Today we will journey to a time in photographic world from which it all began; the time of black and white photography. The history of photography began with black and white film and it was the only medium available until early thirties of 20th century when colored photography was invented. Even after the emergence of color photography, new medium was not adopted straight away and one had to wait for a few more decades before its acceptance. When the price of color films and the processing/development of colored photos came down, people widely started adopting color photography. But even though colored photography is so widely used these days, black and white photographs still hold the crown for some of the most breathtaking imagery.
Black and white photography is the most under-rated genre of photography these days. Many of the new emerging and amateur photographers fail to realize the possibilities and potential this field holds. There are numerous reasons why black and white photography can create mesmerizing photos in comparison to their colored equivalents. Black and white photography not only works well in fine arts but also helps the photographer grow as a compositional artist. The reason for this is that black and white photography forces the photographer to appreciate the graphical aspects of the world. It focuses immensely on the forms, shapes, textures and patterns in the frame. Now that there are no colors in the frame to distract us, viewers and photographer alike are focused on the textures, shapes and patterns that make up the picture, hence improving photographer’s compositional experience.
Often vivid colors can distract viewer’s eyes from the main subject in the composition. Of course a skilled photographer can use colors to his/her advantage and actually use it to lead the eye into focus, but sometimes it’s not possible to control color in the frame and that is when black and white photography comes to the rescue. Black and white photography helps in deriving all attention of the viewer to the key subject in the frame. Lastly, black and white photography simply has the power of making a picture classy and dreamy. It creates a magical effect of timelessness in the image and makes it very appealing and elegant. Since we can now see that there are so many advantages to shooting black and white photos, let us discuss what techniques we can use to enhance and improve our skills in this field.
As we have already discussed, composition is very important in black and white photography. We do not have the liberty of using colors to draw attention of the viewer towards the main subject of the frame, so now we have to carefully choose the composition of the frame, to use all the lines, shapes, patterns, tones, highlights and shadows together to make the subject in the frame most prominent. Apart from that, all other composition techniques used in colored photography are also recommended for black and white photography. When shooting black and white portraits, rule of thirds would still apply and 1/3-2/3 rule is advised for better landscape photographs. When you are planning a black and white shoot, try and imagine everything around you in the shade of black and white. Imagine your subject without any colors and it will help you focus more on the lines, shapes, tones and contrasts of the frame.
Shoot in RAW
These days most cameras have an option to shoot solely in black and white. You might be tempted to do so when you plan to have the final image in black in white, but I would advise you against it. We always recommend to shoot in RAW. Of course there are some instances where plain JPEG would suffice, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Imagine a scenario where one of your black and white shots goes viral and a well known ad agency wants to use it in one of their publications, however they require a full color copy instead. An unlikely scenario, but wouldn’t you wish you shot it in RAW at that point?
Another reason you should shoot inRAW is because it stores maximum amount of data and if you want to play around with your black and white shots in post-processing to make everything pop, you will need to take advantage of all of that data as much as possible. So I would recommend to do a couple of test shots in black and white if you have to, to see the composition, and if everything looks good switch to RAW and take those killer shots.
Generally high contrast is discouraged in colored photography, but it is recommended that high contrast is used when selecting your composition for black and white photographs. What this means is that there are areas in the frame that are close to pure white and other areas that are close to perfect black. Being outdoors in bright daylight conditions is recommend to achieve high contrast requirements of black and white photos. Of course, it is possible to do that in a studio setting as well. High contrast in black and white photo adds action and drama to it. Backlighting can also be used to create high contrast in the picture.
It is recommended using as low ISO value as possible. Choosing low ISO is also advised for good colored photos but it’s even more significant to choose low ISO values for black and white photos as digital noise caused by high ISO values become very prominent in black and white environment. Even if the grainy texture is desired by the photographer, it should be added in post processing rather than during the shoot because once these grains are there while shooting it will be impossible to take them out but it’s very easy to create that affect in post processing. There are very few cameras out there that create “beautiful” noise, the kind that looks almost like film grain. But these cameras are very expensive and you would already know if you have a camera that does that. High ISO film grain is beautiful, while digital noise grain is not. That’s why we usually shoot at low ISO and add film grain in post-processing.
Long Shutter Speeds
Long exposure shots can do wonders when it comes to black and white photography. Long shutter speeds are especially very useful when capturing black and white photos of scenes including moving objects like water or clouds. Long exposures in capturing moving clouds and water streams create an amazing creamy affect in the already dreamy appearance of black and white photographs and hence increase the artistic appeal of the photo.
Always look for excellent patterns when doing black and white photography. Black and white photography simply loves good patterns. Something might look crappy in color but once it’s converted to b&w it gets rid of distractions and all of the focus fall on the patters. You can even try that with some of your images that you though has potential but ended up rejecting.
Use Polarizer filter
Using a polarizer filter in black and white photography is very important especially when capturing surfaces that reflect light like glass and water. The highlights caused by reflections from these bodies are extremely undesirable in black and white photography, hence use of polarizer filters can help avoid them.
So this is all you need to know to make your black and white photographs exceptional and breathtaking. But always remember that nothing can be perfected without practice. A lot of concentration in applying these technique is required for desired results in black and white photography. So get out there and shoot some amazing and soulful black and white pictures using these tips.