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PAY EQUAL ATTENTION TO SHADOWGreat shadow detail can truly make a black and white photograph look amazing. When shooting film, this works to your advantage as you’ll have more detail in the shadow areas than if shooting digital. Look for interesting patterns and textures when working in shadows, and to obtain maximum detail, meter the darkest area of what you are photographing and bracket based on that reading.
That’s also one of the advantages of the poor dynamic range. The contrast on neutral colours is boosted.
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.
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!
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.
I particularly like how the light shining on the back of the subject’s head is emphasised by the dark figure behind him.
The answer is simple – there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
WHEN SHOOTING PEOPLE, IT’S ALL ABOUT THE EYESHave you ever noticed how Richard Avedon’s black and white portraits always have these ridiculously intense, piercing eyes? That’s because he bleached the eyes in his prints to lighten them. If you don’t want to mess with chemicals, you can also get this effect by dodging (both in the darkroom and/or in photo editing software.) If you’re an absolute purist, you can use a reflector but prepared for the model to squint.
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.
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.
KNOW YOUR FILMWhen shooting black and white film, your choice of film brand plays as significant a role as your lighting and camera settings. Grain size, contrast, sharpness, tonal range and push/pull factor will all vary with different types of black and white film. For example, many people rave about Ilford HP5 400 but personally I find it has too much contrast and grain for the type of black and white work I like to do. On the same note, Ilford FP4 tends to be my go-to black and white film because it’s extremely sharp, fine-grained and looks fantastic when pushed a stop or two. Everyone has their own specific taste and style when it comes to black and white photography and playing around with different types of film can help you find what works for you.
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.
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.
This still takes about 2 weeks or longer. I’m there regularly for printing anyway so it’s not too much of a problem.
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.
Once you understand how the film reacts to the light, you can use it as a creative tool in your photography.
That is my favourite reason for shooting on black and white film. You’re forced to hone your skills much faster.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography’s Photographer-In-Chief: Thank you for reading… CLICK HERE if you want to capture breathtaking images, without the frustration of a complicated camera. It’s my training video that will walk you how to use your camera’s functions in just 10 minutes – for free! I also offer video courses and ebooks covering the following subjects: Beginner – Intermediate Photography eBook Beginner – Intermediate Photography Video Course Landscape Photography eBook Landscape Photography Video Course Photography Blogging (Service) You could be just a few days away from finally understanding how to use your camera to take great photos! Thanks again for reading our articles!
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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.
PUSH AND PULLAs I just mentioned, I like to push FP4 a stop. A lot. Why? Because it gives that extra little pop of contrast, for black blacks and white whites. If you were going for a more faded, vintage, washed-out look, pulling your film a stop or two would help you achieve this effect. Pushing and pulling can also save you in difficult lighting situations when you don’t have another ISO available.
LEARN TO THINK IN BLACK AND WHITEIf you’re shooting in black and white, your biggest handicap is that your own eyes see in color. Color is vibrant and therefore dominating. Being able to perfectly visualize what you are looking at in black and white can massively improve your black and white photography. This is even more true if you are working in film, as you don’t have a screen which you can set to black and white. Learning to turn off your “color vision” is neither easy nor difficult – it just takes some practice. If you make the effort, it will happen. Look at black and white images as much as possible, and then try to imagine them in color. Observe how the light looks indoors and outdoors at different times of day, intensity of shadows, shapes, forms and textures – they all look different in black and white versus color.
For example, if you are photographing a woman wearing red lipstick, it will be gray or black in black and white (depending on the shade of red and intensity of color.) Green leaves look gray. Navy blue turns black. Over time, you will be able to look at any scene around you and be able to imagine it perfectly in black and white, with different degrees of contrast.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of my favourite things about shooting on film is how good skin looks.
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.
PAY ATTENTION TO LIGHTPaying attention to light is a basic tip for improving photography all together, considering photography is based on light. The way light falls on objects, landscapes and people is even more important in black and white, as there is no color information. The intensity of the light and how it interacts with the surroundings are key factors in black and white photography. If you’re using artificial light, you can control these factors. If you’re using natural light, you’ll need to learn to work them to your best advantage to achieve the style you want.The time of year, time of day and position in regards to the sun are factors to take into consideration when shooting with natural light. Sunlight at noon in June does not look the same as at noon in January. Considering you won’t be able to alter the color balance to fit the mood you want, these factors become even more important.
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.
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.