Looking at black and white iPhone photography using my street image ‘municipal’ as an example.

The great Ansel Adams once said “Great Black & White photos aren’t taken – they’re made.”

Is that an old master giving us license to go crazy in post processing or is he referring to skilled composition and exposure at capture? The answer I think is both. The rules around the initial capture are universal and the subject of any number of text books. The difference of course is that what Ansel Adams did with his hands and his chemicals, iPhone photographers do with apps and touch screen technology.

This iPhoneography workflow focuses on black and white photography. It touches on a combination of manual processes and quick automated processes via some powerful apps.

iPhone photography apps used:

municipal - black and white street iPhone photography

{ municipal }



Process and apps used

ProCamera7 ~ initial capture:

ProCamera7 at the app store.

Filterstorm ~ crop and sharpen:

My preferred format is square:

Filterstorm at the app store.

Superimpose ~ I wanted to adjust the exposure of the foreground part of the image (the hedge and the figure striding). The following process was adopted:

  • Import the previous image into Superimpose as both foreground and background:

  • Mask the area of the foreground I do not wish to edit. As this is a very uniform linear image, I use the linear masking tool to draw a shallow linear mask:

    Screen Grab

  • I wanted to boost the exposure of the unmasked section. This was done in the filters section. The result was saved with a ‘normal’ blending method:

    Screen Grab

Superimpose at the app store.

This is my base iPhoneography capture and at this point I can make my decisions about how I would like to convert the image to black and white. I can use either manual or automated processes or a combination of the two. Initially, I am going to focus on automated conversion processes. I liken these options to Photoshop Actions.

There are a wide range of iPhone photography apps providing this functionality but for the purposes of this article I am just going to focus on the three that I use the most at this moment in time:

Automated iPhone photography black and white conversion:

CameraBag 2

“Tired of the same old lo-fi filters? CameraBag 2 is the world’s first hi-fi photo app, giving you dozens of styles that can be applied easily but adjusted infinitely, all in a beautiful and intuitive interface with dead-simple sharing to your favorite social networks.” ~ CameraBag 2

CameraBag 2 Mobile includes dozens of adjustable photo styles (with new ones added regularly for free download in the Online Style Library within the app), the ability to save customized looks, and the ability to import advanced styles hand-made in CameraBag for Mac and PC. There are a number of black and white conversion filters included. My own favourite is Pinhole and this iPhoneography image was processed using it:

municipal - black and white street iPhone photography

{ municipal – camerabag 2 pinhole filter }

CameraBag 2 at the app store. iPhone / iPad.

Hipstamatic / Oggl

“Hipstamatic is a photography company aiming to inspire the world to live more beautifully and creatively. Through a variety of offerings, including Hipstamatic, Oggl, IncrediBooth, and Snap Magazine, Hipstamatic encourages its community to tap into their inner artist and use photography as a gateway back to creativity.” ~ Hipstamatic

Hipstamatic use the strap line ‘digital photography never looked so analog.’ The idea is that with a huge array of virtual lenses and films you create combinations to your taste and to suit the scene you are capturing. Hipstamatic itself requires that the lens and film combination be selected before you capture the image and it’s a favourite camera replacement capture app of mine, but useless for editing.

Oggl however is a different beast. Using the same lenses and films (your Hipstamatic purchases can be imported into Oggl) you can import an image captured on your favourite camera replacement app (ProCamera7 in my case) and apply the lens and film combination in post processing. The lenses each have a unique signature and all are colour as you would expect. The films provide further processing variations with a wide range of black and white options available. This version was processed using the classic John S Lens together with the US1776 black and white film:

oggl - john s lens / us1776 film

{ municipal – oggl – john s lens / US1776 film }

Hipstamatic and Oggl at the app store.


“This is about pouring every ounce of blood, sweat and tears into something worth believing in. This is about the power of art for art’s sake and the belief that a photo can change perspectives, moods and lives. This is about a worldwide movement of millions creating with reckless abandon for the love of craft and community.” ~ VSCOcam

Like CameraBag 2, VSCO has it’s origins in the desktop editing environment providing plugins and actions for packages such as Photoshop.

