Creating Compelling and Emotional Monochome Imagery – Part 1 – Keith Connelly

Personally I have a huge love for monochrome imagery as many people do. Monochrome has the advantage of removing the distraction of colour from an image and allowing you to focus on the content, composition, subjects, tonality and emotion present in that image.


When we look at a good monochrome image it draws us into the thought process and mind of the photographer in a much different way than with colour images.


We can push our creative boundaries in a myriad of different ways with monochrome photography as opposed to colour, it’s a deep, rich and alluring form of photography that has many complexities.


For me creating a powerful monochrome image is a complex and detailed process that begins in camera, selecting the correct image for conversion and pre conceiving an image in camera are important factors in creating a fantastic end result…but before we can get into that, I firmly believe in some truths when it comes to monochrome.

1.) Bad light no problem I’ll convert it…
There are some fundamental problems with this mindset. Harsh flat light or dull lifeless light is not a prerequisite for conversion. In certain circumstances High-Key monochrome can use harsh light in your advantage but having a great deal of contrast in your subject is vitally important in this regard…so simply converting an image when faced with bad light is one fallacy we should dispel from the outset!



2.) You need to start with a quality in camera image…
Starting with a quality raw is foremost. You can’t cure an image with poor composition, lighting, background, contrast or subject by simply converting it. A quality raw image will lead you to a deep, rich and intriguing monochrome.


3.) A monochrome image should provide something the colour version does not…
There is no use in a monochrome image if it doesn’t improve on the colour version, I often edit a colour image completely before converting to mono and seeing if the image will improve on the colour version.


4.) Dynamic, contrasty quality light leads to alluring monochromes…
Conversely the best golden hour light that is contrasty and rich often leads to the best monochrome imagery.




5.) Background, Background Background!!!
When it comes to monochrome background is of utmost importance, as distrzcting busy background can completely ruin a monochrome image. Clean background that emphasize the subject often are the best candidates for monochrome conversion.





*There are many exceptions to all rules, but in general that holds true for monochrome photography.

6.) Work an image till you are satisfied then take a step back…
As mentioned previously monochrome allows more of a creative license, I am all for pushing mono images to include more contrast, tonality, adding deep dark rich layers, using low and high-key affects and glows, but this comes with a caveat…go as far as you are happy with in creating something deep and interesting then take a breath and a break come back and see if you have pushed it too far then adjust accordingly.




7.) Look for the emotion…
Monchrome has the ability to really bring any emotion in an image to the forefront be it emotion from in front or behind the lens…look foremotional moment or for experience and moments that are emotional to you and those will lift your monochrome images to another level!!






8.) Use directional lighting…
The use of direction lighting like side-lighting and back-lighting can really help a monochrome image along. Look to combine lighting with background to enhance the tonality of an image and many time it will create an interesting mono image.



9.) Have Fun…
The whole point of exploring monochrome is the pure joy of pushing your creative boundaries. You are not constrained by the boundaries of saturation, contrast and composition as you are with colour images, so get stuck in and have fun. Monochrome such a valuable learning tool when it comes to post-production you have a myriad of tools at your disposal in both Lightroom and Photoshop…I would also recommend plugin’s such as Nik Software, their Silver Efex Pro and Colour Efex Pro have some great filters to take your mono images to the next level.


In conclusion I would say the most important factor in creating compelling, rich and emotional monochrome is injecting some of yourself into the images. Put your perspective, emotion and creativity into it push the envelope and see where that creativity leads you, start with a great raw product and work it into something that makes you feel something when you get there you are allowing the people that view your image the chance to feel their own feeling about what they are seeing.

Most of all, give it a go and explore…



Next month I’m going to run through a monochrome workflow using some of the tools I like to use in creating my monochrome images…in the meantime go check out Nik Software it’s free!!

Keith Connelly

Sigma South Africa Ambassador

“Keith Connelly is a mad passionate Wildlife Guide, Professional Photographer, Photographic Guide and Travel Addict.

He began his career as a guide working in the exclusive lodges of South Africa where he gained a great love for photography, but an even greater passion for the planet’s wildlife and love for the personal experiences and the pure joy that capturing and sharing nature’s best moments offer.”