When photography is most enjoyable and rewarding, it’s an adventure, where you discover something new about the world through the lens of your camera. Black-and-white, or monochrome, photography is one of these adventures, but you must learn a number of concepts and techniques that will make your adventure successful.
1. It’s All About the Tone
In color photography, you are often looking for colorful scenes, a bright color in an otherwise muted composition or two or more complementary, or even contrasting, colors that help to tell the story of your photo. With black-and-white photography, it’s the tonal qualities of objects and surfaces that help to create beautiful or stark or dramatic monochrome images. It takes a bit of practice to see a full-color world in powerful black-and-white tones and various shades of gray between them. When you can emphasize this contrast, however, you are creating with a monochrome eye. In a color image, for example, a light-colored stonewall may seem dull; but if you set the exposure for its surface, it will appear bright and achieve a wonderful contrast with darker objects or surfaces in the scene.
2. Shape and Texture Assume More Importance
Because you are exposing for more contrast in monochrome photography, the shape of an object is often more important than it might be in a color image. There the color dominates the eye, but a shape, either as bright or dark, conveys the message or emotion in a different manner. The surface of most any kind of material – stone, metal, wood, etc. – is also rendered differently in black and white. Often, the contrast is found in the bright, reflective surfaces of paint peels on an old fence versus the deep shadows the peels create having lifted from the surface. Textures are usually more defined in black and white, again, because of the contrast created by the three-dimensionality of a weave of cloth or the bark of a tree.
3. RAW for the Data, JPEG for the View
You definitely want to shoot monochrome photos in RAW, so you have all the data for editing. You'll have total control of contrast, so you can adjust and manipulate it to create more powerful black-and-white images. You’ll also find it valuable to shoot JPEG files simultaneously and select your camera’s monochrome mode. This will allow you evaluate a composition before you capture it because the monochrome mode will provide a rather accurate rendering of the look and contrast of the final image.
4. Leveraging Landscapes
Ansel Adams proved that landscapes are often more spectacular in black and white than color. Whether its mountains, the city, the seashore, a foggy harbor, the still surface of a lake or a scraggly tree clinging to a rocky outcropping, shooting any of these scenes as monochrome images is likely to evoke more emotion and interest from viewers.
5. Filters for Contrast
Landscape scenes and outdoor subject matter are often enhanced with the use of various filters, such as a polarizing filter to soften reflections and increase contrast. Neutral density filters are perfect when the clouds are an important element in a black-and-white landscape. You can also pair a graduated neutral density filter with a standard neutral density filter to create a better balance between a bright sky and a darker foreground, especially during a long exposure. Because colors are also defined according to their grayscale percent, you can also use colored filters to manipulate the opposite color of the filter. For example, an orange filter makes a blue sky appear darker and a green filter makes anything green, such as leaves, appear brighter.
6. Use a Tripod and Lengthen the Exposure
Black-and-white images can assume an ethereal, magical quality when you shoot with longer exposure, which, of course, requires a tripod and remote shutter release. If your scene includes water or clouds in motion, the long exposure blurs the movement, spreading the water’s highlights. You can also impart more textural contrast to solid objects in your composition.
7. Keep the ISO Low
Typically, digital noise is more easily seen in a monochrome image, so calculate your exposure formula with a low ISO setting. It will give both highlights and shadows a smooth tonal quality that enhances your compositions.
8. Give HDR a Try
Too many photographers seem to overlook what they can create with HDR black-and-white images. It more acutely emphasizes the dynamic range and gives more definition to the edges of shapes.
You can learn even more about shooting and creating black-and-white images when you view the following video with Colin Smith, founder of Photoshop Café. In this tutorial, he’ll show you how he uses Tonality Pro from MacPhun Software to edit, adjust and tweak images into startling imaginative photos.
Once you’ve viewed Colin’s video a few times, you’ll want to visit http://macphun.com/tonality to learn more about Tonality Pro that many professional photographers consider the world’s most complete black & white photo editor. You’ll discover its many must-have features, such as RAW support and high quality 16-bit processing, more than 150 professional one-click presets, texture overlays with custom texture support and Adaptive Exposure and Smart Contrast. Tonality Pro is the editor you need to create black-and-white HDR images with just one click and take total control of every image’s tonal quality. At just $69.99, Tonality Pro is easy to add to your editing suite and elevate your black-and-white photography to a whole new level.
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