast, simplicity and mood. Then there’s the way you capture the image. If you put your camera in Monochrome mode and let it do the work for you, all you’ll achieve is an absence of color. To have real artistic impact, the conversion from color to b&w has to be guided by your vision.

I use Monochrome mode to help me visualize the scene in black-and-white. I shoot in RAW mode so the image is recorded in color and I can convert it myself.

Below are three versions of the image that became my “Iceland No. 4” landscape.

The first image is the color shot as captured in my camera.

sooc photo of Iceland by Colorado photographer Cole Thompson

The second image is the scene shot in color and de-saturated in Photoshop.

final edited black and white landscape picture by fine art photographer Cole Thompson

And here’s the color image converted to b&w using my knowledge of the original scene, my technical skills, and most importantly my vision:

final edited black and white landscape picture by fine art photographer Cole Thompson

Making better black-and-white images

Technical advice:

  • Put your camera into RAW and Monochrome mode. Monochrome to help you evaluate the scene, and RAW to capture the image in color.
  • Convert the image to b&w yourself and learn how colors translate into shades of grey.
  • Experiment with changing the colors into different shades of grey.
  • Purchase a pen and tablet and learn how to dodge and burn, to emphasize details and de-emphasize others.

Philosophical advice:

  • Find your vision and follow it.
  • Do not seek to “take a picture” but rather “create an image.”
  • Create for yourself and not to win awards, sales or accolades.  This is how you will produce your best work.
  • Do not ask others about your work. What do you think of it?  That’s all that matters.


I have a pretty minimalistic kit and I always have it with me. I use the Canon 5D with a 16-35, 24-105 and 100-400 lenses.  I have a full set of 82mm neutral density filters that fit all of my lenses and I also have a polarizer. I always have my tripod and remote shutter release with me and I religiously use a Hoodman HoodLoupe and eyecup. That’s pretty much it!  I try to keep things simple and I don’t like having a lot of gadgets that can distract or break.

About the Author:

Creating black and white images from my Vision. Visit Cole Thompson online.


  1. Melissa Jul 11 2014 at 2:49 pm - Reply

    What a gorgeous example of a Before and After. Took a peek at his work on his website and wow….amazing!!

  2. Kristin Jul 11 2014 at 5:55 pm - Reply

    Very cool before and after – your vision for the end result is stunning.

  3. NinaZM Jul 12 2014 at 3:35 pm - Reply

    Wonderful advice! Thank you very much for sharing you images and your vision!

  4. Patti Margarita Jul 14 2014 at 10:43 am - Reply

    I am in love with your final image and your vision really comes through. Thank you for the advice!

  5. Allison Jul 14 2014 at 4:07 pm - Reply

    I had no idea people planned ahead for black & white, and using monochrome mode is just an awesome idea. Thank you so much for these wonderful tips!

  6. Lauren Nygard Jul 14 2014 at 7:59 pm - Reply

    I love the fact that one of the ingredients for your “after” photo is your vision. The image is beautiful!

  7. Tre Cavil Jul 15 2014 at 7:04 pm - Reply

    Wow! What a transition! Amazing!

  8. Anna VanDemark Jul 15 2014 at 8:38 pm - Reply

    Cole, thanks for sharing your insights! Your artistry is apparent in your work, but it was very interesting to see the “before and after” versions to see just how far an image travels from camera to finished art work. Simply stunning!

  9. Lisa Benemelis Jul 16 2014 at 12:56 am - Reply

    Gorgeous before and after image, Cole. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and vision with us.

  10. Jennifer B Jul 20 2014 at 9:59 pm - Reply

    Wow this is amazing!

  11. Michele Yon Jul 20 2014 at 11:23 pm - Reply

    An amazing transformation. Thank you!

  12. Ashley Jul 25 2014 at 12:40 am - Reply

    Wonderful image. And I love this: “Do not seek to “take a picture” but rather “create an image.”

Leave A Comment


Follow this blog

Get a weekly email of all new posts.

Email address