Black and white photography is an art form that has been around for a long time. It’s one that requires close attention to composition, lighting and perspective as well as some understanding of the technical aspects such as contrast and tonal values. There are many advantages of shooting in monochrome over color. The ability to see the world in a different way opens up more creative possibilities and allows for you to focus on other compositional elements such as lines, shapes and textures. In the past, photographers would have to wait to get their prints and negatives back from the darkroom and rely on the skill of an assistant to process them.
Now with digital cameras and photo editing software such as Lightroom and Photoshop, it is possible for photographers to create stunning black and white photos from the moment they press the grayscale button! This means that it’s important to practice in your camera’s monochrome mode and learn to see the world through a new lens. It might be hard at first to disengage from the world of color and begin to look for a strong composition or interesting texture without the help of a vibrant hue. But with a little practice, you’ll be able to take advantage of the tonal qualities of objects and scenes that can add dramatic impact to your photos. Unlike in color, where a striking scene can often be created by capturing one or more bright colors, creating powerful black and white images is all about contrasting darks and lights. For example, a black and white portrait can be dramatically enhanced by highlighting the subject’s eyes while reducing the intensity of the background to focus on the face.
In landscapes, a stark mountain range, a stormy seashore or the still surface of a lake can be brought to life by including both a dark foreground and a bright area in the sky. The Beauty of Black and White: Mastering Monochrome Photography by Michael Freeman is a great reference book for photographers who want to explore the possibilities of this fascinating genre. The book addresses both the artistic and the technical side of black and white digital photography, starting off with some basic principles such as visualization and continuing with more advanced Photoshop techniques such as maximizing tonal range, preserving highlight and shadow detail and using the zone system.
The key to successful monochrome photography is in the pre-shoot planning stage. It’s crucial to avoid subjects and locations that rely on color for their impact, such as beautiful fall foliage or bright flowers. It’s also important to shoot in RAW instead of JPEG so that you have all the available data in your digital file to work with when converting it to black and white and adjusting the image for contrast. In the end, the more building blocks you have to work with, the better your final result will be.