5 Things Not To Forget When Planning For Black And White Photographs

-5 Things Not To Forget When Planning For Black And White Photographs-
Image by Claudia

A (Very Brief) History Of Black & White Photography

Black and White photography has a longer tradition than color, and we could have a long and endless debate about which one is the best. But the prime goal of this article is to talk about certain elements you must consider when working in monochrome.

We can trace black and white as a tool for artistic expression way back to the first uses of ink (between 6,000 to 5,000 years ago). It has been with us since that time. Today, some people feel that its qualities are more suited for fine art, but that’s a topic for another day.

But it’s true that black and white can render reality in a different way than we normally see it. Thanks to digital technology, we can stop figuring out whether to shoot color or monochrome and decide later, once we have our precious information-filled RAW files.

Let’s talk about the elements you need to remember when dealing with black and white photographs.

Want to learn the art of creating beautiful Black & White photographs? Check out this awesome guide by professional photographer Kent DuFault “Better Black And White” – How to Produce Your Own Dynamic and Share-Worthy B&W Images, Without Spending Money on Fancy Plugins or Presets.

Using Contrast For Black & White Photography

Achieving higher levels of contrast without producing strange effects on the image is more doable in black and white photography than it is with color. Try it. You’ll mathematically see in the numbers of Lightroom sliders that you can go further with monochrome without getting odd results.

Contrast should be done through color channels when converting to black and white. This is because as soon as you convert a RAW file into monochromatic media, the colors become tones.

Then you can play with the generous eight channels of color that the RAW file captures (red, orange, yellow, green, aqua, blue, purple and magenta) to achieve a richer level of contrast.

Image by Benjamin Balazs

Since the days of film, black and white photography has been lenient to those who are sloppy when developing negatives. You could achieve great-looking contrast even though the chemicals weren’t at the temperature the film required. You still ended up with great results.

That was definitely not the case with color film. You had to be hugely aware of the chemical temperatures; precision was extremely important.

This characteristic is still present today, even though we’re dealing with information and not chemicals. By contrasting an image via tonality, you’ll get amazing results. You can say farewell to flat monochromatic images and achieve striking contrast thanks to the tonal range of colors produced by a proper monochrome conversion of your RAW files.

Image by StockSnap

Color Subtraction

When color photography arrived on the photography scene, it was both welcomed and despised. It was welcomed thanks to its closer depiction of reality. The hate came because it’s normal to prefer old, familiar methods.

Modern camera sensors are outstandingly accurate when capturing true color. Some brands have a slighter difference in their built-in white balance response, and this is a key criterion for some photographers when they choose one camera brand or another.

The best way to plan for black and white photography is to shoot true RAW, without any conversion, so you can end up with a pure file that has greater possibilities than one that is processed in the camera. Some people like to shoot using the monochromatic setting that cameras have installed in their firmware. I don’t recommend this.

Image by Anja

Shoot color first, and decide later whether you want the image to be color or black and white. When its color is subtracted, an image achieves a very interesting quality. The lack of color helps people focus their attention on the image’s message.

I live in a Latin-American country and colorful scenes are almost everywhere – but in my opinion, I find that certain colors don’t “get along” very well and that a huge amount of color can a distract the viewer (even though there are certain scenes I would rather develop in color than in monochrome).

Thanks to the RAW format, you can go from color to black and white without losing information. On the other hand, if you shoot a monochrome jpeg, you won’t be able to do this after the image is captured.

Image by Karen Arnold

Reading The Structure Of Photographs

Certain images have strong character, thanks to their structure. They have a predominance of lines and shapes, highlighted by contrast. These effects are enhanced in black and white because the distractions of color is removed, which forces the viewer’s attention to the edges of the structure.

This can even become more defined with the control over RAW files that many photographic software suites include in their workflow.

Nuance and Tonality Nuance refers to the vast gamut of hues possessed by a certain color. The way we interpret color is strongly related to the message of an image, and there is a whole theory of color in psychology.

We can achieve precise contrast by taking advantage of these qualities of color. Tonal range is very strongly related to exposure, specifically to highlights and shadows. By playing with tones, you can achieve everything from a very natural look to a strong HDR effect.

So Black & White photographs are your thing? Why not check out this awesome guide by professional photographer Kent DuFault “Better Black And White” – How to Produce Your Own Dynamic and Share-Worthy B&W Images, Without Spending Money on Fancy Plugins or Presets.

Image by 1138601 (anonymous)

It's Also About Your Interpretation

Interpretation refers to the image’s message and is created through local adjustments as part of the final steps in the black-and-white photography workflow.

Some scenes have a strong accent on a specific portion of the frame. You need to interpret the image while developing it to detect these subtle accents and use local adjustments to enhance their character to the desired level.

For example, you may have a picture whose bottom half has certain elements you want to emphasize. This portion of the scene will require a different development process that can be quite pretty different than that used for the overall scene.

Image by Godric's Hollow

Here's An Extra Trick For Creating Monochrome Images

There is a little fella called the Wratten 90 filter, which is on my wish list. This is a filter not intended for rendering special effects on the film or sensor, but to give a true representation of what your eyes would see if the world was black and white.

This could greatly help a photographer develop the ability to see with “true” eyes, in black and white, which normally is virtually impossible. You can only predict what this world looks like. But, using this tool, you can obtain this marvelous ability.

If you're looking to really take your Black & White photography to the next level, you'd be crazy not to consider this awesome guide by professional photographer Kent DuFault “Better Black And White“. – How to Produce Your Own Dynamic and Share-Worthy B&W Images, Without Spending Money on Fancy Plugins or Presets.

Further Resources

About Author

Federico has a decade of experience in documentary photography, and is a University Professor in photography and research methodology. He's a scientist studying the social uses of photography in contemporary culture who writes about photography and develops documentary projects. Other activities Federico is involved in photography are curation, critique, education, mentoring, outreach and reviews. Get to know him better here.

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