Skipology on the VSCO Grid

VSCOcam boasts a minimalist style gallery known at the VSCO grid. It is possible to follow grids. If you wish to view mine it can be found at skip.vsco.co.

They transfer that knowledge and skill into an app boasting a wide range of actions which they categorise into groups such as ‘vibrant’, ‘moody’, ‘fade’, … Within those categories each preset can be adjusted and there are a wide range of black and white actions available. This version was processed using the VSCO original action number 3:

vscocam - 3

{ municipal – VSCOcam 3 }

VSCOcam at the app store.

Manual iPhone photography black and white conversion:

Dramatic Black and White

“Referencing one of our favorite Ansel Adams quotes: ‘Great Black & White photos aren’t taken – they’re made’. Using Dramatic Black & White you can make your own black and white photographs, ones where light and contrast, grit and form come together to tell a story.” ~ Jixipix

Whilst Dramatic Black and White has a wide range of excellent presets, it gives full reign to manually control all aspects of the black and white conversion process. Along with Snapseed, Dramatic Black and White is my choice for manually converting iPhone images from colour to black and white.

Aspects such as vignette (spotlight), grain (texture), brightness, contrast, etc can all be adjusted as you would expect. However, the key area to consider when converting a colour image to black and white is the colour filter. This is where Dramatic Black and White just beats Snapseed. Dramatic Black and White includes red, green and blue filters which can be applied in combination to a total value of 100pct. For example 100% red, or if you prefer include all three but with weighting you define.

The images below of my daughter creating a freaky (optical illusion) shadow demonstrate the significant effect the filters have before brightness, contrast and other adjustments are considered. For reference her coat is red:

diptic dramaticbw titlefx

{ black and white conversion – colour filters }

Filters applied clockwise from top left – neutral / red / blue / green.

Dramatic Black and White at the app store. iPhone / iPad, or

Snapseed at the app store.

Colour filter theory

This is the Itten Color Wheel.

The theory typically applies to colour filters on analog cameras with black and white film. In simple terms the filter lightens its own colour and darkens its complimentary colour (the opposite colour on the wheel). In all forms of digital photography there is no real reason to use physical filters as the effects are simulated in post processing.

Typical uses:

  • Red: known as the landscape filter because it adds dramatic contrasts to cloudy skies.

  • Green: often used for flora / tree photography where the greens are lightened and highlighted. Also used in portrait photography where the complexion is suitable.

  • Blue: quite often regarded as a niche filter (probably why it is excluded from Snapseed). It tends to reduce contrasts and give images an old fashioned vintage feel.

Capturing in black and white directly:

Some people prefer to avoid post processing completely and capture the image in black and white. There are numerous specialist apps for this purpose.

Monochrome at Skipology

My own monochrome iPhoneography articles can be viewed at https://skipology.com/genre/monochrome-mobile-photography/

Those that I have used and recommend include:


This camera replacement app has a single purpose, to capture the best possible black and white images. There are various film emulation choices and brightness adjustments. Neutral, red, green, blue, yellow and orange colour filters can be applied and all the settings are reflected in the preview screen (the world is viewed in black and white through the colour filters you select). Images can be saved in full resolution TIFF format for maximum image quality.

MPro at the app store.

645 Pro Mk III

This is not a specialist black and white camera replacement app but shares much of the functionality of MPro. In fact it has many more film emulation choices available (not just limited to black and white) and many more filters available including neutral density and many many others all of which can be applied at a range from 0% density to 100% density. As with MPro, all the settings are reflected in the preview screen (the world is viewed in black and white if you select a black and white film and through the colour filters you select). Images can be saved in full resolution TIFF format for maximum image quality.

645 Pro Mk III at the app store.

Thirty Six App

As with other black and white apps the preview screen shows the world as the film sees it. This app is slightly different in that it is less about individual images and more about a collection of images. It is the iPhone photography equivalent of a roll of film. There are various colour and black and white ‘films’ to choose from some at 12 exposure square format and others at 36 exposure ’35mm’ format. Once all the exposures on the film have been taken the app ‘develops’ the film, presets you with a contact sheet together with the ability to save all or selected images to the camera roll.

Thirty Six at the app store.


