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- Black and White Photography Mistakes Everyone Makes at Least Once
photo by thomaslusth via iStock
Though the term "fine art photography" might scare you at first, the purpose of this guideline on how to improve black and white fine art photography is to give you the foundational tools you need to elevate the quality of your images to the level of fine art.
This isn't to say that this guide alone will automatically make your black and white photos fine art - there are many other factors at play.
But you have to start somewhere, and this guide is an ideal spot for beginning your journey towards creating fine art black and white images.
Black and White Fine Art Photography Starts With Your Creative Vision
photo by heckmannoleg via iStock
A common trap that photographers fall into when trying to create fine art is thinking that the process begins with a pretty subject. This simply is not the case, though.
Instead, the process of creating black and white fine art photos starts in your head with your creative vision for the photos you want to create.
A cornerstone of this concept is developing an ability to drill down to what is important to you, what your point of view is, and how you can communicate that in a black and white photo.
photo by Mimadeo via iStock
For example, let's say you want to create an image that evokes feelings of solitude or even loneliness. How will you convey that point of view in your photo?
One option might be to highlight a subject in space to show that it's all alone, as was done in the image above.
Note how the use of negative space around the lone tree both isolates it and brightens the image, providing gorgeous contrast with the dark tones of the tree and the cliff below.
In this regard, the timing of the shot, the location, the lighting, composition, and framing are all tools used to fulfill that vision of solitude, tools that had to be pre-planned in the photographer's mind.
Sure, sometimes you can step out of your car and snap a fantastic image without much planning or vision, but this is rare! Instead, planning and preparation are key to creating the best examples of black and white fine art photography.
How to Create Black and White Fine Art Photography: Learn to See in Black and White
photo by Mlenny via iStock
For most of us, the world is in vibrant color, and when we bring our cameras to our eye to frame up shots, all that color has a great influence on how an image is created.
But in the absence of color, black and white photographs rely on other features - contrast, patterns, and textures, to name a few - to give the image the visual appeal it needs.
This requires you to learn how to see in black and white. This can be more difficult than it sounds, though.
photo by SL_Photography via iStock
One of the most important components of learning to see in black and white is to train your eyes to look for tonal contrast.
In the example above, the low tonal contrast gives this shot a dream-like vibe. Note the abundance of middle gray tones in this shot and the relative lack of deep blacks or bright whites.
Compare this to the black and white fine art photography example below.
photo by 101cats via iStock
In this case, the tonal contrast is obviously much different.
Rather than having a dreamy, ethereal look to it, this image has much sharper tonal contrast with the majority of the image in deep shadow.
The contrast created by these pure black areas makes this photo highly dramatic - the ballerina's shape and form take on added importance as does her movement, thanks to the contrast of the white powder against the black background.
Again, this is all about developing your creative vision beforehand, then using tools and concepts like tonal contrast to make your vision a reality.
How to Improve Black and White Fine Art Photography: Emotion is Key
As my good friend and fine art photographer Kevin Vandivier says, where color photography is often used to accurately portray the subject, black and white photography is often used to evoke a more emotional response to the subject.
In that regard, one of the ways to improve black and white fine art photography is to focus on an emotion or feeling.
As noted earlier, if your vision is one of solitude, composing your black and white image in a way that isolates the subject will help viewers feel that emotion.
But as Kevin notes, black and white photographs often romanticize the subject. That is, rather than documenting the subject with your camera, you should consider how your creative vision might help you make a black and white photo that represents something.
photo by Matt Dirksen via iStock
In the example above, the rich tonal contrast of the scene turns this shot of Upper Antelope Canyon into a dramatic representation that evokes thoughts of Ansel Adams' work.
Note how the lighting is used to accentuate the shape and texture of the canyon (as well as the log) to give the shot more depth.
Combined with the long exposure to create the dreamy, smooth shafts of water, this image reflects the idea of turning the scene into a representation of your vision, rather than simply snapping a photo that accurately documents the subject.
So, creating beautiful black and white fine art photography begins with your vision and your ability to train yourself to see in black and white. Then, you use those things as tools to create images that trigger emotions or portray the subject in a creative manner.
If you can do these things, you'll be well on your way to getting improved black and white fine art photos!
To see more examples of black and white fine art photography, visit Kevin Vandivier's black and white fine art gallery.