Another way to improve your black-and-white photos taken at midday is to break out your 10-stop neutral density filter. If there are clouds in the picture, it will give them a sense of movement. If there is water in the picture, it will smooth it out. You can see and example of this in the top picture in this article, which has both clouds and water. Of course, this works for color pictures as well, but it seems to work particularly well with black and white images.
Next you have her upper body, where her soft skin compliments the soft bokeh blur of the blue bells in the background, while still managing to contrast.
It doesn’t matter where you try this exercise, just as long as it is a familiar place or subject so you can always go back and do color versions later after seeing it through a black and white perspective.
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An added benefit of shooting at this location being that the artist, Randall Sinnamon, is also an art teacher so I asked him for some tips on working in black and white.
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“I often look at my paintings in the moonlight, the low light allows you to see the balance of shapes. You can also to this by squinting, or turning your image upside down. Considering I often work with charcoal and ink I tend to do a lot of black and white. It’s nice to just do a drawing and not worry about the color. Sometimes color can be an unnecessary complication. There is a lot of beauty in black and white, with so much color photography we still see a lot of black and white work, obviously there is something appealing about it. It simplifies things.”
You might notice when trying this exercise that an image that can look like a busy mess in color can become elegant in black and white. Photographing outdoors in the middle of the day can work well too, we color photographers so often prefer the softer light of morning or evening, midday light can add harsh shadows or too much contrast, but black and white photography loves contrast. It also loves patterns and repetition.
The worst part about digital noise, in my opinion, is the colour of the grain. It usually comes through as some dodgy brown and blue haze on the photo, and I really hate that. But when you’re shooting in black and white, it’s really not so important anymore, because you’re not going to see it like that.
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I had photographed this rocky part of the local beach a few times as a landscape image, always included the area’s amazing colors. A day of black and white changed my perspective. This image and the first one in this article where later commissioned for a guitar duo’s album artwork. A surprising result from a simple exercise.
I know it’s black and white, but if you shoot in colour, you have more options when it comes to editing it later. It’s really simple, when you shoot in colour, you get three colour channels, red, green, and blue. When you convert the photo to monochrome, you can adjust each channel to change how the black and white looks.
Finally, you have her dress at the bottom of the frame. Looking at it now, it probably wasn’t the best choice, because it can seem to look a little bit lost in the frame, but this again enhances the contrast in the photo.
If you don’t believe me, just to check out the work of photography masters. I initially noticed this when looking at the work of Ansel Adams, who many – myself included – consider the greatest photographer ever. A large number of his photos are obviously taken at midday. For example, check out Monolith, the Face of Half Dome (1927). Yosemite Winter Valley (1940), Canyon de Chelly National Monument (1942), Mount Williamson (1944). and Half Moon and Clouds (1968).
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Once you challenge yourself to let go of the beauty of the colors in your usual color subjects your approach can change dramatically. It becomes more about tones, patterns, contrast and mood. You can end up photographing your regular subject entirely differently when you start to play more with shapes, patterns and designs you might otherwise not have noticed when color is involved.
Photographing in black and white for a day can help you see tones and shapes better, which you can then apply to compositions in your color photography.
Of course sometimes it just makes sense to photograph in color. But this exercise can help with working out what does and doesn’t work in either camera setting.
Please share your black and white midday photos in the comment below.
It’s now Day 3 in my 30 Day Photography Challenge, and today’s challenge is to tackle the black & white photos. This isn’t my first time that I’ve covered black and white, and you can read about it here, and here. I suggest that you should, but for the sake of this article, I’m going to give you a run down.
Because you will be less tempted to switch to color when you can always go back and shoot color next time. If you are constantly tempted to switch back, you will keep seeing and thinking in terms of color and the point of the exercise is to see your familiar subject differently and hopefully start seeing it in a way that will then help you out with your color photography.
I love to set myself little exercises to stretch my photographic muscles. I thought I might share one that has been most beneficial to me, photographing a familiar place or subject you would normally do in color, in only in black and white for a day, with the aim of getting a new perspective that could prove helpful when you go back to color.
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I’ve done more post processing to this photo than I would with most, and that’s because I can get away with it much easier. I’ve changed the exposure, black point, contrast, saturation, vibrancy, highlights, and added a vignette. I wouldn’t normally do this much with colour photography, but here’s the result.
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All of these photos were obviously taken at midday. You can tell by the bright light and shadows. But they are all still great pictures. In fact, some of them are among his best. Why is that?
By doing this simple exercise both my beach subjects and compositions changed. Some images I would normally take that looked lovely in color looked washed out and a bit nothing, and vice versa, something that just didn’t look so wonderful no matter how many times I color photographed them, suddenly worked. Things like graininess became a bonus rather than something to avoid.
Because once you take the color out of the picture your awareness of other compositional elements such as tone and contrast increase. It also makes you photograph differently and look at your subject in a different way.
Why is that? I think it is because black and white photos are already unnatural; obviously, the world is not black and white. When you look at a black and white photo, your mind knows that it is not an accurate representation of reality. If the processing is pushed a little further, your mind accepts it more readily.
I cheated. Again. I’d like to pretend it was for the purpose of this article, but really I couldn’t say no to that orange color. Yet when photographing this fungus outside the studio, the orange was distracting, and when I looked at the black and white version, I realized composition wise, things could have been better.
The other reason why black and white photos taken at midday can still look great, is that they seem to handle processing better than color photos. In other words, you can push the processing further with a black and white photo and get away with it. This was true in the darkroom, and it is also true today with digital tools.
