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Why and How: Creating Black and White Photos - Part 1

Do you want to create black and white photos, but do not know where to start?

Are you moved and emotionally touched by monochrome photos, but do not understand why?

I have experienced exactly the same sensations as you. In this article, I will explain why black and white is so important in photography.

I will also share some ideas that you can use to explore this special creative technique.

A black and white photograph taken in the Racetrack Playain Death Valley.
A black and white photograph taken in the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley.
 

The Short Story Behind This Article

My conversion to black and white photography occurred when I decided to become a professional photographer artist.

When I started working as a professional photographer, my goal was to produce photos for magazines, books, and corporate commissions, such as advertisements. I only created illustrative photos.

When I was doing underwater photography reports, I would sometimes deliver black and white photos. Since my favorite field was wreck photography, this creative technique perfectly suited this type of subject.

When I sent the black and white photos, they were routinely refused. The art directors always asked me to provide them with color images.

I could not understand why. Nobody gave me a good reason. I finally discovered the answer in a discussion with the director of the photo agency Seapics. She explained to me that the calibration for offset magazine printing is always done in color. Printers have great difficulty calibrating black and white for magazines printed in color.

All my black photos were therefore simply refused for a technical problem with the printing. I could not change anything that had occurred in the past, but at least I understood the reasons for the refusals. So, I stopped creating black and white photos to produce only color photos.

When I decided to change the direction of my photographic career, I decided to try to produce some black and white landscape photos for a contract with a client. My proposal was accepted. I decided to return to the use of black and white.

Indeed, since I was the one who completely managed the digital flow from the choice of projects to the printing, I was no longer dependent on anyone. There were no insurmountable technical problems to stand in my way.

Not all nature scenes are suitable for black and white. You must sort them out. In this article, I will explain how to choose which photos are best suited for black and white

 

A Black and White Photo Cannot Be Improvised

A Black and White Photo Cannot Be Improvised

If you want to create nature photos in black and white, you should know that this is a technique that is very admirably adapted to nature photography. I often hear that black and white is primarily used for portrait photography, however, this is not true.

Black and white photography requires a way of thinking. A black-and-white photo:

  • Must be prepared carefully.
  • Must be planned; from the framing in the field to the post-processing with the computer.
  • Is also a philosophy that allows you to express particular emotions impossible to achieve in color.
 

Why: Creating a Black and White Photo

A black and white photo allows you to immediately focus the subject of the photographed scene.

The gaze of your audience is guided by:

  • Geometric shapes.
  • Vanishing lines.
  • Perspectives lines.
  • Contrasted lights.

These are the elements that will promote accurate reading of the message or the emotions you want to transmit.

To simplify, I could say that a black and white photo can deliver essential messages by advancing straight to the goal.

Color photographs allow for digressions by encouraging the eye to take secondary paths.

Black and white is a directive creative technique.

 

Black and White Is a Difficult Technique to Acquire

If you have decided to create black and white photos, be aware that good black and white photos are difficult to make.

You must have a perfectly defined photographic approach. Your vision and your photographic signature must be completely clear.

Over time, I learned that it takes a lot of experience to create good black and white photos.

It is not suited for all photographers.

You must have searched an exceedingly long time to understand.

To make good black and white pictures, you must have lived extraordinary moments, attempted challenges, suffered failure, and become lost in the meanders of color.

Black and white photography is a creative technique without compromise.

Errors in the choices of framing, composition, points of interests, lights, and development of the photo immediately deem it as a sub-par photo without interest.

Color photography is more permissive. It is more forgiving of photographers' mistakes. The appeal of color to the eye often masks errors in composition.

Black and white requires great training and practice. I am convinced that only the most persevering photographers succeed in making interesting pictures.

After all these years of experience, I honestly believe that black and white photography is certainly one of the pinnacles of this visual art.

Click on a thumbnail to enlarge the image.

 

Black and White Is a Creative Technique

The world around you, especially nature, is a colorful universe.

The color photo allows you to give an account of this universe by explicitly sharing the purpose of reality. Even in color, you can share your interpretation of this reality.

Black and white is ultimately a creative expression because it does not in any way depict a true vision of reality.

Black and white has only one purpose: to austerely display the message you want to get across.

Color photography is an advanced language based on the rendering of colors, lights, shapes, textures, etc.

Black and white is the basic language of a photographer. The elements that will enable him to deliver his message are shapes, textures, lines, and perspectives. You return to the essentials.

Black and white illuminates raw emotions.

From my point of view, the main difficulty with this creative photo technique is that you must define a real way of thinking that leads to the creation of a universe that is yours alone. It is a photographic vision that can only be share through an image.

 

Black and White Is Timeless

Color photography is constantly responding to the effects of fashion trends, whether it be for the choice of colors or the rendering at the time of printing.

Color always dates the activity of a photographer. Depending on how the photo is rendered, it is always possible to date when it was taken.

Black and white is a rather magical creative technique. It is timeless.

Some will argue that it is possible that black and white clichés were made in our grandmothers' time. But this analysis comes mainly from attitudes and vignetting. Black and white is difficult to situate in time.

For me, black and white has become a means of creating photographs that will stand the test of time and survive temporary fashion trends.

 

Black and White Is Not a Reflection of Sad Emotions

Many people think that black and white is a photographic technique to transcribe negative feelings, sad emotions or events related to disasters.

It is true that it is often used in these contexts. This is normal. As I have already specified, black and white uses a direct, unblemished language that deeply impacts the viewer.

The message conveyed by the composition is direct because the reinforcing elements and attributes of the focus are directive.

Yet in landscape or wildlife photography, black and white is synonymous with beauty and dreams.

Mineral landscapes and mammalian coats are subjects that are sublimated by black and white because they are rich in texture. If the lighting is well chosen, the shots are undeniably better than if they were presented in color.

Nostalgia

To Read the Next Part of the Article, Click Here.

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