Black and White Photographers – 3 Main Ingredients For Beautiful Pictures

//Black and White Photographers – 3 Main Ingredients For Beautiful Pictures

Black and White Photographers – 3 Main Ingredients For Beautiful Pictures

Black and white photographers still have to understand colour in order to produce good pictures. In fact, being able to recognise colour tones in a scene is key to achieving black and white photography excellence.

But there’s more. Of course there is!

Secrets To Going Dark | Darrin Henry

In this post we will outline a set of simple guidance points to consider with this genre of photography. Together they are the main ingredients for great images, from classic black and white portraits to rich, sweeping landscapes. We will cover the following:

  1. Monochrome Photography or Black and White?
  2. The Nostalgia of Black and White Photos
  3. Composition Ideas
  4. Taming The Harsh Midday Light
  5. Blue Is The New Black – Recognising Tone
  6. Textures and Patterns
  7. The Classic Portrait
  8. Turning Up The ISO
  9. Practise, Practise, Practise

 

Contrast is the key to this black and white photograph. Freshly caught fish just landed on the wharf in Jamestown, St Helena.

1 – Monochrome vs Black and White

They’re very similar but there is difference between the black and white pictures, and monochrome photography that’s worth knowing about.

Basically, monochrome pictures are comprised from a single colour scale, such as blue, red, grey, etc. The picture shade will vary from the darkest end of, blue, for example, all the way to the lightest shade without hitting white.

A monochrome can be shot in camera, by photographing a scene made up of variants of one colour – a tightly framed shot of the blue sea, for instance.

The black and white photo on the other hand is comprised only from the full range of the colour, grey. At one end of the scale is complete black, at the other is white. In between is the full greyscale range.

This means black and white images are also monochrome images, however, unless it’s on the greyscale, a monochrome is not a black and white.

That’s a basic breakdown. If you would like more detail, have a look at this from Expert Photography.

 

Black and White Photography Tips - A night time cityscape of Bangkok, in Thailand. The intricate patterns of shadow and light makes this cityscape work well in black and white.

Black and White Photography Tips – A night time cityscape of Bangkok, in Thailand. The intricate patterns of shadow and light makes this cityscape work well in black and white.

 

2 – Everyone Loves Black and White Photos

Black and white pictures carry that nostalgic credential which gives them instant appeal, even more so today where the style gets a free pass to the ‘artistic’ table.

It’s the vintage photography look which, I think, implies time-honoured camera skills must have been involved in the picture’s creation.

Sometimes I think the ease of modern editing software along with in-camera filter effects, has meant digital black and white photography is often over-done. I also think it’s often used to mask poor photography. Shock! Horror!

But, stickler moans aside, the top black and white photographers do produce the most breath-taking work. High-quality black and white prints mounted in simple, clutter-free frames can be true works of art that add a touch of class to any room or interior space.

Although I’m a big fan of colour, it’s hard not to appreciate black and white photography artists when the work is good. In particular, I love black and white nude photography as an art form. And editorial culture images in greyscale are also highly evocative.

 

Black and white photography works great for architecture under the right conditions. This sight of the Tennessee State Capital building in Nashville, USA, got us excited right away with the dark, brooding clouds building and warm sunshine across the towering limestone building. The architecture lines mix well with the natural textures and shadows, perfect for black and white.

Black and White Photography Tips – Black and white photography works great for architecture under the right conditions. This sight of the Tennessee State Capital building in Nashville, USA, got us excited right away with the dark, brooding clouds building and warm sunshine across the towering limestone building. The architecture lines mix well with the natural textures and shadows, perfect for black and white.

 

3 – Composition

We know composition is one of the cornerstones of good photography, but when shooting in black and white it’s even more crucial.

Without colour, photographers need to recognise variations in tones, spot how textures cast shadows and where shapes and recurring patterns alter light and shade.

Careful composition will frame these features to get the best from the shot.

 

Textures and patterns translate perfectly showing how to take great black and white photographs with this cloudscape over the RMS St Helena, anchored in James Bay. Composition is rather extreme allowing the sky to dominate the frame.

 

4 – Taming The Harsh Midday Light

Normally it’s photographers and vampires who avoid the midday sun.

The golden hour, that glorious soft light in the morning and evening is generally accepted as what works best for pictures.

But shoot a black and white image at high noon and suddenly the harsh shadows inject contrast and drama that is difficult to achieve with colour, under the same lighting conditions.

