Black-and-white photography has the potential to make any photographer better, even if you mainly shoot color. At the least, it will stretch your creativity and make you see the world differently. It could also refine your way of seeing in some very positive ways. There's a secret to getting the most out of black-and-white, and it's not about the newest black-and-white software.
Black-and-white is an elegant, beautiful way of photographing nature. Yet, we aren't necessarily seeing the stunning black-and-white images we might expect today with the superb digital cameras available to everyone. There's a big difference between a lot of black-and-white work done today, compared to the black-and-white done by the masters from the Ansel Adams era. In that age, black-and-white photos were made from the very start, when the shutter was pressed. Now black-and-white photos often come from simply removing color from a color image. Often that doesn't give you the best results.
Tonal Contrast Tonal contrast is about contrast in brightness. Anytime you can contrast a subject against a lighter or darker background, you get this contrast. A challenge: Photographers all too easily remember the color of the scene and how the subject and background contrasted in color. Then they can "see" the subject in the black-and-white photo because of that memory. Unfortunately, the viewer doesn't have that memory and the image isn't effective.
If you're not getting a good tonal contrast showing up on your LCD, then you aren't getting a strong black-and-white image with this important contrast. It's that simple. In fact, of the three contrasts, tonal contrast is the strongest and most dominant. A strong tonal contrast can clearly define and structure your black-and-white photo, but if it's in the wrong place, such as the background, it can overwhelm other contrasts (even if it's out of focus).
Tonal contrast isn't just about having a subject that's darker or lighter than the background. Very rich black-and-white images can also come from tonal contrasts that change gradually but distinctly, from one area to another in an image.
Tonal contrast can come from two important things while you're shooting: 1Contrast in brightness of objects in your scene.
Move around to put areas of different brightness against each other. 2Light and shadow.
Find ways to use light and shadow to create contrast in tonality.
Use your LCD and its display of a black-and-white image to show you the inherent contrast in the brightness of objects and how light is creating contrast.