I’ve photographed this tie collection in the artists studio before in color, but this time without the distration of color, it became about the patterns and repetition and worked much better.
Perhaps, for this reason, this is one area where HDR can still be a really useful technique. There is much discussion these days about HDR being dead. To be sure, almost no one in photography likes the HDR look (oddly, 100% of non-photographers do like that look). In addition, there are a lot of great tools these days for dealing with dynamic range problems without resorting to HDR. Nevertheless, black and white photos are one area where HDR is still very useful. Since there is no color, part of the surreal nature of HDR is avoided. In addition, the same phenomena mentioned above about being able to push the processing further in black and white is at work.
Her body is broken up into sections, at the top you have her face, which is in the tree section of the background. This is the first contrast, with only very light shadows on her face.
That is not to say that you cannot over do processing in black and white, you can. But it does offer you a little more flexibility.
But this is black and white, what are you talking about Josh?
This possibly doesn’t sound like much of a challenge, and won’t be if you shoot mainly in black and white already, but for those of us used to color, it can be a real challenge not to cheat by shooting in color and converting later, or quickly switch settings back to color every now and then. I confess to failing the challenge pretty much every time, but the exercise has proven fruitful regardless.
I first did this exercise some years ago during my regular walk along local beaches. It’s a stunning place with white sands and crystal blue water. You don’t have to be a fantastic photographer to capture a pretty image when surrounded by the beautiful colors of the water and the skies in this place.
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At the same time, I understand that you cannot always photograph at dusk or dawn. Family and work commitments limit us all. We cannot always get up so early or stay out so late. Some places aren’t even open or accessible at dawn. Is there anything else that can be done if you have to shoot in the middle of the day?
So set your camera to black and white, and head out, or even photograph your own home or backyard. No cheating. OK, maybe a little cheating if the color is just too hard to resist. I wouldn’t want you to miss out on a brilliant shot. But do try to stick to it, keeping your eye out for situations with patterns, tones, shapes, contrasts without thinking about color can really make a difference to how you later compose your images. Remember this is just an exercise, you don’t have to get the perfect shot here, relax and enjoy the change. It’s as good as a holiday so they say.
Here’s the photo in colour, after all the post processing that I did, with the exception of the enhance section (I’ll get to that). This is before the change to black and white.
When you change it to black and white though, you can barely tell what I’ve done to it, although you can probably tell that there has been some changes made to the photo.
If you would like to keep track of the 30 Day Photography Challenge, come on over to my Facebook page, Twitter and/or Pinterest, and share your photos with me and the rest of the community. The best ones will be included in these posts. Alternatively, you can leave a comment below. (Note: if you’re linking from Facebook, be sure to ‘copy image address’).
The smoothness of the model’s skin, very nicely contrasts with the texture of the background, and the form of her body encourage you to explore her shape more.
If you do try the exercise, please share you favorite results in the comments below. Or perhaps you have some other simple exercise idea you’ve tried that you would like to share with our readers. Happy photographing.
There is one way that you can still take great photos in the middle of the day. That way is to convert them to black and white. Black and white photos frequently work much better than color photos in this regard.
Portrait of artist Randall Sinnamon. As he said, “Black and white simplifies things”. The colors in this image were distracting, they bounced around too much, where as in black and white it calmed things down and we are more able to focus on the mood, the joy of his smiling face in the sun.
Whether you are a landscape, portrait or any other type of photographer it can be fun and beneficial to take a slightly more restricted approach. Much like a free form poet suddenly attempting a haiku, the limitations of the haiku format insist on a completely different attack requiring a stretching of creativity.
Improve Your Middle of the Day Photos By Doing Black and White
I have previously written about how and why photos taken at dawn and dusk are vastly superior to those taken at midday, so I won’t do so again here. I have also talked about a few things you can do to mitigate the damage of the midday sun. But that’s all you are doing – mitigating the problem – not solving it.
It’s really a challenge sticking to black and white when in a location like this, full of gorgeous colors.
“Contrast is the balance between the extremes of black and white, with tone being the gradation of black and white, you use them both to create form. It’s the placement of these elements that creates your composition. If you get these things right then the picture works. It’s often good to have some larger shapes of light or dark in a composition.”
You might not be keen to try it again but it can be a learning experience and you might just get a decent photograph out of the experience. For this article I tried the exercise again at another familiar place I have photographed many times. An artists studio where I often work on collaborations.
Sometimes beginning photographers ask me to look at their photos and tell them how they can make the photos better. Nearly every time this happens I end up saying the same thing, “You need to stop taking your pictures in the middle of the day.”
Why does the same picture taken at midday look horrible in color, but pretty good as a black and white? One reason is that black and white pictures handle high contrast really well. That is not to say their dynamic range is any different, but that these pictures look great when there is high contrast within them. In fact, black and white pictures crave high contrast. Color pictures, on the other hand, don’t always do well with stark contrasts. Therefore photographing at midday – with all of its bright areas and dark shadows creating high contrast – can look really nice as a black and white photo.
When you shoot in black and white, it’s more important to consider form, shape, and contrast than anything else. When you remove the colour details, your attention is focused onto other elements of the photos, like removing one of your senses. The black and white also helps them to stand out.
I still maintain that the number one thing you can do to improve your photographs is to start shooting at dawn or dusk. It costs nothing, and you don’t even have to increase your skills to make vast improvements. You just have to get up earlier, or stay out a little later. But for those occasions when that is just not possible, try converting some of your photos to black and white. The high contrast might look good on your photo. In any case, you’ll be able to push the processing a little further. It might prove an easy way to make your photos better.