Black and white photography has its own appeal. If you haven’t tried it, you may wonder why not use colors, but once you experience it you will understand the beauty monochromatic images possess. It is an art in itself. In the world of photography, black and white holds a very special place. It is considered a skill to use such dull colors to create such picturesque and striking results. Some even deem that the most skillful photographers use monochrome.
Not only does this medium capturing has a glorious past and rich history, but it also has a bright future. The lack of colors doesn’t limit its scope and it possesses a broad range of opportunities for those who wish to explore.
Working in black and white requires tact and proficiency. The photographer should have a vision and knowledge to capture that vision to create a breathtaking portrait. As there are only two colors to play with, the composition of the shades really matter.
There are no powerful and bright colors to dominate and hide the contrast, texture, light, and shape. So it all depends on the photographer’s ability to perfect these elements. Usually experienced photographer can instinctively glorify these things regardless of colors, but beginners who want to work predominantly in black and white will need assistance and lots of practice to perfect their creation.
Remember not all subject tend to work well with black and white as it emphasizes the textures, quality of light, and expressions. It works great for landscapes and portraits but might not be a good option for other subjects.
Naturally, you should start off by experimenting on these two because they make it easier for you to grasp on and experience and experience better results which prevent you from getting disheartened.
Here are some tips and techniques which will aid you to begin your endeavors in this dual colored universe. Keep these 4 cornerstones while capturing and you will shoot like a pro:
The perfect contrast
This a significant cornerstone because it means a lot in the monochrome photograph. You would be thinking that it is easy to get a perfect contrast when there just two colors to deal with, but it’s the total opposite. To achieve a smooth gradation of tone and to contrasting the deepest black, with the purest white and moving along with all the shades of gray in between requires skill and effort.
You must have looked at black and white images, and still find a vast variety of color hues. This varying tones with perfect amalgamation are the beauty of contrast. Each varying colors complement the whole image and guarantee a good tonal range. To master this you have to grasp the concept of contrast.
It is better to avoid high contrast lighting while conducting monochrome photography because you need to create a perfect balance to generate a full tonal range. So go for a balanced contrast ratio rather than high contrast lighting as it produces better results.
To get a picture with perfect contrast you begin to post-process your image file you need to keep an eye on the Histogram. The edits can lead to the Histogram to developing “cuts” which causes the image to drop tones. The more the number of cuts displayed on the Histogram displays, the less tonal range and contrast will be displayed on your final image.
So try to create as few cuts as possible. And if you want a “high contrast” photograph just push the shadow and highlight boundaries of inward on the histogram. This will add spark to your black and white image. Just don’t completely block up the shadows and burn the highlights. Just reduce the mid-tones.
Don’t do the mistake of mixing up the concepts of brightness value and contrast. Even a photograph with low brightness value can have a balanced contrast. It is known as the “Low Key” photograph. It means that the photographed image has the majority of dark tonal values but still contains a full contrast range.
Toning it down
Contrast and tone are not similar when it comes to monochrome photography. Let us explain you the concept of toning it down which has little to do with contrast. In black and white photography, if a colored scene is being converted to tones of gray then this may lead to similar shades of different objects destroying the essence of the image.
For example, if you are trying to capture a black and white image of a tan model wearing a bright colored dress against a vivid blue sky, it would lead to the skin of the model, the dress, and the sky to have similar shades of gray which would result in a lackluster photograph. This is not due to contrast but because of tones, because the subjects had matching tones. So how do you deal with it?
One method through which you can alter the tones is by utilizing colored filters on the lens. With digital photography, toning has become even more flexible. Alteration of the tone can be done after the shoot during the post-processing conversion phase. There are also other options which you can use to yield a better range of tone.
For example, you can control the lighting as it has a significant impact on black and white tone. It plays a significant role because it has the ability to lower and raise the brightness values of the colors in the original scene. For example, if in the above example, bright light is put on the dress its tone will change to a lighter version making it differ from the others.
Similarly, if you want a darker tone you can use lower intensity light on the dress to produce a much darker shade of gray. So lighting has a lot of power and if used well it can add the right highlights, tone, shadows, and everything else.
Remember capturing perfect tonal range can be a tricky business especially if you have just started shooting monochrome photography.
So it would be easier for you if capture images at dusk when the sky is dark yet there is some light, which produces full tonal results. Black and white photography becomes difficult as night approaches!
Shadow is the key
Shadow makes black and white images stand out. Photographers stare in awe at photos which contain beautiful shadows as this cornerstone is a key feature of this medium. So you should be constantly aware of shadows when capturing your images. It is indeed shadows that make a black and white photograph strong and lend it its major features!
Shadows are so important for black and white photography because it has strong ties with shape, which is another major of the cornerstones.
Remember masses usually love photographs because of color. They are attracted to your image and observe it primarily due to its color. But in the black and white photo, you take away the most interesting element that interests the human brain so you have to find another way to attract attention. This can be accomplished by making use of shadows.
Do you remember how you use to play with your shadows when you were young? It has this appeal which can attract even those who have no interest in art. It’s visually exciting and mysterious, which intrigues the viewer. So keep the shadows in mind to create a spectacular monochrome image. Here a few things to keep in mind:
The shape of the shadow is vital and can be changed. So change it to strengthen your composition. This can be done by changing the lightning or position. Thus, if you alter the shadow and position it differently you can benefit from perfect contrast and balanced tonal range.
Don’t attempt to make all your shadows pitch black? It is a temptation which ruins the image as in reality it is rare to see a shadow which is absolutely black with our eyes. It is only very exceptional to find absolute black in a balanced contrast image with full tonal range.
This is because black hides the details and majority of shadowed areas should disclose at least some details. It is essential to maintain detail in the shadow areas as it leads to proper exposure and processing.
Summing it up Shadows add versatility to your black and white photography. It reflects efforts and can be seen in a leading line, a shape, or any subject and can contribute a lot to enhance the composition.
Putting shape to work
The shape is a significant cornerstone because it is essential for shadows. However, shapes are not all about shadows and also have other purposes. It is a defining element of a black and white image and can make it highly successful.
It can be placed anywhere in the tonal range. As shadows are linked to shape, Shape is linked with contrast. These two go hand in hand. It is the contrast that make shape pop out.
Without proper contrast in a monochrome photograph, a shape can virtually disappear if it has a tonal neighbor. So to know your shapes becomes a necessary skill in Black and White photography. You have to learn how to see “shape” amidst tone and contrast.
The shape is potent in any kind of photography and art form because it is a core instinct in a human brain. Everyone evaluates an image shape.
Even signs on road have a typical shape to make them attractive and the shape of a bear running toward you in the jungle would be equally horrifying. So monochromatic images require perfect shapes for which the photographer has to become proficient at identifying the shape. This is not as easy as it sounds because it requires practice to see hidden shapes.
It is the shapes that everyone misses that counts. These shapes are not easily visible to a naked eye without perception and they are what make a black and white image stand out from the crowd!
As color is not here to identify the shape, you have to evaluate the value of a shape using tone and contrast. This will help you reach a better composition.
Black and white is a wonderful medium to work with and you will realize this once you begin practicing. You will appreciate the time you spend creating pieces of art that will leave everyone in awe. It is not only satisfying but also a lot of fun.
You will surely enjoy this path which has been trodden by numerous famous names. And if you have any queries regarding the working of this absolutely amazing genre of photography, let us know in the comments and we will solve them shortly.
Have fun creating marvelous images with the perfect recipe of contrast, tone, shadow, and shape!