When used correctly, this reduced contrast can be useful for giving a shot a calm, soothing atmosphere. A blue filter also increases the appearance of haze and mist, making it handy for enhancing the mood of an early-morning scene.
A green filter lightens greens, separating foliage and flowers. Image by aussiegal.
“To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.” Henri Cartier-Bresson
A yellow filter gives slightly darkened blues, increasing sky contrast. Image by Alex Gorstan.
Yellow filters are good for separating shades of green, and can be used whe photographing plants to increase the contrast of foliage.
In my interview with Toros he discusses the character of a photographer depending on his taste in black and white. ‘There are some photographers that come to me and say “Toros, I want my photos very dark, very black and deep. There are others they tell me “I don’t like grey; I want black and white without details.” This says a lot about their characters. Once Cartier-Bresson told me, “Toros, don’t print my photos with too much contrast, don’t print them too dark because my character is soft and light.”
Different coloured filters (top line) affect your scene’s greys in different ways.
Orange filters sit between red and yellow filters, giving a nice balance of each one’s properties. This makes them a popular general purpose filter.
Not all photos look great in black and white and one of the arts of photography is ‘seeing’ how the image will look before you take it.
I hope this helps you make some decisions about your black and white photography.
I love black and white photography, it is part of how I take photos and I couldn’t imagine photography without it. A frequent question I am asked is how and when to use black and white. So I thought today we could have a little chat about black and white in photography.
My fabulous printer in Paris ‘Toros’ of Toroslab, in an interview in Paris Tango said “Black and white is an attitude, a different way of looking at things. I knew many photographers like Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau who preferred to work in black and white. There is an indescribable magic in black and white that is impossible to explain, it is the shadows and the highlights, in the details and in the mystique. Black and white treads that fine line between reality and fantasy.”
When converting colour it is important to have different tones in the photo so your subject will jump out of the background or surrounds ie.. there needs to be contrast in the image. Often if the subject has the same tone it can look a little flat in black and white.
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The result is that colours matching the filter colour appear brighter in the final image, while other colours appear darker. In black and white photography this means that objects appear as lighter or darker shades of grey.
When you take away colour you are taking away one of the primary ways the viewer can ‘read’ your image. Therefore there needs to be strong dimensions.
With digital conversions we have the choice over contrast and how we want to manipulate the image afterwards. I use a program called DXO filmpak and when I bought it I spent almost a day going through every film option on a series of photos to see the effects that I like. I arrived at a couple of favourites Kodak Tri-x 400 and Ilford Pan F Plus.
Red filters produce such an extreme effect that they can make your photo look like it’s been shot through an infrared filter. This makes them a popular, cheaper alternative to true infrared photography.
In landscape photography, a red filter will turn a blue sky almost black and make clouds really stand out, giving the scene a dramatic feel. They’re also excellent for increasing visibility in haze and fog.
Have a look at the following photographers style of black and white and let me know in the comments what you learn about the differences in the style of black and white and what it says about their styles and how it enhances their photos. (sorry you will have to google as their sites are under construction).
Red filters produce a very strong effect and greatly increase contrast. They’re often considered too “harsh” for most types of photography, but can be used to produce striking creative effects.
Tone and Contrast – The photo subject will work best when it has a varied range of blacks, greys and whites. Always look for dark and light areas in your images as this creates tone and contrast. Lines, Shape and Form – Images that have graphic elements, strong lines, geometric shapes or form make wonderful subjects for black and white especially when the image has good contrast between the elements.
Always look for lines that run diagonally, horizontally or vertically through the image and try and create interesting compositions with them. Textures and Detail – All details in photos add to the message and depth of a photo.
Black and white works well with textural walls such as brick, sandstone or whitewashed stone especially when the subject is of a contrasting tone. Strong skies and clouds also are wonderful subjects (check out Sebastiao Salgado’s work).
A person or detail strongly lit can make a wonderful subject in black and white. Portraits – People and the environment you find them in make for strong subjects in black and white particularly when there is good contrast in their clothes, the background and surroundings.
