The Black and White Photograph  

 

Today my friend Jo McAvany showed me a book of black and white portraits she had made for a client.

Black and White has always been my favourite photographic medium so, of course, I was really pleased to see that she was willing to take the step away from what most local photographers are doing and create the portrait collection in black and white.

Photojournalist Ted Grant, who is regarded as Canada’s premier living photographer wrote,

“When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!”

Black and white photographs (in my opinion) seem to create moods and convey an almost tactile quality.

A black and white photograph depends on its ability to communicate, it doesn’t need to rely on eye-catching colours for its’ visual presentation. Those B&W images that stand the test of time combine attention to subtle changes in light, composition, and perspective. I think a B&W image stretches our creativity and forces us to visualize our world in different terms. I remember a photographer once saying that he believed shooting in B&W refined one’s way of seeing. And I heartily agree.

In spite of the many modern photographers that don’t bother with anything more than just accepting what comes out of their camera, black and white photography is far from being left behind in the past and with the current processing software, updates in high quality printers, and the latest in printing papers, black and white image-making will continue to be an option for a host of serious creative photographers.

Those photographers that are good at black and white photography learn to exploit the differences in tonal elements in a scene and present viewers with successful B&W portrayals that make excellent use of shapes, textures, light and shadow, and the loss of those original colours becomes irrelevant.

For those that haven’t tried monochrome (another word applied to B&W) image making, I will mention that it is easier than ever. Most digital cameras have a black and white mode available in the menu. However, I would suggest trying one of the many great programs available on the Internet that can be downloaded to test for free. Who knows, you might, like I do, really like black and white photography.

Readers by now must know how much I like quotes from famous photographers. So I’ll finish this up with some words from a turn of the century fashion and commercial photographer, Paul Outerbridge who wrote, “One very important difference between color and monochromatic photography is this: in black and white you suggest; in color you state. Much can be implied by suggestion, but statement demands certainty… absolute certainty.”

I like Black and White Photographs   

 

I have always been drawn to Black and white photography.

At one time I even believed that B&W was the only medium serious photographers worked in. To me a black and white photograph has a mood and conveys a tactile quality. That’s why many of my personal image files get converted to B&W.

During film’s reign photographers had to decide whether to use black and white film, colour film or slide film. Most of us carried at least two camera bodies, but today the decision to make a black and white image is best left to post production; there is no need for that second camera. Post-production is the intricate combination of computer programs, printers and papers that now rivals the quality of chemical-based, traditional black and white photography.

Traditional black and white depended first on the brand and type of film, for example, Kodak Tri-X, or Ilford Delta 400, etc., then the camera’s initial exposure, how the film was developed (what chemicals were to be used), and finally the choice of paper for final printmaking.

The digital sensor has more latitude than film and getting a usable exposure is very easy. If one over-exposes it usually isn’t a problem. An poor exposure with digital does equal a loss in image information, but much of the time its still a usable photograph.

With film we used to hear “shoot for the shadows”. With digital all that has changed, and of course we can check our exposures using the histogram.

Most digital cameras have a black and white mode available in the menu, but I don’t recommend using that, it does nothing more than create identical red, green, and blue channels in the final picture file. Just de-saturating a colour data file in-camera will give a monochrome image, but it doesn’t include control of the different tonal values that make up a true to reality black and white image.

When I first started making black and white pictures years ago with Photoshop I used a B&W conversion process that used the channel mixer. To do that I first opened the image, then I went to the menu and selected adjustments, then in the drop down list I selected Channel Mixer. I checked the monochrome box at bottom left; I changed the red channel to 60%, changed the green channel to 40%, ignored the blue channel, and changed the constant to +4. Finally I clicked ok and I had a black and white image.

Those days are long gone with modern programs like ON1 and Luminar with their many pre-set Black and White offerings. Making a good B&W is as easy as choosing the tonal value that one prefers. And, of course, there are many more, just do a search.

A black and white photograph depends on its ability to communicate, as it doesn’t attract with eye-catching colours for its’ visual presentation. Those B&W images that stand out combine attention to lighting, composition and perspective.

Black and white photography is far from being left behind in the past, and in my opinion, with the current processing software, updates in high quality printers, and the latest in printing papers, black and white image-making will continue to be an option for serious photographers.