Why to take pictures in black and white (part 2)
A black and white photo taken in the Big Bend region of South Texas with magical lights and contrasts.
A black and white photo always begins with a color photo
With a digital camera today, all the images are taken in either RAW, JPEG, or TIFF format. Even if the RAW format is only based on light levels, once the photo is taken, it is displayed in color on the control display in the back of the camera.
All cameras have a function for converting to black and white, but it always starts with an original color photograph. Moreover, even when you are shooting in RAW, the black and white photo is generated on the memory card in JPEG or TIFF. In this case, it is almost impossible to see the final rendering in black and white.
A second method for creating a black and white photograph is to use specialized software on a computer.
From our perspective, the main difficulty of black and white photography is thinking in black and white while taking pictures. Black and white photography is not just a creative technique that uses conversion software. It includes a way of thinking that leads to the world of the photographer. It requires a different photographic vision.
Using filters in black and white photography
Paradoxically, color filters are very useful in black and white photography. Color filters are also called contrast filters.
In black and white, the colors disappear. They are replaced by different shades of gray. The light intensity becomes the only important factor. The use of a color filter enables you to lighten areas that are the same color as the filter and darken areas that are the complementary color. Color filters are used to modify, correct and balance the contrasts in a photo.
A yellow filter absorbs blue light, so it darkens a blue sky. If there are clouds in the sky, they are densified.
A red filter absorbs both blue and green light. The skies become very dark, as though night had fallen.
A green filter lightens the leaves of trees and darkens red objects.
Today, many photographers think that they can create beautiful contrasts in black and white using a software filter. This is a mistake, because nothing can replace an optical filter in front of the lens. Software can strengthen the effects of the filter, but cannot replace it.
Seeing in black and white
As we said before, the photograph displayed on the screen at the back of the camera is always in color. Always keep in mind that a good color picture will not necessarily make a good photograph in black and white.
For example, in a color photo, a red point of interest will contrast sharply with a green background. But once the photo is transformed into black and white, red and green will appear as similar shades of gray.
A simple rule for knowing if a color photograph would work in black and white is that the photo must have contrast between light and dark. In a black and white photo, there is no color. One way to guide the eyes of the audience to the different points of interest in an image is to have large differences between shadows and highlights. This is what we mean by contrast.
Seeing in black and white means choosing simple subjects, large negative spaces, and toned-down compositions. The photographer must take care not to add disruptive elements. He must get to the point and send his message immediately.
Seeing in black and white means choosing the right lighting to create the best possible contrasts between light and dark. A photographer must not forget that the differences between light and dark areas will help the eye to move toward the points of interest in the picture.
In nature photography, seeing in black and white means looking for shadows to accentuate the contrasts.
When to use black and white
Black and white photography is useful for emphasizing shapes and the way the light falls on the elements of a scene which lacks color. For example, winter landscapes that lack color and are essentially monochromatic are well suited to black and white. The photographer can focus on the bare vegetation because there are no green leaves or colorful flowers. The trees are bare.
The composition and contrasts become essential for highlighting elements of a photo.
Composition rules become essential
In black and white photography, because of the lack of color, the viewer’s eyes must be guided by the composition of the photo. The photographer must attach great importance to organizing the elements of the composition. The rules of composition and the framing become crucial. For example, strong points and the rule of thirds are useful for highlighting areas of interest. Using the golden number or the golden spiral as a framing is another way to ensure a good framing.
Perspectives and leakage paths become important
Leakage paths and perspectives are elements that improve the reading of a photo. They become essential in black and white photography because they can guide the eye to the important elements of the image. In black and white nature photos, the photographer must put a lot of emphasis on geometric shapes. Adding geometric elements to a photograph enables the photographer to get to the point more easily.
Some advice for taking pictures in black and white
We have decided on six elements which are necessary for a black and white picture to be harmonious:
- In a black and white photo, it is important for the points of interest to have textures. A photographer should identify and emphasize them. In nature photography, wood, leaves, and mineral forms are essential assets.
- The contrast between light and dark is essential if a photographer wants to succeed in creating a good black and white photo.
- The lighting.
- The shapes.
- The patterns (repeated elements).
Horizontal, vertical, and diagonal lines, lines of perspective, and leakage paths should all guide the viewer’s eyes to the points of interest.
Black and white photography is a suitable creative technique for artistic photographs. It is difficult to master, and it takes a lot of experience to learn how to convey a strong message through a black and white image. Black and white photography forces the photographer to focus his attention on the essential elements of the composition. Shapes, lines, and textures are key ingredients for successfully creating a photo that will, in some cases, have a trace of nostalgia.
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