Why and How: 8 Photographic Tips for Seeing in Black and White– Part 1
When you photograph nature scenes for black and white prints, what do you see?
Do you imagine the scene in color or in black and white ?
The answer to this crucial question can fully determine the quality of your photographic creations.
In this article, I provide you with eight tips to better visualize a scene in black and white. You will create more interesting photos. These are tips that I use to create my art prints.
Table of Contents
- Keep in Mind the Definition of a Photograph
- Remember the Purpose of Light in Photography
- Tip # 1: Learn to Watch the Tones of Your Scene
- Tip # 2: Learn to Look in Color
- Tip # 3: Learn to Look at Textures, Shapes, Patterns and Lines
- Tip # 4: Learn to Look at Light and Shadows
- Tip # 5: Choose Scenes with Large Tonal Differences
- Tip # 6: Choose Scenes with Details Visible in Dark Areas
- Tip # 7: Choose Scenes with Extreme Contrasts
- Tip # 8: Find a High Light Area
The Little Story Behind This Article
The first time I traveled to the canyons of Antelope in Arizona in the United States, my goal was to create black and white photos.
During the preparation of this photo project, I looked at hundreds of photos. All had one thing in common. They were in color. A large number of them were of excellent technical and creative quality, however, they all looked alike.
They were not identical images, but each photographer was inspired by another’s work, causing the images to appear remarkably similar.
To make a distinction, I decided to create a collection only in black and white. Thus, I booked 4 tours of approximately three hours each with a specific guide to help me. Each session was scheduled at a different time of the day to make sure that the right lights would be present.
During my sessions, the conditions were perfect. I felt as giddy as a small child discovering his Christmas gifts. It was extraordinary.
When I returned to my studio, I sorted, organized, and selected my photos. After few days, I began to develop the collection.
Suddenly, I had one of the biggest shocks of my career as a professional photographer. None of the photos I took could be developed in black and white. The results were not at all up to my expectations. In color everything was perfect. But I was going to create photos that hinted of Deja-vu.
I soon realized my mistake. During the shooting phase, I had visualized how the scenes would appear in color, rather than black and white. I missed this essential point. My photographic time had been wasted.
For me, this experience was a revelation of what black and white represented.
It is not enough to take a color photo and transform it black and white. You have to think in black and white when shooting. But above all, you must see in black and white.
This is what I will explain to you in the rest of this article.
Why: Photographing in Black and White
If you are not yet creating black and white photographs, you are probably wondering why you need to use this photographic style.
Black and white photographs have many positive qualities:
- The beauty of black and white, simplicity, is emphasized.
- Black and white offers an alternative medium to color for sharing an artistic interpretation.
- Black and white is solely an artistic style because it never shows reality, which is always in color.
- Black and white allows a viewer to focus on the content. Color is a distracting technique.
- Black and white does not make compromise, it requires perfection. Color, however, can hide defects due to its “visual noise” provided by the many tones and shades.
- Black and white allows for more homogeneous photographs to be crafted, even in very varied light conditions. The photos are more consistent.
- Black and white is the foundation of photography. It was explored many years before the rise of color.
- Black and white is a technique that allows you to create photos with another vision.
- Black and white adds mystery and promotes the creation of abstract conceptual photos.
For me, the greatest quality of black and white is its timelessness. When I look at color photos, I often find them dated, obeying criteria of a fashion that has long since passed. They are no longer relevant.
Black and white photographic art spans the decades. You can watch them in film or television or admire the classiness and symbolic relevance of prints that were taken 20 or 30 years prior.
It is for this reason that I often say during my photo workshops that black and white offers me the luxury of mastering time.
Creating Black and White Photos Is Difficult
Black and white is not a photographic field, even though I often hear people claim it to be. It is a technical approach which concerns underwater photography, wildlife photography, and landscape photography.
Black and white is a creative interpretative technique that is exceedingly difficult to master.
The learning process can be tumultuous and long. Many photographers are discouraged when they compare their photos to the ones created by the masters of this technical approach.
The creation of quality black and white photographs is very demanding. It begins with the shooting and ends with printing on paper. The stages of the workflow are completely different from those of color.
In this article, I will only discuss the first step: the field.
How to See in Black and White
I will give you tips that I use during the creation of my collections to see in black and white. Each of the following paragraphs will give you some advice. But before going further, I would like to share with you this quote which is engraved in my mind. I constantly repeat it to myself while working on a project in black and white.
"In photography, perfection is impossible to achieve. Only the constant search for excellence allows us to approach it".
Black and white is the basis of photography. Since I developed my activity as an artistic photographer of nature, I have realized the importance of this technique and its impact.
Black and white, because it is so difficult to master, allows you to approach perfection in photography.
In black and white, framing and composition errors are immediately visible. The use of color is more flexible since the errors are less visible.