The 2022 Mono Awards: The judges' tips for better bw images

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What does it take to create an award-winning black and white image? To find out, we asked our 2021 Mono Awards judges for their tips on creating compelling black and white imagery. 

From understanding tone, to clear, deliberate compositions, and the importance of including a narrative in your imagery, these tips should put you in good stead for a winning entry in the 2022 edition of The Mono Awards, presented by SanDisk.  

1st Place, Places, Melanie Sinclair, Pick up Sticks
2021 Mono Awards, 1st Place, Places category, Melanie Sinclair, Pick up Sticks

Matt Palmer

In a black and white image, there isn’t any colour to create differentiation. Utilising the full range between full white and full black allows a photographer the opportunity to create a visual hierarchy that guides the viewer’s eye around the image. This typically occurs where the image is brightest, or where there is the greatest area of contrast between bright and dark.

1st Place, Animals, Diana Fernie, Just Chill
2021 Mono Awards, 1st Place, Animals category, Diana Fernie, Just Chill

Alex Cearns

By removing all colour from your images, you take away a layer of distraction. Everything has equal status and so to emphasise what the photographer wants others to see, elements like tone, contrast and exposure need to be tweaked. It’s a balance of these things, combined with strong and interesting subject matter, which makes impactful and memorable black and white images.

1st Place, People, Susan Sventek, Penitent
2021 Mono awards, 1st Place, People category, Susan Sventek, Penitent

William Long

Adobe’s black and white conversion options have improved immensely over the years, however it’s worth exploring and creating your own through Photoshop, as opposed to choosing one of the instant, one-click options.

Anthony McKee

Something I often notice while judging the Mono awards are the large number of “simple” captures in the competition, images of a single subject with no additional elements of interest. Many photographers are taught that it is a good thing to keep things simple but too often we are creating boring images; photos that lack a narrative for an audience to engage with.

Given the chance, I prefer to advocate for “value added” photographs, images that have a subject but also additional subplots within the frame. Nowadays anyone can photograph a portrait or a landscape; as serious photographers, we should be using our skills to see and capture a more sophisticated view of the world.

2nd Place, Animals, Ashlee Karas, Two to Tango
2021 Mono awards, 2nd Place, Animals category, Ashlee Karas, Two to Tango

Jackie Ranken

Practice, practice, practice. The more time that you can dedicate to your passion the more you will enjoy it and be rewarded by it. Additionally, before your final edit, check the levels control and see if your image looks better when you make sure that you have a true white point and black point in your file.

Chris Reid

When it comes to black and white photography, keeping it simple is the best plan. Keep the information where it is needed and don't be afraid to lose detail if it becomes a distraction. Sometimes too much detail can lose the centre of focus. Capture the images in the camera and not via post production.

Make sure to be bold because drama is key to black and white photography, where the dominant mass draws in the eye and the highlights and shadows let the eye wander around the image.

2nd Place, Places, Tebani Slade, Winter Playground
2021 Mono Awards, 2nd Place, Places category, Tebani Slade, Winter Playground

Helen Bradwell

Learn to see in black and white: We are all drawn to a punchy black and white photo with lots of contrast, but how is this achieved? This is done by understanding tonal contrast and how colours translate into black and white. What colour is red when it’s converted into the grayscale? What colour is green?

By acquiring this knowledge, you can quickly scan a scene and decide if it will convert well into a dramatic black and white image. This type of study can take a bit of practice, but it can be done.

2nd Place, People, Cody Nahirny, A moment inside a moment
2021 Mono awards, 2nd Place, People category, Cody Nahirny, A moment inside a moment

Douwe Dijkstra

Don’t be afraid to use big areas of rich blacks or bright whites. Compositions with negative space can beautifully isolate and/or highlight your subject and add impact.

The Mono Awards is looking for the best Black and White photography from Australia and New Zealand to share in $13,500 of cash and prizes. You can enter the competition here. 

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