Form and shape are all-important in black and white photography. When looking for a good shot, look beyond the colours in a scene and instead focus you attention on the shapes. Arrange them in a way that emphasises the most interesting aspect of the shape, or creates an intriguing composition of different shapes.
You can use contrast to help your main subject stand out – for example by photographing a light subject against a dark background – and also to add depth by including a variety of tones and shades in your photo.
Texture used as a supportive element will make your photo compositionally more complex. It will emphasise the atmosphere or ‘feel’ around the subject.
When beginning to shoot textures, I would suggest that you experiment with something like a 24-70 mm or a 70-200 mm lens. Avoid going both wider or narrower than this spectrum. I often use a 24-70 mm when I use texture as only one of many elements. I can include more in the frame.
Black and white photography offers a unique perspective on many subjects. Removing colour brings out the hidden details, textures, and shapes.
Use contrast to help separate and define the objects in your scene. Image by gualtiero.
Textures add a real depth to a photo, drawing the viewer into it. Image by Ronn Aldaman.
In black and white photography, textures add interest to your photos by providing tonal variance and detail densely concentrated in certain areas of the frame.
You can, of course, also opt to fill the entire frame with a texture. Let the photo be all about its details. This turns your photo into a more abstract, artistic creation.
You should aim for an aperture at around f/8, so that every part of the photo stays sharp.
Good lighting is essential in bringing out all of the above qualities. Image by Sean McGrath.
That depends on both the angle to your subject and whether you have other elements in your photo that you want to include along with the texture. Let us discuss the latter first.
Having an emphasis on texture in your photos can help you make the overall photo stronger. Being able to see surface details enables the viewer to get a better feel for your subject and location. It adds character and atmosphere to your composition.
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This article will help you learn how to capture sharp, compelling textures in your images.
To help you begin to think in black and white you can either go for a walk at night or even dusk when the darkness muffles the colors and you can actively look for textures, or you can do the following exercise.
Black and white photography can be largely boiled down to five key concepts. Developing your familiarity with them will help you take more informed black and white shots, and the same concepts can also be used to improve your colour photos.
Most times you can get away with hand-holding your camera. As long as you can use a shutter speed fast enough to eliminate any camera shake. If light is limited or if you use a small aperture, use a tripod to avoid shaking with slower shutter speeds.
In a photo like this the emphasis is on the patterns, structure, lines, and curves of the texture. Together, they form an artistically appealing whole.
In reality a black and white photo can often look even more stunning and captivating than the colour equivalent. Colour can sometimes act as a distraction in a photo, and removing it can help to re-focus the viewer’s attention on the intended subject.
Lighting is absolutely key to a good black and white photograph because it affects all of the above elements – shape, contrast, pattern and texture.
Too often I thought I’d gotten a sharp handheld shot, only to find out that I had moved a few inches, which threw the subject out of focus. When capturing texture, you want it to be sharp and crisp.
When you remove colour from an image you can no longer rely on it to provide interest or a focal point in a scene. This may seem obvious but it can be easy to forget. By doing away with colour we also remove one of the most potentially distracting elements in a photo.
Side lighting often produces the most dramatic black and white photos. It picks out the edges of shapes and increases contrast by adding highlights, and the shadows it creates add interest to the scene as well as enhancing textures and patterns.
When including textures in your black and white photography, it is crucial to get close enough for the details to have a real impact. Don’t be afraid to let the texture dominate an image. Often you need to get very close to the subject to do this. If this means that you cannot include some of the elements that you intended, you will have to switch to a wide-angle lens.
Close your eyes and imagine you are looking out your window (or keep your eyes open and look out your window) and as you are watching, all the color drains away until all that’s left are the blacks, grays, and whites of the world in the place of color. What do you notice first? The new fallen leaves against the freshly cut grass? The paint that has started peeling off your patio? The bright reflection of the sun off the water of your child’s kiddie pool? The jumble of tumbleweeds in the corner of your yard?
For example, yellow and green colours convert to nearly the same grayscale tone. If the texture you intend to capture is mostly yellow and green colours, the photo will most likely turn out very flat (in terms of tone).
Texture can be especially eye-catching in black and white photos. In the absence of colour, variations in surface details can add variety, drama, and even levels of storytelling to compositions. Black and white texture photography can leave you with stunning results. But it can also be frustrating when the texture doesn’t show as much as you had hoped for in the final result.
In general photographing textures depends more on lighting than the type of camera you use. You should be able to take good photos of textures with nearly any camera.
When we photograph in black and white, the mind no longer has that colour information to work with, and so pays more attention to elements such as texture, making them appear much more prominent.
When thinking about your lighting, consider how it will influence all of these factors, and choose a setup that enhances as many as possible.
Black and white photography can be all about texture. Color is no longer a crutch or handicap that keeps you from noticing other aspects of your pictures. When you are out photographing and know you are planning on converting them to black and white, you should alter your mode of thinking slightly so you are taking in different nuances than those that you would be seeing when shooting color pictures.
In the same way that patterns can be lost in colour photography, textures can be too. When we see a colour photo, our mind immediately begins to identify and label the elements in the scene, meaning that we often do not really “see” the photo, but instead see our mind’s interpretation of it.
Texture photographed as the subject itself can produce some pleasing fine art images. These will explore the visual qualities of a surface.
Once you get into a habit of looking for it, though, you will find that there are many more opportunities to include texture in black and white photography (and ordinary colour photography) than you had previously realised.
When you create black and white photos that emphasise texture, pay attention to textures in your environment and apply the approaches above.
Many patterns, particularly subtle ones, often go unnoticed in colour photos, because the colours draw attention away from the pattern itself. Black and white photography gives you a much better chance of capturing interesting patterns because it focuses the viewer’s attention on the shapes formed by the elements in a scene.
