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What's the best black and white filter?

There are some people who think of black and white photos as old-fashioned and many people absolutely love them. There’s nothing to stop you from loving either, but there is a classical elegance to photographs of people in black and white, that together with its miraculous skin tone evening properties, leaves them unsurpassed.

Flickr newsprint Flickr’s ‘Newsprint’ filter
However, depending on which editing apps you prefer and which social media platforms you use, there are a lot of different black and white filters that can transform your photo from colour to monochrome in a flash. The question is, which is the best?

Out-the-box filters

Twitter has just one black and white filter, but Google+ has several options sitting beneath its Black & White button, at least one of which can give your black and white conversions a contrasty, almost film noir feel. Flickr’s basic black and white filter is called ‘Newsprint’ and it gives a great conversion, but do take a look at ‘Graphite’ and ‘Noir’ for more gritty and contrasty effects, too.
Google+ black and white filter Google+ black and white filter
Instagram has ‘Inkwell’ and ‘Willow.’ Inkwell is a basic black and white, but Willow adds more pinks to the mix. While it doesn’t make it look pink, it helps to soften skin tones, which makes it perfect for portraits.
Instagram's 'Willow' filter uses soft pinky tones, which are great for portraits. Instagram’s ‘Willow’ filter uses soft pinky tones, which are great for portraits.

Taking more control

If you want to take a little more control over your black and white conversion, try Snapseed. It gives you six different black and white filters and lets you control the brightness, contrast, and grain in each. It also lets you control the dominant channel in the light mix. That might sound like gobbledy-gook, but when you remember that white light comprises the entire spectrum, it makes more sense. You’re just determining whether red, orange, yellow, or green light is stronger. Or you can opt for a neutral blend.
As a general rule, portraits will look better with increased red wavelengths. It does marvels for skin tones.
This conversion was based on Snapseed's 'Film' black and white filter. This conversion was based on Snapseed’s ‘Film’ black and white filter.
Don’t think that black and white is just for portraits, though! Be on the lookout for black and white opportunities in atmospheric landscapes, strong still lifes, and gritty street photographs.
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Social-Photography-cover-200pxSocial Photography by Daniela Bowker
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