How to Create the Perfect Black and White Photos in Snapseed

Edit & Organize, Phone Photography

snapseed black and white tutorial
Written by Karin van Mierlo
Karin is a pro photographer with a bachelor's degree in photography bringing 25+ years of experience to your table. She is the driving force behind Photography Playground and loves to write and teach about all things photography related. She is the developer of the Fearless FrameWork, a holistic method of learning photography.

Snapseed Black and White Tutorial

What is it about Black and White Photography that makes it sort of indestructible? It is as old as photography and although photography has been through many changes and developments Black and White Photography is still here. And it will never go away.

When you convert an image to Black and White a few things happen.

By taking away color somehow the underlying qualities emerge. It stirs a feeling of timelessness and emphasizes the things we share over time and place.

Black and White Photography is perfect for your travel photos, the portraits of your travel gang, the breathtaking landscapes you encounter, and the buzz of the streets you find yourself in. Especially if you have a lot of different subjects and styles of photography converting them to Black and White can make the story come together.

It’s The Instagram Trend

I read an article the other day on the editing trends on Instagram for 2019 and apparently Black and White Photography is making a comeback! Actually, I never knew it was gone in the first place. Well anyway, I figured this is the perfect motive to show you how to convert your travel pics into Black and White the right way!

If Snapseed is totally new for you I suggest going to this beginner Snapseed Tutorial first.

It shows you the first basic steps in finding your way around Snapseed.

snapseed black and white tutorial, black and white photography, snapseed before and after | Photo: Carcavelos, Portugal | Copyright Karin van Mierlo | Photography Playground

There are a few things to keep in mind when you’re converting an image into Black and White.

Shoot in Color

First of all, and possibly the most important one, do not shoot in Black and White!

I know all smartphone cameras give you that option but you shouldn’t use it because it’s there. It’s useless. Because when you shoot in color you’ll keep the option for both color and Black and White photos.

Also with the editing, it’s better to have a color file because in some editing programs you can affect the colors separately even if you converted to Black and white.

Is It The right fit?

Second, not every picture is a good fit for Black and White.

The most important thing in a Black and White picture is the tonal contrast. And if that contrast isn’t there in the color version it’s gonna be hard to get it in the Black and White conversion.

Imagine if you take a picture of something that mostly has red, orange and yellow tones. If you convert that to Black and White it’s gonna be all greyish tones. Not very eye-catching!

Contrast, Texture, and Structure

And third, when converting to Black and White we mostly work on the contrast. There need to be white and black tones in a Black and White picture. And then of course, as many grey tones in between as possible.

Getting out the contrast and in many cases, the texture and structure is the goal of Black and White conversions.

As with just about everything in photography and life for that matter, there are a number of ways to go about that. I’ll show a few of them but honestly, the possibilities are limitless.

Working on Contrast

Obviously, you can just apply a Black and White preset and leave it at that but where’s the fun in that!

So I’m gonna show you how to create Black and White pictures in Snapseed using the Black and White filter and working on the contrast in the Tools Section.

Working on contrast is not a matter of sliding the contrast slider to the right. It’s a little more subtle and complicated than that.

The 2 main things to consider when working on the contrast are:

  1. the possibility to adjust the bright and dark areas separately.
  2. creating as many grey tones in between as possible.

When you increase the contrast in Tune Image using the contrast slider you increase the contrast the same amount in both ways so that doesn’t give me the control I’m after.

The Highlights and Shadow Sliders in Tune Image give me that control. With the Curves Tool, we’re also able to work on the bright and dark areas separately.

Second, I want to create Black and White images with as many different grey tones as possible. To get there I need to decrease the contrast first.

So what I do in Tune Image is darkening the highlights and brightening the shadows. Why do I decrease the contrast first you probably wonder? We’re aiming toward more contrast, right? Yes, we are but if you just increase the contrast chances are the highlights will blow out, the shadows become pitch black and you have very few grey tones in the middle.

