About Black and White Photographs

Sax player

Cups and a mirror

Windows

 

Bronc rider

 

Tree

Sentinal after the fall

One of the fun things I like about photography is the endless conversations I get to have with both long time and beginning photographers, as they explore and re-explore this exciting medium. Last week I talked to photographers that wondered if reverting back to film would help them become more creative. And in the past few days more than one person has stopped by wanting to talk about converting their images to black and white.

When I started out with photography I spent most of my time shooting with B&W. I studied Ansel Adams’ books on his zone system, and Richard Zakia’s writings on tone control, and I read or looked at everything I could find to understand black and white photography and printmaking.

I began to understand exposure as of shades of grey, and got used to thinking about the subjects I photographed in tonal values instead of only bright colours. I remember a trick that one of my photography instructor’s suggested for those students that had trouble “seeing” contrast. He said we should “squint down to f/16 when we looked a subject”. I expect other students on campus wondered about the camera-toting students squinting up at the college’s clock tower after class.

I learned to previsualize, and as I selected my subject I would think about how I would process the film and make the final print. I might adjust the exposure rating and developing, as with the Zone system, and select different papers and alternate chemicals to change contrast or tonal values in the final print. Nowadays I do the same, but think about what I will need to do to enhance my image file with Photoshop.

Modern cameras capture images in colour, but that doesn’t mean we can’t previsualize the outcome; and converting a RAW colour file is really easy with programs like Photoshop, and my favourite, Silver EFex Pro. Converting that image to B&W stretches our creativity and forces us to visualize our world in different terms.

A black and white image is a matter for the eye of the beholder, the intuition, and finally the intellect. Of course colour is all that, but much of the time it seems photographers, overwhelmed by colour, just push the shutter seeing nothing deeper in a scene than the colours. 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.

Black and white images don’t attract with a play of colours. To me they are subtle and make viewers think about the picture. The B&W image demands close attention to composition, lighting, perspective, and the context in which the image is shot

A 1950s photographer named Paul Outerbridge, once said, “In black and white you suggest. In color you state.”   And I remember another photographer saying that he believed shooting in B&W refined one’s way of seeing.

I am of the belief that 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 B&W image making, converting an image is really easy with programs like Photoshop and Silver Efex. Readers will find a new way of displaying work. Black and white will have readers visualizing the world in new and creative ways and who knows, like me I expect they will enjoy black and white photography.

 

I look forward to comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Black and White as a Photographic Medium

1. Cameras  2. Ghost town  3. Kamloops fence & hills  4. Quick turn at the rodeo  4.Chuck the rooster  5. Flower  6. Bailea  7. Monica  8. Church lantern  9. Headwaters

Lois Lane, Kelowna

Black and White as a Photography  has always been my favourite photographic medium. I recall when I first began pointing my camera at different subjects, and started making photographic prints, that I didn’t think too much of colour photography. Yes, colour was fine for documentary work as found in “National Geographic” magazine, or making snapshots of some family, but in the 1970s creative photographers seemed to be working in black and white, not colour.

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 always (and still do in my opinion) seem to create moods and convey an almost tactile quality.

During the period of film photography, photographers had to decide whether their subject would look best in black and white print film, colour print film or slide film and most photographers trudged around with at least two camera bodies weighing them down. However, today that decision to make a black and white image is best left to the computer and some exciting post-production software. And there is no need pack around another camera. (Well, unless one is worried about camera failure.)

Thankfully post-production is no longer contained to dedicated, darkened rooms. I still have an 11×11 foot room in our basement, complete with a six-foot stainless steel sink and custom cabinets. However, it’s mostly used to store photo equipment and for washing my chickens’ eggs. Now my lab is on the main floor of our home and instead of chemicals, the image and print production has become an intricate combination of computer programs, quality printers, and papers that easily rivals the quality of chemical-based, traditional, black and white photography.

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 and pass the test of time combine attention to subtle changes in light, composition, and perspective. And it 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, 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 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 monochromatic (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. I don’t really like using that, as it does nothing more than de-saturate an images colour data file, excluding control of the different tonal values that make up a black and white image. I 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: “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 welcome any comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com