Black & White

Even in the digital age, black and white photographs are still viewed as art. In this edition of my underwater photography series, I’ll give you an introduction to contrast imaging.

Contributed by


For more information on Kurt Amsler and his photo workshops, please visit:

All those fantastic colors you find underwater are still the main goal for underwater photographers. On other hand, the black and white medium gives you an great opportunity to get creative.

The black and white photographer has four different venues to explore. First of all there is, obviously, using black and white film. Secondly, you can use color slide film and convert the images into black and white after scanning. As a third option, there is shooting in black and white mode using an underwater digital camera; and fourthly, changing your digital color images into black and white with your image processing software.

The difference between color and black and white photography lies less in what you are taking pictures of, and more in how you take the pictures. In contrast to color images where you always have to primarily consider how to use your flash in combination with the sunlight, black and white imagery requires that you work foremost with the natural light.

For example, if you have too much light, the foreground becomes too bright, the images too hard, and the faces of divers too pale. The keywords for good black and white photography are therefore: light and shadow.

To be able to play with the light and shadow, you need to carefully observe your chosen subject from all sides and angles. Because different angles of incidence of a shadow in a photograph may have a completely different impact on the viewer.

Also of importance is the choice of subject. Subdued color tones, which work beautifully in a colour image, will not have any effect in a black and white image. The keyword here is contrast. For a black and white image to work, you need sufficient contrast between the subject and the foreground or background.

In black and white photography, it is much easier to get the correct illumination by using the available exposure margins. For this reason, you can confidently work with the camera in auto mode.

Another tip is to set the shutter speed on automatic. The camera then chooses the correct speed according to the light conditions.


The result of your photography totally depends on how you process your negatives or digital images. The sensitivity of a black and white film is in the range of 100 and 200 ASA. A perfect negative is the basis for a good photographic enlargement.

Therefore, you should always, if possible, develop your own images. The necessary technical equipment is not very expensive and can be easily obtained. To make your underwater black and whites better, try to underexposure by a third, and prolong the developing time by a third also.

The digital photographer doesn’t need a photo print shop. Just preset your camera to black and white mode or take the pictures in RGB. In contrast to color images, you can now set the sensetivity to 400 ASA without any problems. The grains that often appear in color images with this setting doesn’t affect the black and white images in a negative way.

To process your images, you should get software like Photoshop. Then, you can apply a huge range of effects, which you can apply to your images such as grain size, contrast and resolution.

Try out different settings and combinations for the best result. Always work with copies and keep the original image untouched. Make notes of the settings you apply, for later use. When you have found your style, you then have all the necessary tools avaliable and ready for other images.

Sepia toning

For those who like the old classic look on their images, there is the possibility of applying sepia toning. The term sepia comes from the name of an artists’ pigment made from the Sepia cuttlefish.

Toning can be simulated digitally, either in-camera or in a later post-process. The in-camera effect, as well as beginner tutorials given for software like Photoshop or The GIMP, use a simple tint, which is usually a poor imitation. More sophisticated software tends to implement sepia tones using the duotone feature. Especially wreck images are nice when sepia toned.