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The answer is simple – there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.
This black and white photography guide will also assume a few things:
The light is harder to control but, when you expose a photo correctly with the light in the right places, the results can be much more dramatic.
One of my favourite things about shooting on film is how good skin looks.
I particularly like how the light shining on the back of the subject’s head is emphasised by the dark figure behind him.
You don’t have this option when shooting on film. So you really have to pay attention to what it is that you want to capture and how it’s going to look in black and white.
Once you understand how the film reacts to the light, you can use it as a creative tool in your photography.
The effects produced and the parameters you have to work within are very different from any other type of photography. This can produce some very interesting results – results that you may associate with a much older style of photography.
This really bothered me the first time I got my film back because I didn’t know about it before I shot. I hadn’t adjusted my shooting style to match it.
We have a great post on how to digitize film photos you should check out. Or how about trying our black and photography challenge to keep improving your work!
This added pressure of wasting money on the film and development means that you become a much more careful photographer. You consider how else each photo could be taken before actually taking it.
Had I shot the photo above on colour film, you’d be able to see the subject with no problem. When shooting on black and white film, it’s important to determine where the light illuminates the subject and work around that.
You are using a 35mm SLR (single-lens reflex) camera with manual controls. This camera is not only the most popular option for 35mm film but is also the camera most commonly used by beginners. Some 35mm SLR cameras offer automatic controls.
These automatic controls will be discussed in brief as appropriate. You are using black and white film that can be processed with standard developers. A few black and white films are designed to be processed the same way color film is processed (known as C-41 processing).
While these films can certainly provide good results and be printed like standard black and white film, they cannot be developed in the traditional black and white developer.
Take the photo below for example. I knew when I shot it that the left-hand side of the photo was going to be underexposed and that the right would be overexposed. This actually worked out really well.
You rely much more on composition, texture, shape and form to create a good photo, so you have to look for this before you shoot, not after.
For many beginner film photographers, black and white photography is the first step as black and white film is generally easier to work with, develop, and print. Black and white film is much more flexible in the development process when compared to the rather stringent needs of color film. As such, many schools, universities, and other darkrooms are setup specifically for black and white photography and not color.
Topic 1: Black and White Film Overview Topic 2: Preparing your 35mm Camera for Use Topic 3: How to Use the Film Camera Topic 4: Exposing Black and White Film Topic 5: Preparing Black and White Film for Development Topic 6: Developing Black and White Film Topic 7: Intro to the Darkroom Topic 8: Printing a Contact Sheet Topic 9: First Black and White Print
That’s also one of the advantages of the poor dynamic range. The contrast on neutral colours is boosted.
In my post on film photography, I talk in detail about how shooting on film helps to hone your skill. You think a lot more about what you’re doing before taking each photo, rather than wasting a piece of 35mm film.
That being said, there are still places around that do it at a reasonable price to a good standard. But black and white is a lot harder to get done.
This still takes about 2 weeks or longer. I’m there regularly for printing anyway so it’s not too much of a problem.
I’ve written about film photography and I’ve written about black and white photography. You’re probably wondering why I’m writing about black and white film photography.
I urge everyone to start shooting on film as soon as possible. There’s a good chance you won’t be able to experience it in the future.
I have noticed over the past 2 years that development is getting more expensive. It’s also taking longer to do and film is becoming harder to find. If we take that as a sign of things to come, it doesn’t look too good.
My nearest lab that will actually develop it in-house is about 25 miles away. This isn’t really a lot of use as the development process itself takes a while. Instead, I take mine to my nearest major lab, who send off for it.
The first thing you’ll notice when you get a roll of black and white film developed (particularly with the brand of film that I use: Ilford HP5 Plus) is that the dynamic range is a lot worse than what you’re used to with digital and colour film.
Black and white film in particular makes the skin look great. The natural grain adds texture and detail, while the lack of colour emphasises the tone of the skin.
While Guide to Film Photography has hundreds of pages regarding film photography as it pertains to both color and black and white photography, we feel that having a concise primer for black and white photography will be helpful for those looking for a quick overview. Whenever possible this black and white photography tutorial will link to other helpful pages for further review if you would like to learn more.
Black and white film photography is all of this and more. Normally, when I take black and white photos, I shoot in colour first and convert it afterwards. This gives me more options in post production.
That is my favourite reason for shooting on black and white film. You’re forced to hone your skills much faster.
Mistakes can get pretty expensive if you’re not sure what you’re doing with your film camera. This forces you to quickly learn what you’re doing wrong.
You need to be really careful about this. You’ll find that even landscape shots don’t come out properly, let alone photos of people indoors.
35mm film and development is becoming increasingly scarce. This is because some of the major developers are getting rid of their wet labs, only doing digital printing.
Please also note that it would be nearly impossible to create a concise black and white photography guide by mentioning every single camera system, darkroom process and equipment, or even available film. This guide will provide general overviews that will apply to the majority of standard equipment and processes.