Black and White photography

Why would you make black and white pictures today? Is this time over?  In the first days of photography, black and white was the only option available.  Some even took colored pencils at that time to add color to black and white photos as an artistic expression!  How does Black and White picture fare today?

Those of you that are making Black and White pictures are working hard!  Today’s digital cameras create only color picture, same for the smart phones.  Yes there are options to create in-camera black and white picture but the result is often ugly and uninspiring.  Why is this?

From Yesterday to now, Black and White Photography

The Black and White negative film used in the past (and still available today) where less sensitive than today’s cameras.  Picture had naturally more contrast because of the limited dynamic range of these films.  This limited dynamic range created pitch black and pure white. Today’s sensors are quite better and the great, in-camera, picture of the past are muddy grey!  No more pitch black and pure white in these pictures.

Moreover, these films were prone to create noise.  Noise was evenly and randomly distributed across the whole image.  This created an interesting look that is not part of today’s pictures.  Noise helps.  It removes reality from the picture.  As such, it is a way to express ourselves.

Why would we do Black and White photography today?

Black and white picture is not what it used to be.  This being said, should you consider doing Black and White picture today?  My response is a definitive yes!  Here are the benefits of black and white pictures:

  • Less distractions;

Color is distracting.  We are attracted to warm colors over cold colors.  Warm or intense colors are distracting.  By eliminating color, we eliminate some distractions.  The scene is simpler to compose.  The subject gains all the attention.  This is the purpose of publishing a picture, getting and retaining the attention of the viewer on the subject.

  • Simplification;

It is easier to make a picture that is simple in Black and White.  By simplifying the picture, we communicate better and more intensely with the viewer.  This picture of the Watermill taken in Terrebonne is a good example of simplification.  The watermill seems to be a rock going through time.

  • Guiding the eye;

The subject is the key to your image.  You want to help the viewer find the subject and hopefully have the subject be the focal point of the image.  In Black and white this is easier.  A dark subject on a light background or vice-versa will help the subject stand-out and keep the attention.

You can also try High Key or Low Key techniques.  By putting a light subject on a light background you will create curiosity.  Look at these images on 500px they are quite stunning in terms of simplicity and communicate strongly!

  • Emotion;

A scene could be more dramatic and intense in Black and White and generate emotion.  This included picture of the Montreal Port with the Montreal City building in the background is a good example.  The city is rather dark and gloomy and surrounded by a light sky and almost white frozen water at its base.  In the foreground, the frozen black ice with all the cracks really conveys cold feelings.  By putting the horizon line in the top quarter of the frame, the City is farther away and more isolated.  This loneliness intensifies the cold feeling.

Post-processing

Post-processing is mandatory with black and white picture.

In order for your picture to convey this intense look, try these tips and techniques:

  • Increase contrast!  A black and white picture needs some pitch black and pure white.  In Lightroom look at the black and white slider and make sure you use the whole available range of tone;
  • Try out the luminance slider associated with each color.  By varying the luminance you could help isolate the subject.  A blue sky could become very dramatic by lowering the luminance of the blue color;
  • Don’t forget the temperature slider.  This might seems strange but moving this slider will impact the distribution of tone and could make the picture more interesting;
  • Noise, the enemy of color, is your friend now!  In fact, high noise in a picture is a reason for converting a picture to black and white.  Add noise to your picture and see if the overall look is improved.  Remember, removing reality from a picture increase the artistic impression conveyed by the picture;
  • A black and white picture is not complete until you darken the edge.  Adding a vignette help direct the eyes of the viewer to the subject;

Remember that less is better when going through these post-processing tips.

Great black and white picture are easier to do than it seems when you try these techniques.  Since most pictures are published in colors, your B&W Pictures will help you stand out, be seen and remembered.

I use Lightroom and Nik Silver eFex Pro or onOne Software Perfect Black and White for my Black and White Post Processing.  You can get a 30 days evaluation version of these softwares by following these links.

I can’t wait to see your B&W picture.  Just leave a comment with a link to your picture and I will give you my honest opinion.