Has this question ever crossed your mind? I wonder if I should shoot this in black & white? We think every photographer has been faced with this decision. And many folks today, in this digital world, would just tell themselves, “I ...
Has this question ever crossed your mind? I wonder if I should shoot this in black & white? We think every photographer has been faced with this decision. And many folks today, in this digital world, would just tell themselves, “I can always convert it later”. But the truth is that sometimes it will help you in your visualization of the final photograph to image it in black and white right on the spot.
Perhaps, you might want to filter the image, either optically or electronically: a red filter to darken the sky, a green filter to light foliage, a yellow to lighten a person’s skin.
Another important point to consider is tonal value. The tonal value of your subject might influence how you frame it. What do we mean by tonal value? If your subject has the predominate colors green and blue, and they have the same reflective value, they will image at almost the same tonal value in black and white.
So, how do you learn to see in tones?
Back in the old days, (film), this was a trick we used to use. Find yourself a dark piece of glass. Sunglasses work fine. But they should be the very dark variety with no color tint. Close one eye and peer through the glasses with the open eye. The glasses effectively remove all color. you are now seeing the scene in tonal value (levels of light to dark).
So What Screams Black and White?
Let’s examine some photographic situations and discuss why black and white is an excellent choice.
black and white by Gianni Dominici, on Flickr
When your situation has unpleasing color balance
This photographic opportunity is extremely interesting. But, it’s a factory setting. The natural color balance in this type of situation generally isn’t ideal. You’re probably looking at fluorescent or sodium vapor lighting. Both of which create unnatural color shifts in your image. True, you could color balance. But if you’re using a flash fill it’s going to throw the color temperature on your flash off. It could be done, with gels and tinkering, but it becomes complicated. What makes this scene perfect for black and white is the action. By eliminating color, it forces your eye to the repeating pattern of the hands, and this is where the true interest of the photograph lies. Then, you take in the rest of the image as a secondary part of the composition. The choice of black and white imaging takes this ordinary situation and turns it into a graphic element.
My Dad in Shanghai :: iPhone by Jonathan Kos-Read, on Flickr
When there just isn’t a whole lot of color to start with
Sometimes, we find ourselves in situations where there just isn’t a lot of color around: a foggy day, an overcast day, a scene that is all white, a scene that is all black, a scene that is all one color, a scene that has excessive contrast. The image above is a perfect example of black and white creating a strong visual statement, whereas a color version would have distracted from the man. The stark contrast of black and white draws you to the man in the foreground. His face becomes the focal point. The buildings, (despite their unusual shapes), are secondary points of interest. If this had been in color, the shapes of the buildings, combined with their color values, would have competed with the man; resulting in an image without a strong focal point.
Black & White Flower Pattern by VinothChandar, on Flickr
When you want to emphasize a repeating pattern
When you eliminate color, the elements of composition tend to focus more strongly on pattern, shape, and tone. If you find yourself intrigued by a subject that has the element of a repeating pattern, consider switching to black and white; especially if the color of the subject has little to do with what you are trying to say.
Thomas, Homeless (Black & White) by Franco Folini, on Flickr
Emphasizing facial features
Nothing does an interesting face more justice than a finely crafted black and white image. The very nature of the medium emph