Look for interesting hats, clothes or textures in their environment that would make a strong portrait in black and white. Reportage/life photography– Storytelling of an event albeit sporting, religious, musical or cultural can be strengthened using black and white and add to the weight and message of the photo.
In portrait photography, an orange filter reduces the appearance of freckles and blemishes, giving the skin a healthy, smooth look.
When converting images from colour to black and white make sure you don’t have any strong colour ‘casts’ otherwise the colour cast will be converted to the same grey tone and applied generically to your photo.
If you’re serious about black and white photography then a selection of coloured filters is a great addition to your kit. They’ll give you much more control over the way your photos appear, helping you to create mood, balance contrast, and emphasise the most important parts of a scene.
Black and white filters let you control how colours are converted to shades of grey. Use them to get the right contrast and mood in your photos.
A common problem in black and white photography is that certain colours look very similar when converted into greyscale. For example, some shades of red, green, and blue look completely different in colour, but almost identical in black and white.
A green filter is mainly used for photographing plants as it helps separate the green foliage from the brightly-coloured flowers and buds.
These are just my personal preferences but I would encourage you always to try all options and find your favourites as this is part of your photographic style.
There are 5 filter colours that are commonly used in black and white photography – red, orange, yellow, green, and blue. Each lets through its own colour of light and blocks other colours to varying degrees. For example, a red filter will let red light through, but block most green and blue.
Because of their different effects, each colour filter tends to be used in a different way.
I use black and white often when an image is graphic (like in the fashion pic above), when the photo has been taken in a ‘reportage’ or ‘lifestyle’ way and I want to make this image stronger (like the family in Naples), when I want to cut to the core of a portrait and let the person stand out not the colours like in the first picture in this post.
Blue filters are rarely used for black and white photography. They darken most colours and reduce contrast across an image.
A blue filter darkens most colours and is used to reduce contrast. Image by Tony Armstrong.
A red filter gives extreme, dramatic contrast. Image by Nicholas.
When photographing buildings and cityscapes, they give bricks a pleasing tone, and increase contrast between different materials to add depth and texture to the image.
Yellow filters produce the most subtle effect of the 5 coloured filters. In some cases the difference is barely noticeable, but it can help to lift a photo just enough. They’re a popular choice for beginners as they can be used in virtually any type of photography.
An orange filter gives warm, smooth skin tones. Image by David Jubert.
In portrait photography, they produce warm, natural, pleasing flesh tones, like an orange filter but less intense.
In film photography you needed to decide prior to taking a photo whether to use black and white film or colour but we now have the luxury with digital photography to choose to convert a colour image into black and white.
Coloured lens filters offer a solution to this problem because they affect the way colours are “converted” to black and white. This allows you to control the way they appear in the final image, ensuring that objects are well separated and clearly defined.
Green filters are less popular than the others but are useful in some circumstances.
Black and White Photography – How and Why We Use It – Carla Coulson
When shooting plants they help increase definition between flowers and foliage. This is particularly useful when shooting red flowers, as they have a similar tone to the surrounding leaves.
This image shows how different filters affect the way colours are converted to black and white:
When snapping landscapes a yellow filter darkens the sky slightly, helping to balance its exposure against the darker ground. They also bring out clouds nicely, resulting in more interesting skies.
The art director on a book once said to me ” a colour image is only valid when the colour is great colour.” Hence if the colours jar, or they are not harmonious or are distracting that is when I convert an image to black and white.
This can cause objects in a black and white image to blend into one another, leaving you with a photo which is flat and lifeless, and lacking in contrast and definition.
Film photographers would choose a type of film based on it’s effect. Low ISO films produce fine grain and strong contrast and the higher ISO film produce prominent grain and generally a softer contrast.
They can also be used in landscape photography to boost the appearance of grass and trees, but they also lighten the sky so you need to be careful not to lose detail there.
Similarly to red filters, they can be used to reduce the appearance of fog and haze, and to darken skies and emphasise clouds.