The textures you find can be quite subtle. For example, surfaces showing the wear of time which makes them stand out distinctly and pleasingly. Think of a spot of rust on the motor hood of a car or paint wearing off a wooden boat.
If the texture is part of a complex composition, where you want to show the texture and only hint at what is in the background, you have the choice of using a shallow depth of field with an aperture such as f/4-5.6 to keep only the texture in focus, but this might render other important elements in your photo too soft.
Below you’ll find some tips to become better at capturing textures in black and white photography. It doesn’t matter if you’re creating a black and white photo that is all about texture or just emphasising texture as part of a larger composition. With these key points in mind, you will get better results.
Another benefit of using a tripod is that you can switch to live view and zoom in, while setting focus manually, to be 100% sure you nailed the focus.
Colours that are next to each other on the colour wheel (and with similar luminosity) will convert to similar grey tone values. These offer very little contrast, which will make your photo look flat.
If the photo you have in mind is all about the texture, you will get better results if you exclude anything else by framing your image so that nothing is happening in the frame or corners. Also remember to get a few shots where you capture only part of the texture, selecting the most interesting parts of the texture.
In cases where you want to capture just a beautiful texture and nothing else, you only need the depth of field to cover the entire texture. If you don’t want to shoot the texture flat on, you will still need to stop down the f-number. This way you’ll include the entire texture without losing detail.
Make sure to check the sharpness on your LCD screen afterwards. There is nothing worse than coming home only to discover that large areas of the texture you’ve shot have a soft focus.
Close-up textures often result in stronger images because getting that much closer means you can better control how the lines enter and exit the frame. Of course, a macro lens will help you get right up to the surfaces of your subject so you can reveal even finer details and texture.
Texture evokes the viewer’s tactile sense. If you do it right, people will almost want to touch your photos. Just to see if they can actually feel the texture that you’ve captured.
You can capture black and white texture photos with any DSLR, mirrorless, or even compact camera. Some cameras will be able to capture detail better than others.
Without differences in colour to separate elements in your scene, you must instead introduce contrasting shades into your black and white photos.
If you want to enhance texture, you will get the best results if you avoid direct light. Outdoors, you’ll want to avoid harsh midday sunlight, as the light at this time of day illuminates everything very strongly from above or in front of your subject. This fills small cracks and irregularities surfaces, creating a flattening effect which prevents the texture from appearing as clearly.
So what should you look for when searching for compelling textures?
So what depth of field should you use to capture texture in your black and white photos?
Every lens, whether it’s a standard kit lens, a dedicated macro lens, a wide-angle lens, or a telephoto zoom lens can capture beautiful black and white texture photos. Of course, you get a very different look when using a wide-angle and a telephoto lens.
For the best results with texture photography using natural light, you should take your photos when the sun is low in the sky, during the golden hour. At this time you subject will be lit from the side which will make tiny shadows appear wherever there is a crack or crevice.
There’s a whole world of textures out there. Experiment with the tips, techniques, and approaches discussed here. With a little practice you’ll be able to use texture to create some striking effects in your black and white photos.
When doing black and white texture photography, you still see your subject in colour. However, you should keep in mind that not all the colour contrast and variation that you see will be visible in the black and white photo.
The emphasis is on the fur covering the eyes on this Scottish Highland Bull. Its texture gives the viewer a sense of being almost able to touch the animal.
Now just replace your window with your camera lens. Pull the color out of your consideration and take in the world on a different scale. Then start snapping away at the textures that call to you and your camera.
If you must use a flash make sure it is an external, off-camera flash. This way you can ensure that the light from the flash comes at an angle towards your subject.
Patterns stand out much more when photographed in black and white. Image by Rishi Menon.
When thinking in black and white, different things draw your attention. It’s no longer the vivacious colors of the flowers but instead it may be the texture of the rose petals with dew on them. Shapes, contrasts, textures, layers, depth, and light become more prevalent factors in how you guide the viewer’s eye through your pictures.
However, you should avoid using an on-camera flash when including texture in your photos. This will most likely light up the small shadows that would otherwise enhance the texture.
Great textures often include repetition of some kind. Lines or curves that repeat into a pattern. Keep an eye out for dense bunches of forms such as wood grain, rock striations, bubbles and foam, etc. Organic materials often have some kind of natural texture.
Shape and form become more obvious in the absence of colour. Image by Diego.
Black and white photography is sometimes treated as the “poor relation” of colour photography. After all, why limit yourself to shades of gray when you can use the entire spectrum of colours?
When I’m trying to make a black and white photo which only seeks to be visually stimulating and interesting, I will switch to a longer focal length, like a 70-200 mm lens.
Using an aperture of f/4 with the wood on the boat closest to the camera as the focus point, its texture is emphasised. Whereas the old boat in the background almost blends with the ground both in tones and in sharpness.
Flash can help bring out textures, as shadows help create definition and reveal surface details.
In this case, it would be better to opt for a depth of field that gives you a wider range of compositional elements in focus, so you will want to stop down to a smaller aperture (f/11, for example) to achieve a greater DOF. After all, you’re including these elements in the frame to help you tell a story, right?
It may seem obvious, but one of the first steps to including more textures in your black and white photos is to actively seek them. Texture is often easy to overlook. Fine details are not always the most apparent thing in subjects.
This will exaggerate the texture and the perception of details, with the bonus of adding beautiful evening light to your photo. Shadows are especially important in black and white texture photography for keeping a good tonal contrast in your photo, ensuring that you have both bright and dark tones in your image.
Every type of lens has its pros and cons. A wide-angle lens introduces distortion. But it can be difficult to include enough of the texture with a telephoto lens if you cannot take a step back and position yourself in a good spot.