Sometimes even a bare flash can create a desirable hard shadow effect. (Making use of shadows in photography is another topic we’ve blogged about)

 

Look out for textures and patterns when shooting black and white photography. Man made structures are often a good source of repetitive patterns, especially cityscapes, such as this office building in Cape Town, South Africa. This was taken from the open top of the double-decker red bus, city sightseeing tour as we drove between the buildings.

Black and White Photography Tips – Look out for textures and patterns when shooting black and white photography. Man made structures are often a good source of repetitive patterns, especially cityscapes, such as this office building in Cape Town, South Africa. This was taken from the open top of the double-decker red bus, city sightseeing tour of Cape Town as we drove between the buildings.

 

Black and White Photography Tips - Ideal conditions for black and white photography at the St Helena Airport. Repeat patterns of the car park lines, a deep blue sky with plenty of cloud textures, midday sunlight throwing sharp shadows and the beautiful curves of this VW Beetle. The trick with black & white photography is to recognise the conditions in colour (which is how our eyes we see the world) which translate well when colour is removed.

Black and White Photography Tips – Ideal conditions at the St Helena Airport. Repeat patterns of the car park lines, a deep blue sky with plenty of cloud textures, midday sunlight throwing sharp shadows and the beautiful curves of this VW Beetle. The trick with black & white photography is to recognise the conditions in colour (which is how our eyes we see the world) which translate well when colour is removed.

 

Here bare flash units create the harsh shadows needed to make this photo work well in black and white. My dad happened to turn up while I was testing strobes outdoors which made things much more interesting when he agreed to model with his car.

Black and White Photography Tips – Here bare flash units create the harsh shadows needed to make this photo work well in black and white. My dad happened to turn up while I was testing strobes outdoors which made things much more interesting when he agreed to model with his car.

 

5 – Get Your Tone Right

Recognising tones when it comes to b&w photography is vital for achieving best results.

When it comes to black and white landscape photography a deep blue sky translates to black, when colour is removed.

Reds and greens have a similar effect. But yellows and lighter shades err more to white. Obvious you may say, but we seldom think in these terms when viewing a scene with the naked eye in vibrant colour.

Practise recognising these tonal translations and your brain will soon start to automatically convert image to black and white for you, ready to be snapped.

 

Black and White Photography Tips - Recognising colour tones when shooting black and white photography and how they translate is a useful skill. The deep blue sky above St Helena in this picture translates to a lovely black, offset by the cloud textures and foreground strands of grass.

Black and White Photography Tips – Recognising colour tones when shooting this style and how they translate is a useful skill. The deep blue sky above St Helena in this picture translates to a lovely black, offset by the cloud textures and foreground strands of grass.

 

6 – Textures and Patterns

Look out for textures and patterns in a scene. As black and white photography tips go, this is probably the most useful.

I mentioned this earlier, but textures and patterns are the cornerstone of high quality black and white photos so it’s worth ‘repeating.’

Why? Well textures throw tiny shadows which help give your 2-dimensional photo a sense of 3D depth. It adds shape, taking away some of the ‘flatness’ of the image.

I often suggest models bring a wool garment to a shoot, for this very reason.

Patterns are just as important, as the greyscale responds well to sharp contrast changes which helps lead the eye of the viewer through the picture.

The contrast of repeating parking lines along the street, or rows of windows along a building facade are typical modern black and white photography patterns to keep an eye out for.

 

Inside the Cape Town Luxury Icon Apartment block throws up an amazing black and white architectural photography opportunity. Here the lines and patterns lend themselves to a dramatic black and white image.

Inside the Cape Town Luxury Icon Apartment block throws up an amazing black and white architectural photography opportunity. Here the lines and patterns lend themselves to a dramatic black and white image.

 

7 – The Classic Portrait

Black and white portrait photography is timeless. There’s a classy vibe that this style projects which colour just can’t replicate, somehow.

A few years ago in London we did head shots for actors who all needed a black and white profile picture on their portfolios. It was mandatory for their industry.

So what is it about black and white photography prints that’s so special?

By stripping away the colour element in portraiture, the character of the human face stands alone, more focused and prominent, free from distractions. It’s why actors use black and white for a better connection with potential employers. It’s why old black and white photos become more significant with every passing year.

Classic black and white photography was founded on the humble portrait and it’s something that’s not going out of fashion anytime soon.

 

Black and white photography is very popular for professional headshots and portraiture. Without the distraction of colour, the character and expression of the face becomes far more prominent. This portrait of Cyan was captured during a portfolio shoot in London. Lighting is subtle but carefully arranged for gentle shading and tone.

