iPhone Photography Tutorials #1 – Easy Dramatic Black and White In The Film Noir Style

by Pu on April 5, 2011

I’ve been asked how I achieve a dramatic black and white look on photos taken with the iPhone. I have more than a way to do it, but today I am sharing one among the processes I follow.

Sometimes you take a photo, especially of some architectural detail or building, and it looks all right at the moment of shooting; then you take a look at your photo moments later and you realize it’s sort of forgettable. The light isn’t as great as you remembered it and the final picture has too much noise; perhaps the colors aren’t stunning either. Something tells you though that you still have some use for that shot, a detail perhaps, the shadow casting, a suggestive angle, and so on. How to improve this kind of photos, adding to them a dramatic twist in the style of old school film noir?

Apps needed: Film Lab, DXP.

1. Choose your average building photo, the one that didn’t turn out as you would have liked but that for some reason you still think has some potential. The photo can be taken simply with iPhone’s native camera, but you can use also shots taken with HDR apps or fake HDR apps, like Dynamic Light;

2. Open Film Lab. Choose Film Simulation -> Vintage -> Daguerreotype – High Contrast -> OK. This filter not only will turn the photo in a black and white with character, but will also enhance contrasts, bringing out the grain of iPhone shots taken in so-so lighting conditions. Adding the grain digitally usually doesn’t look very natural, so I always try to avoid it;

3. Still in Film Lab, go to Tool Box -> Brightness/Contrast. Increase contrast even more, so that dark areas look almost pitch black but light areas are still quite evident. Press OK and save when you are done;

4. Browse the Internet for some vintage looking black — or at any rate very dark — frame on white background, something that will give a flair to your photo without making it look extremely dirty or scratched. There are many textures you can use for free and/or in the Creative Commons on sites like Deviantart or Flickr — but there are many others besides these two. When you find something that suits your taste, save it. It doesn’t have to be a black and white frame, you can desaturate later;

5. Open DXP -> Load from Album. Choose your edited black and white image. Load From Album again and choose your frame. Make sure that in the Settings “fit to first image size” is selected, otherwise DXP will crop the image in the case the second picture is of a different size than the first. Tap on DXP Effect -> Multiply. Move the slider knob to 100%, towards the end of the slider;

6. In the case you are working with a colored frame, tap on Effects -> B&W. This will turn your final image to B&W and will also merge both layers. Save to Album.

7. If after merging the photo with the frame you want to further adjust contrast and brightness, you can go back to Film Lab and repeat step 3 till you like the final result.

That’s it! Pretty easy, uh?

Fernanda April 6, 2011 at 4:53 am

I have many pics like the ones you describe. I shall give this a go ^^

tanja November 25, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Interesting ideas. Please check this new blog about experimenting with smartphone photography, it may be interesting to you

katrina January 3, 2013 at 10:30 pm

This tip was really informative. I can count many times when I take photos of the world around me and look back at them to see that it wasn’t as great as I remembered it. My first response to this problem was always to delete the pictures. After reading your post, I will definitely try this tip in the future and save the pictures I take. I like how the black and white effect added depth to the photo and made it look very ominous. Could you create this effect with other apps or just with the apps that you used? Again great tip! Thanks for sharing.


Mary December 30, 2013 at 3:14 pm

I don’t understand how to re-set my iphone4 password. My nephew set it for me, now he can’t remember what it is. And all I’m getting is “Cancel” or “Retry”, I’m pulling my hair out. Please help if you have any tips.

Pu December 30, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Mary, do you have a backup? To reset the password you will need to reset the device. These are the instructions from Apple’s site: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1414

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