Hipstamatic probably gives you the most authentic analog experience. It’s results are much less pure and technical in terms of colour filters, etc than MPro or 645 Pro Mk III. Additionally, depending on the lens and film combination you select, it’s results can be much more highly processed and random. However, the iPhone preview screen does not show what the image will look like once processed. It shows the real world colour view in exactly the same way as an analog camera loaded with black and white film would.

Hipstamatic at the app store.

Provoke Camera

Provoke was a short lived Japanese photography magazine from the late 1960s. It showcased abstracted images which were purposely grainy, blurry and out of focus. I use the app it inspired to directly capture in a high contrast black and white style.

I have an article devoted to Provoke Camera with some sameple images at my article ‘Provoke Photography – Foggy Lincoln‘.

Provoke Camera at the app store.


I am delighted that my iPhoneography article ‘black & white iPhone photography – { municipal }’ has been republished by The App Whisperer:

View this iPhoneography workflow at The App Whisperer.

We’re delighted to publish Paul Brown’s black and white iPhone Photography workflow tutorial. This iPhoneography workflow focuses on black and white photography. It touches on a combination of manual processes and quick automated processes via some powerful apps.

We have published several of Paul Brown’s workflows recently. Please take a look at our Paul Brown archive here. Over to you Paul

Joanne Carter


I hope you enjoyed my iPhone photography workflow and thoughts on black and white iPhone photography. Thank you for reading and I hope to see you again.



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  1. Jesse Aguilar says:

    Excellent job as usual Skip. My favorite way to view the world, every little bit of help and hints is much appreciated.

    • Paul Brown says:

      Thank you Jesse. My favorite way too. Even writing my posts I learn new things from double checking in apps or other people’s comments so we are all learning from each other.

  2. black & white iPhone photography - { munici... says:

    […] iPhoneography workflow focusing on black and white photography looking at a combination of manual processes and quick automated processes via powerful apps.  […]

  3. Jacob Dix says:

    I enjoyed this read. Educational. None of these apps are on Android, but it is your consideration for the details of the image that were so thought provoking. I’ll be thinking this over, as I’ve been exploring my own monochrome methods in more detail lately.

    Thanks bro!

    • Paul Brown says:

      Thank you Jacob. That’s great to read. Photography is photography at the end of the day – these are just tools but the principles are universal. I think VSCO and Snapseed are on Android but they didn’t get huge mentions.

  4. Tricia Seabold says:

    Excellent article Skip! After reading this I purchased a couple of new apps to add to my arsenal. 🙂 Thanks for always inspiring and educating.

  5. Peter Bryenton says:

    Thank you for showing us your workflow and thinking here.

    I believe that there is a whole process for photography, the core of which is about making choices. At the initial camera position we can often choose what to include or exclude, by working in time and space (move, wait, change the lens, pick an app, fix the exposure & focus points, etcetera). Then at the editing/post-production stage(s) we have many more options from which to choose (colour, contrast, tone, detail, cropping and so on).

    If we push the time line of this linear process (workflow) futher backwards, we can choose to set up to make our pictures in the day or at night, inside or outside, using available or artificial light … you can edd your own ideas here. My fundamental point is that the choices we make as photographers create the photographs we choose to make.

    • Paul Brown says:

      Hi Peter, all excellent points and the environment we choose to put ourselves in will help define how much control we have over a few of those. Take this image for example, it’s cold and wet, I have no protective gear so I can’t really set up. The simple fact is that I spot a scene about to unfold in my path – something that appeals to me (strides and the linear background and a gap in the traffic) but I have barely enough time to get my iPhone out of my pocket, unlocked and pointed where I want it to. This was a one tap shot and then back in the pocket to protect from rain. Often my situation is different – I find a location I like and sit and wait for something interesting to happen. That’s more my style really and all of your points then come into play re positioning, setup, etc

      The key question I ask myself time and again is how much choice did the image give me in the processing style I choose to adopt. My aim is always to have a full range of choices but failing that at least to understand what my choices are (including none!)

  6. MetaColor says:

    Excellent article. I colorizeof black and white photos at my website MetaColor and the color filter portion of the article was interesting to me.

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