Wednesday, 7 December 2011

An art form that preceeds Kodachrome

In the infancy of photography, photographers had no choice but to shoot in black and white. Then, in 1936, the invention of kodachrome offered the alternative of colour photography to the world. Surprisingly enough though, black and white photography did not die off, instead it flourished as a popular medium. Modern black and white photography is unmistakably art, and many photographers regard it as the purest form of photography.

Some will say that nothing but B&W photos can capture the emotion and convey the mood of a photo better. Colors can be stunning, and really add to an image’s beauty, but they can also work as a distraction, especially if you have a lot of bright colours causing confusion.

Black-and-white photography consists of 5 key concepts, below, I have offered 5 tips that you can use to adapt these concepts to your images.

When you are shooting black-and-white photographs you should look beyond the colors and focus on the shapes that surround you. Colors tend to take away your focus on shapes, so forget about them when you are out looking for good places to capture.

“Look at the world through monochrome eyes” I was once told.
Easier said than done for a fledgling photographer that was still struggling with the exposure triangle of aperture, shutter speed and ISO… so here is a tip I learned long after I was told to look through my monochrome eyes… go buy a square black and white filter or an grey ND filter. Look at a scene through that filter and train your eyes and brain to see how a black and white image will look completely different than a colour image.

OK, here I am talking out of the other side of my mouth now… It is still prudent to not completely forget about colors when shooting black-and-white photographs. There is always contrast between dark and light colors but also between shadows and lighting.

Try shooting a light subject against a dark background. Try to photograph bright colours against dark colours, a soft pale green against a blue background… Do this in order to understand that contrast adds some depth. I might also suggest that you take a look at the color wheel… see what colors contrast each other, and learn how they interact with each other.

Patterns can be hard to express in a color image. Colours tend to draw the eye because we are naturally attracted to colours like red and orange. Colours will distract the viewer’s attention and possibly miss the pattern you were trying to bring forth. With black-and-white photography this is not an issue. The pattern will stand out more, so, when shooting black and white… watch for patterns. They are everywhere, and the experienced photographers use them to their advantage.

In black-and-white photos you should be paying much more attention to texture. The reason is that the color information is not being picked up by the brain. Nothing is there to distract the viewer to really “see” the photo the way it was meant to be seen.

This last element is very important because it will affect all of the others that are mentioned above. You can play with lighting in so many different ways. Side lighting can for example create a dramatic effect. Lighting a subject below ads a sinister feeling and creates emotions. Illumination from above can convey peace and tranquility. Dead on flash from the camera that is too intense, well that will just over expose the image and possibly end up in the trash folder.

Now that we have gone through the elements that you need to pay attention to when taking black and white images… use them as a guideline and play with them when you are out shooting. Paying attention to these details will separate your images from the rest.

So now let’s discuss a few points about you and your camera

You as a photographer
There are two types of black and white imagery in my mind. Some may disagree as you get more complex, but for the sake of this article… let’s keep it simple. There are “high contrast” black and white images and there are images that have more midtones and do not reach out to the edges of the whites and blacks on your histogram.

High contrast images convey more reactionary emotion while even flowing grey tone photos are softer and offer more subtlety… Which type of photographer are you? I am not saying you have to be one or the other. I am just saying, pick a style, master it, and move to the other style. Find out where you are comfortable and where your style allows you to go.

Your Camera and Software
If you are intentionally heading out the front door with the conscious thought of taking back and white photos… a few good tips for digital SLR users are
1) Shoot in the RAW format (which you should do for the best quality colour to black and white conversions anyway)
2) You could set the Picture Style, or shooting mode to a black and white mode. The photo will be displayed in black and white on the camera’s LCD screen… BUT, because you shot in RAW, you will still have all the colour information in the RAW file for your conversion afterwards.
3) Maybe grab your ND filters or black and white filters if you do not want to shoot in black and white. This will eliminate the colours when you are out shooting.
4) One last thought… you might have your own software, perhaps Photoshop – or any one of a dozen or so programs. Any of these will do a better job at black and white digital photography than your camera will. Think of it this way – your camera is specially designed to capture photographs. Your software is specially designed to "edit" photographs. Do you really want to ask your camera to do a job that your software is designed to do? Just sayin…

See More Examples of Black and White Images Here

Happy Shooting in monochrome,