Black and white photography was the only medium available to capture images until the 19th century. This aesthetic, however, continues to thrive as online tools provide users with effects to recreate that timeless look. The stark contrast seen after applying a black and white filter can emphasize shadows, highlights, and details typically glossed over in a photo full of vibrant colors.

If you have complex photo editing software that is time-consuming to learn and need results fast, I have a solution. In this article, you’ll learn how I use Kapwing’s free editor to add a black and white effect with ease. Kapwing is a browser-based video editor with intuitive tools for creators to edit media on any device. Then we’ll cover how to add a splash of color to a picture to create a truly unique photo. Here’s how it works:

  1. Upload Your Photo
  2. Apply a Filter and Adjust
  3. Customize in the Studio
  4. Export and Download

1. Upload Your Photo

First, open Kapwing’s ‘Filter Video’ tool on your device and upload your photo or paste the image URL from another site like Instagram or Pinterest. Don’t worry, this tool works for both video and photos, so go ahead and upload to get started.

Before you add a black and white filter, think about how this effect will make your photo more compelling. Usually, black and white filters redirect the viewer’s attention to something deeper within the photo -- regardless of the color. Here are a few situations when a black and white filter works well over a photo:

Distracting Colors - Too many colors can overwhelm the viewer and cause them to miss the message. Black and white photos make all the colors fade out so you can focus on the bigger picture -- whether that’s the composition or the main subject.

Photo by Aditya Chinchure on Unsplash

Photos with texture - Photos with interesting textures can go unnoticed when too many colors are on the surface. When you apply a black and white filter, the viewer is forced to look deeper and notice all the textures within an image.

Photo by Ben McLeod on Unsplash

High contrast photos - When light and dark sources meet, they create stunning visuals. If you want to add more drama, make it black and white.

Photo by Ümit Yıldırım on Unsplash

Portrait photography - Portraits are staple photographs for conveying emotion. If you make a portrait black and white, you can emphasize that emotion to add drama while stirring up an emotive response from viewers.

Photo by Michael Cox on Unsplash

2. Apply a Filter and Adjust

Now that you’ve uploaded the photo and you have an idea for what you want, let’s add the filter. Click "Adjust" on the right side of the Studio, then click "Filter" to pull up every style. For a black and white effect, there’s three options to choose from: Maxwell, Moose, and Grayscale. Click a filter to apply it to your photo and the preview will display the new look.

On the ‘Adjust’ tab, you can change the different effects with sliding scales. In particular, the brightness and contrast options will help you adjust the gray tones best. The fade and vignette add nice lightening effects to give your photo a vintage look.

Once you’re done making adjustments to the filters, click ‘Done Adjusting’ at the bottom right to process the photo. After a few moments, you’ll land on a new page where you can download the photo or share it on social media. Also, there’s an option to "Edit" if you want to make more edits to your photo.

3. Customize in the Studio

Back in the Studio, you can customize your photo with Kapwing’s suite of tools. Some of these include adding images, elements, animations, rounded corners and more. If you want to learn more about a specific tool, just click the respective word to go to a new article. Nonetheless, experiment with the features to create a unique black and white photo.

The ‘Erase’ tool in particular can be used to cut out the subject of your photo to give it a color splash. This means that you can keep the color for the subject while making the background black and white. This works especially well if you want the viewer to focus on one thing.

To get started, I would recommend opening the same photo on top. First, click ‘Media’ from the top left and find the original photo in your media library. Then, select the photo and open the ‘Erase’ tool on the right side menu.

Inside, you’ll see two options to cut out the area that’ll stay colored: the eraser and the magic wand. If the background is a uniform color, I’d recommend the magic wand. If you’re dealing with a complex background like mine, go with the erase tool. Once you decide, select the area you want to remove and delete it. For more detailed instruction, check out this article on how to remove the background.

After your subject is cut out, click ‘Done’ at the bottom right. Now, the colored subject should overlay on top of the original black and white photo to give your image a splash of color.

4. Export and Download

When you’re finished in the Studio, click ‘Export Image’ at the top right and wait for processing. Finally, you can download the finished black and white photo or share directly to social media.

Now, you can easily make black and white photos with Kapwing’s online editor. If this guide helped you edit your photo, be sure to subscribe to the Kapwing Resources page for new tutorials. And, check out the related articles to keep learning:

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