1. An interesting characteristic of color is that it likes to dominate real life and your photos. Digital photography technology is so excellent that it contributes to color’s domination. Color wants to dazzle your eye and mind so much that it tries, and often succeeds, to steal the stage from other important image elements, such as contrast, light, perspective, etc. The color in a well-shot photograph seems to scream, “Look at me!” “I alone make your photos look great!”
Relying on color to tell the entire story in a photo is a mistake of many amateurs. You will become a more complete photographer and better understand the synergy of all the elements that make a great photo if you learn how to go color-blind and shoot images in black and white.
2. Black-and-white photography is not simply the absence of color (although we’ve sent it to its room without dinner because of its selfish attitude). It’s an entirely different performance, where the visual elements that were hidden by color are able to step forward and reveal themselves. When you help these elements gain some prominence, you create a totally new message in your photo, although the scene or subject hasn’t changed.
3. Think of contrast as the strong leading man of your black-and-white performance. He creates deeper shadows and brighter highlights that add more drama and power to portraits, landscapes and architecture than color. Even with greater contrast, your black-and-images will still retain and emphasize details. A wider range of contrast is often what distinguishes a professional’s work from an amateur’s. The pro knows how to evoke emotions in black and white to create and to communicate more powerful messages than is possible when color hogs the stage.
4. Contrast can’t perform without the complementary presence of light. They are a couple that dances across your black-and-white canvas. Light provides the energy to create dramatic contrast; and once you learn how to control that energy you’re able to make contrast and light dance to your tune. Black-and-white portraits open a different window onto the personality, even the soul, of the subject.
The secret is learning how to use combinations of light sources or single-direction light sources. For example, position your camera almost 90 degrees to your subject’s face and bathe one side of his or her face in stark, hard light so the surface becomes very white. The details begin to disappear, even the shadows, but the opposite side of the subject’s face is totally black, like the far side of the moon. Then, ask him or her to turn just enough toward the light, so the eye on the dark side is very slightly illuminated. Now, your black-and-white portrait is a vision that can’t be duplicated in color.
5. Black-and-white photography is the best medium to learn about lines and perspective. Shoot a street scene or a row of trees in an orchard and suddenly the many lines that add to the creativity of your composition are recognizable. Lines are the structure of your image; they define the shapes that are otherwise filled with color. If you take the time to study the lines in your black-and-white photos, then you can start to understand how to use them to make your color images better. Much like the painter, who first sketches the vision he or she wants to paint in black charcoal, you want to be able to manipulate the position and relationship of outlined shapes, as the first step in building a great photo. Once you learn this concept, you’ll use color better, as an enhancement to the structure of the image, not as a dominating element.
6. Your color-blindness should also extend to the editing process. Photoshop, Lightroom and other software have all the tools to create black-and-white images from original color compositions. Again, you must do more than simply delete the color; you must apply the ideas and techniques in this PhotographyTalk.com article to improve your black-and-white mindset.
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Photo by PhotographyTalk Member Raymond Mcbride