Black-and-white has been synonymous with photography since its beginning when French inventor Nicéphore Niépce captured the View from the Window at La Gras in 1826. Even with the development of the first colour image in 1861, black-and-white continued to dominate for many years.
It wasn’t until the 1930s that colour became the norm when Kodak and Agfa both released colour films. However, black-and-white still continues to be popular – the advent of digital, far from ending the era of black-and-white, has to some degree made it more popular than ever with black-and-white filters.
First Photoshop then other image editing applications made it a simple process to convert colour to black-and-white. iPhone apps, such as Hipstamatic and Instagram, have also incorporated ready-made monochrome filters into their apps.
It is easier than ever to snap a black-and-white image. But with some many smartphone photography apps featuring a plethora of monochrome filters, which ones give the best results?
Here, I’m going to look at five of the best black-and-white filters that you can apply to your images on the iPhone. They’re taken from some of the most popular apps available. Some are only available as an in-app purchase, but they worth more than the tiny download price for making your images really stand out.
Black-and-white filters in iOS 7
Since the iOS 7 update last September, it became well-known among smartphone photographers that Apple had added filters to the iPhone’s camera. However, what isn’t so much talked about is that the same filters can be accessed via the iPhone’s Camera Roll, now just called Photos.
Select a photo and tap Edit in the top-right corner, then tap the filters icon (three overlapping circles at the bottom of the menu) to display the range of filters. There are three black-and-white filters:
Mono – this removes all the colour, but makes no other adjustments.
Tonal – this removes all the colour saturation and boosts the brightness and contrast slightly.
Noir – this is the most striking black-and-white filter. It adjusts the levels, brightness and contrast, producing a stark contrast between the blacks and whites.
Which filter you choose will depend upon the image. Mono produces what I would describe as a more classic black-and-white image, while Tonal has a bit more detail in the grey. With the right photo, Noir can produce some amazing images, but choose carefully as some can end up looking over-processed.
Black-and-white filters in Hipstamatic and Oggl
Hipstamatic, arguably the daddy of all iPhone photo filters, having been one of the first apps on the iPhone to feature them, has a huge array of black-and-white effects. Some come as standard while others can be added as in-app purchases.
There was a downside to Hipstamatic, however, that once you’d taken an image there was no chance to switch to another filter. Oggl , the photo-sharing app from the Hipstamatic team, changes all that as the filters can be switched at any stage in the image editing process. Take a photo and you can swipe through the app’s different “films” and “lenses” to find the best combination for your image.
A pleasing black-and-white combination in Oggl is the Wonder lens and D-Type Plate film. This produces a striking old-world feel to an image. It’s particularly suited for portraits, although it works equally well with landscapes.
Black-and-white filters in Snapseed
Snapseed is one of the more capable image editors available for the iPhone and its black-and-white filter gives you considerable control over how your finished image looks.
Select an image and choose Black & White. Then swipe up an down on the image to call up the adjustment tools – you have Brightness, Contrast and Grain from which to choose.
Select one of these options and then swipe right or left to increase or decrease the effect – Snapseed displays a plus or minus number above the image as a guide to the effects intensity. Then swipe up to select another option. It’s so simple to use, yet you have a lot of control over how the finished image will look.
Black-and-white filters in Flickr
This is one of my all-time favourites. In the past year or so, the Flickr app has undergone a complete overhaul and is now one of the essentials for the smartphone photographers. Tap the Camera icon at the bottom of the screen to access your photo library, then select the image you want to edit.
Noir is found under the Filter icon and is near the end of line of effects. Tap Noir to apply the filter to your image. It’s an extreme black-and-white filter with high contrast, so you image will look incredibly stark.
Tap the Noir filter again and it will flip around to reveal further options that you can apply to the image. You can apply a Vignette, Tilt Shift (two types), Burst, Worn. The last two add light leaks and scratches to your image to give it a more analogue feel. Noir might not be for every, but with the right image you can certainly create a very distinctive photo.
Black-and-white filters in Simply B&W
There are several dedicated black-and-white photo apps available for the iPhone, but Simply B&W is one of easiest to use. Simply B&W takes its inspiration from the coloured lens filters used by film photographers to alter the contrast when shooting with black-and-white film.
You can either take an image from within the app or select one from the photo library. The controls are very simple. On the right you select the coloured filter – each one has a description of the effect it produces.
The centre icon enables you to apply a vignette and border to the image, while the icon on the right displays the adjustment tools for Brightness, Contrast and Grain.
The tools are basic, but give sufficient control over most aspects of the image. And it’s possible with a little trial and error to produce some striking black-and-white images with the app.
Black-and-white filters: conclusion
Despite being surrounded by colour, black-and-white photography is most definitely here to stay. But with so many apps and editors around, it pays to experiment to find the filter that works best for your style.
Hopefully these will point you in the right direction as you delve deeper in the possibilities offered by smartphone photography.
Do you have any favourite black-and-white filters? Let me know in the comments below.