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It’s tempting to think that white balance doesn’t matter if you’re going to remove the color, but because the success of any conversion relies on successfully translating colors into attractive tones, it’s important to capture an image without any colour casts.
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It’s easy to think that because you don’t need bright colors you can shoot black and white photography in any light or in any weather.
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Subjects that rely on contrasting colors – such as a purple crocus against a green lawn – generally don’t work well in black and white. This is because the two colors will end up looking similar in tone when converted.
I have a few friends who are into Black and White photography and I asked them what it was that attracted them to it. Here are a few of their reasons for getting a little obsessed with Black and White:
There’s no absolute right or wrong when it comes to choosing a subject for black and white photography, but you’ll come across subjects and scenes that rely on colour for their impact, and also lighting conditions that don’t work well in monochrome.
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The timeless quality of black and white photography makes it a must-try subject for any photographer to try.
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Which do you prefer – Black and White or Color?What do you like about your preference? Have you experimented much with Black and White digital photography? Interested to hear your thoughts in comments below.
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If the big response to the assignment is anything to go by readers of this blog LOVE black and white photography too (I’ve used a few of the images submitted in the assignment on this post to whet your appetite).
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It’s certainly true that with some skilful conversion and adjustment in Photoshop post-shoot you can add drama , but the sturdier the building blocks the better your finished image will be.
Variety“I find the creative process with black and white images is so… artistic. It’s like molding clay – you can shape it into a myriad of shapes. Black and White images can be strong, high contrast and powerful – or they can be so soft, gentle and subtle.” – Belle
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Of course the black and white vs color debate is a very personal one. For every person I ask who loves shooting mono there are others who much prefer the vibrancy of color photography.
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Look beyond colors, and try to visualise how shapes, textures and tones will be recorded
One of the questions I’m being asked about more and more lately is about Black and White Digital Photography.
The success of your black-and-white shots relies on several different factors, but the main thing to look out for is a main subject that will appear in a significantly different shade of grey to the background. Then look out for subtleties of tone and texture that will add depth to your images.
When it comes to black-and-white imagery, being able to ‘see’ how your final shot will look is a key skill. It’s important to understand how the color image you see through your camera’s viewfinder or on the rear screen will translate into a striking monochrome image. To get the best results, you have to look beyond the colours, and instead try to visualise how a shot’s shapes, textures and tones will be recorded.
One of the fundamental aspects of black and white photography is that your whole composition relies on contrast (for on composing images, see our 10 rules of photo composition – and why they work). For this reason, look out for subjects that feature simple, strong lines and shapes. It’s often the shadows that define shape and form, so pay attention to areas of darkness, as well as light.
So, unless you’re trying to create a minimalist image it’s worth taking the time to capture maximum detail in the best lighting conditions possible.
Black and white photos actually include a whole range of greys, which add subtlety to your images. Normally, you look for subjects that will translate into a range of tones from black to white, but you can also get great results where the subject is mostly light (high-key) or dark (low-key).
UPDATE: Learn more about Black and White Photography with our new Essential Guide to Black and White Photography.
In our expert guide, we’ll show you how to see in mono, choose your subjects, set up your camera and then explore how simple but effective adjustments in Photoshop or Lightroom can make your images really stand out.
Versatility“I love that it’s a format that suits almost any type of photography. Portraits, landscapes, urban landscapes, architecture. Not only that, it’s a medium that adapts really well to all lighting situations. Whereas color photography often works best on sunny days or in brightly lit studios – low light just makes a black and white image moody.’ – Sol
Fine detail, or strong textures such as weather-beaten stone, foliage or clouds, can help to give your black-and-white shots depth and interest. Strong side lighting is perfect for bringing out the texture in any subject. You can use strong natural light, or get creative with flash to create side-lighting on the subject.
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When you use photo-editing software to remove the color from an image you instantly lose one element that the viewer relies on to interpret the scene. So other elements become even more important for successful black and white images.
As I said yesterday in the post announcing our Black and White Assignment it seems as though Black and White images are making something of a comeback of late as digital camera owners rediscover the beauty of mono images.
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Black and white images need strong compositions to really work. Keep an eye out for strong lines or features in your scene that can be used as leading lines, or positioned diagonally across the frame to create dynamic images.
Subtlety of Tones“I love the subtlety of tones that black and white images can have. In a world that often boasts about how many millions of colors a TV or monitor is able to produce – I love that in ‘Mono’ there is such a variety of what can be achieved in a photo. Black and White sounds so boring – but the fact is that there are so many shades in between – I love the challenge of bringing them all out in an image!” – Jim
Along with our best black and white photography tips, we’ll reveal how to get creative with high-contrast graphic compositions and create moody landscapes, and show you how dramatic high- and low-key effects can be used to transform your still life photography and portrait photography.
Here are some examples of what to avoid when looking for suitable subjects for black and white photography.
No Distractions“I find that colors can be terribly distracting in some images and can take the focus away from your subject. I do portrait work and find that taking the color out of an image lets the subject speak for themselves. Its raw, it’s stripped back, it’s honest and it allows you to show the true person.” – Shane
While it’s now simpler than ever to convert your images to black and white, especially now with the host of smartphone apps like Instagram that offer an array of filters, for truly impressive results it pays to think about how and what you shoot, and then know how to use your photo editing software’s powerful tools to get the most from your shots.
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If the scene you’re shooting relies on color for mood or impact, chances are you’ll be better off keeping the image in color, as in our mushroom image above. Sunrise or sunset shots are another good example; you should always ask yourself whether the image loses some impact without the subtle hues.
Recognising potential shots when out in the field can take practice, so why not try converting some of your existing images to black and white to get a better feel for what will work.
Here’s a run-down of the most common elements that you should look for when identifying a suitable subject for the black-and-white treatment. Remember that these elements can be used individually, or even combined to produce marvellous mono images with clout.