Black and white photography is very popular for professional headshots and portraiture. Without the distraction of colour, the character and expression of the face becomes far more prominent. This portrait of Cyan was captured during a portfolio shoot in London. Lighting is subtle but carefully arranged for gentle shading and tone. Black and White Photography Tips

 

Black and white photography with studio model shoots can deliver very clean, crisp pictures, especially using a white backdrop and styling the outfit carefully. On this shoot with Amy we played around with the pose quite a bit to show off the outfit as much as possible.

Black and white photography with studio model shoots can deliver very clean, crisp pictures, especially using a white backdrop and styling the outfit carefully. On this shoot with Amy we played around with the pose quite a bit to show off the outfit as much as possible.

 

8 – Going Against The Grain – Turning Up The ISO

Final tip for creating beautiful black and white pictures centres is a technical point – set your camera up to shoot with a low ISO.

Black and white portrait photographers know that noise is more evident in this imagery. If you want a grainy effect, add it later in post-production with suitable editing software. In fact, lowest ISO should always (usually) be a priority, even when shooting colour. Obtaining the cleanest, purest master image means a lot more choice later in how the final image may be edited and presented.

 

This is Dobby, whose natural colour and texture make her a perfect candidate for a black and white portrait (in landscape orientation here). A well placed treat helped hold her attention long enough to capture this picture!

This is Dobby, whose natural colour and texture make her a perfect candidate for a black and white portrait (in landscape orientation here). A well placed treat helped hold her attention long enough to capture this picture!

 

9 – Black and White Photographers All Need Practise

It all takes practise and a lot of trial and error. Practise, practise, practise – it’s a simple philosophy that works for nearly everything in life, including photography.

 

This shot of workers enjoying the sunshine over lunchtime in London, England, is a great example of black and white photography in architecture. This picture works great in black and white because of the strong light, bold lines from the buildings and the lovely textures across the cloudy sky.

This shot of workers enjoying the sunshine over lunchtime in London, England, is a great example of black and white photography in architecture. This picture works great in black and white because of the strong light, bold lines from the buildings and the lovely textures across the cloudy sky.

 

Time To Give It A Go

And don’t forget, everything here is advice; a guide; suggestions. Don’t be afraid to break the rules in photography and experiment if your instincts kick in; some of the famous black and white photographers play by their own rules!

But hopefully these tips will help point you in the right direction.

Good luck!

Black and white model photoshoots give pictures a classic look, but once again, textures, patterns and shadows all help to enhance the style. Of course, a stunning model like Emma-Jay certainly makes the photographer's job easier! The full series with Emma can be seen in our Breeze 2 e-magazine.

Black and white model photo shoots give pictures a classic look, but once again, textures, patterns and shadows all help to enhance the style. Of course, a stunning model like Emma-Jay certainly makes the photographer’s job easier! The full series with Emma can be seen in our Breeze 2 e-magazine.

 


Take Our 7-Day Photography Challenge

Hope you’ve found these tips that black and white photographers use, helpful.

If so, you may also enjoy having a go at our 7-Day Challenge, a no-pressure set of 7 exercises to do at home to improve your own photography. We designed this series after completing three Project 365 Challenges and realised how setting a daily target can really improve a photographer’s skills.

Our 7-Day Challenge is a Free Download which you can then save to your laptop or phone for later reference. Good luck, let us know how you get on.

 

 

 

By |2019-03-10T00:40:35+00:00July 6th, 2016|Photography Help|6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. patsy williams July 14, 2016 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    Very good photos Sharan and Darin…my favorite one this time is Mr Patrick Henry by the car…very photogenic Mr Henry

    • Saints July 14, 2016 at 3:11 pm - Reply

      Thanks Patsy. Mr Patrick must have been a model at some point, he didn’t need to be told twice to pose! Thanks for the comment. Cheers 🙂

  2. Diane Webb, July 14, 2016 at 3:54 am - Reply

    Thank you for sharing your exceptional skills Darren, valuable to all. Always, professional and yet personal. Simply, Great Stuff

    • Saints July 14, 2016 at 3:08 pm - Reply

      You’re welcome Di, lovely to have your comment. Hope all’s going well at the Tangled Webb Art Gallery, now there’s professional and personal. Can’t wait to visit again someday 🙂 Cheers

  3. jlbrownjoey July 6, 2016 at 6:05 pm - Reply

    Very informative, looking forward to trying out some of ideas. I always say photos are better in black and white.

    • Saints July 14, 2016 at 3:05 pm - Reply

      Hope your trials are going well JLB 🙂 I know you like the b&w. Will have to work on a colour photography post for you I think. Thanks for the comment.

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