While at times some might question the purpose of black and white shots when one has a full colour spectrum to utilise, there can be no denying the impact that can be created when shooting in this style. In part this can be attributed to the finer details of a photo that are allowed to shine through. In broader consideration however, removing colour is better means to draw attention to focal points. You can take note of these key aspects to make the most of your black and white photography.
Select your shots carefully
Just like certain settings or lighting conditions favour some type of work, it’s important to ensure your work fits in with a black and white style. The biggest attribute of monochromatic photos is the texture and shape they take on from their appearance. This won’t be appropriate in every situation, particularly instances where you are shooting amidst a variety of colours that in themselves provide contrast to make an impact. Make sure your lighting conditions are also operating in your favour – the impact will be even more noticeable in black and white shots.
Craft and compose your image
Since you’re now relying on details like texture, shape and contrast, it’s important you plan your shot carefully. You want to make sure you’re not incorporating too much detail into the photo so as to distract the viewer, but at the same time the most impact will come from contrasting elements like the tone of the image and use of lighting. Eliminating colour also emphasises how each component of the image interacts with one another as colour is no longer acting as an intermediary.
Therefore, while the balancing act is a delicate one, it’s a margin of error that you can’t afford to get wrong. Shoot with limited tonal contrast and soft lighting and you’ll create flat and washed out images. On the other hand, incorporate high tonal contrast and strong lighting to infuse ‘punch’ into your shot. On this point, if you’re not into processing, it’s not uncommon to use filters to fine-tune contrast. Nonetheless, when beginning, practice in environments where objects offer a notable variance in brightness or there are distinct patterns.
Leverage technology, where appropriate
It’s easy to rely on the black and white processing capabilities of your camera, but there’s merit in opting to post-process instead. In particular, the advancement of computer programs means they may be used for HSL adjustments, and to facilitate dodging and burning highlights like times of old. Ideally, if you have access to shoot in both RAW and JPEG format, you’ll be able to incorporate the full colour spectrum from the RAW file to extract the best transformation. With that said, being able to visualise monochromatic conditions can be difficult for beginners, who may benefit from cameras that offer previews.
Another way to bring out tonal contrast is through the use of long exposure in a dynamic setting. You’ll find a monochromatic setting broadens the visible area for dynamic objects, and can also be used to subtly blur the setting – again, adding contrast. With this, it’s vital that you ensure the rest of the photo remains sharp, so use whatever equipment or setting necessary to keep the camera stable.