By decreasing the contrast first we introduce more grey tones. Then after increasing the contrast again using the Curves Tool, the image has more grey tones in between the black and white tones.

The Editing Workflow

If you’re new to Snapseed, let’s start by downloading the app from the App Store or Google Play.

I always start with cropping the image if that’s necessary, then I work on the brightness and contrast of the entire image.

After that, I focus on separate areas of the picture to see if they need to be adjusted. The last step is always sharpening the image and saving it.

The Dog | Tonal Contrast

snapseed black and white tutorial, black and white photography, snapseed before and after | Photo: Carcavelos, Portugal | Copyright Karin van Mierlo | Photography Playground

#1 Black & White

Once I open the file I select Tools and tap on Black & White. I’m gonna leave the filter in Neutral.

#2 Tune Image

Then I select Tune Image and darken the Highlights and brighten the Shadows. This will decrease the contrast and the image will become flat but we’re gonna fix that in the next step.

snapseed black and white tutorial, black and white photography, snapseed before and after | Photo: Screenshots Snapseed | Copyright Karin van Mierlo | Photography Playground

#3 Curves

I select Curves to increase the contrast. Curves is a great tool to increase (or decrease) the contrast. In the Curves Tool, the point on the bottom left is pure black and the point at the top right side is pure white. When you drag the line between the 2 points upward the image gets brighter and when you drag it down it becomes……..? Yep! Darker!

If you pick a point at about ⅓ of the line from the top and drag it upwards it makes the bright tones brighter. If you pick a point at ⅓ of the line from the bottom and drag it down the shadows will become darker. 

snapseed black and white tutorial, black and white photography, snapseed before and after | Photo: Screenshots Snapseed | Copyright Karin van Mierlo | Photography Playground

#4 Tonal Contrast

I’m still not totally convinced. I’m missing structure and detail in the sand so I go to Tonal Contrast to emphasize the details.

#5 Detail

The last step is always sharpening so I select Detail and increase the Structure by 44 and the Sharpening by 22.

That’s it! All I need to do now is save the image.

The Wave | Drama Filter

snapseed black and white tutorial, black and white photography, snapseed before and after | Photo: Caracavelos, Portugal | Copyright Karin van Mierlo | Photography Playground
snapseed black and white tutorial, black and white photography, snapseed before and after | Photo: Carcavelos Portugal | Copyright Karin van Mierlo | Photography Playground

#1 Crop

My first step for this photo is to crop it just a little bit to emphasize the diagonal line the 4 people are making.

#2 Black & White

Then I select the Black & White Tool and leave the filter in Neutral.

snapseed black and white tutorial, black and white photography, snapseed before and after | Photo: Screenshots Snapseed | Copyright Karin van Mierlo | Photography Playground

#3 Drama Filter

I believe this image has potential but it’s a little flat and underexposed. To add contrast and at the same time brighten it up I’m gonna apply the Drama Filter. I select Drama, choose the Bright 2 preset and leave the filter strength as it is.

Usually, the Drama Filter is very strong and can easily overpower a picture. In most cases, I recommend to tone down the filter strength a lot when you apply the drama filter.

snapseed black and white tutorial, black and white photography, snapseed before and after | Photo: Screenshots Snapseed | Copyright Karin van Mierlo | Photography Playground

#4 Tune Image

The next stop is Tune Image where I decrease the contrast by darkening the Highlights and brightening the Shadows.

#5 Curves

Then I select Curves and increase the contrast again.

#6 Detail

I then select Detail to sharpen the image and save it.

There you go……….2 roadmaps for converting your perfect travel pics to Black and White!

Wanna become a smartphone editing wizzard? Check out Fabulous Phone Editing!

Let us know in the comments what you like the most about Black & White Photography?

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2 Comments

  1. Angshu Bhowmik

    Nice one, Karin!

    Reply
    • Karin van Mierlo

      Thank you!

      Reply

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