I LOVE photography.  Been taking photos for a long time (dare I say since 1971….yikes!).  I’ve always said that if you’re gonna shoot in color make the image colorful.  In the old days I used Kodachrome 25 and Velvia: I wanted COLOR!  Today, with digital photography I mostly use Lightroom 4 (LR4) and make sure I’ve got good well defined properly saturated colors.  Then I may add a little ‘gas’ by using plug-ins like Topaz or Viveza, etc. That’s what I like.  Absolutely, perfect subdued colors be damned! ☺

Today, though I’m thinking in & about Black & White photography.  So, similar to color, but in B&W, you want your image to be well composed, well defined and have great B&W. What the hell does that mean: have great B&W?!  It’s not an easy ‘thing’ to explain to someone not familar or used to taking photos in B&W.  Our B&W workshops (1 last year & 2 this year) try to do just that.  Don & I both share the enjoyment of B&W photography and work hard at helping folks to ‘see’ in B&W.

So, what makes a GREAT B&W image?  Here are a few thoughts: lots of detail, something old, high contrast scenes, high contrast scenes that don’t look good in color, portraits, grain, night scenes, urban landscapes, architecture, patterns, lines, bad color and so much more.  Maybe the answer is anything!  Again, that’s where it gets tricky as not everything looks great in B&W.

Some scenes ‘lend themselves’ to B&W. The trick is in being able to ‘see’ those scenes and know that they need to be converted into B&W.  One of the things I do is to look at the old masters’ work (Adams, Weston and many more) as they’re still very relevant today.  By doing some research it may help you to get a grasp on this challenging type of photography!  Make it a point to observe that not all B&W images are actually black & white.  So many of images are toned (typically sepia) and this adds a whole new dimension to the image.
You’ll see that 3  of the images in this post are toned.  Know why?  Because I like it!  As a color photographer you have the right to adjust the color balance of your image from what the camera captured to what you think you ‘saw’.  In the world of B&W it’s kind of similar. Yes I do love a high contrast B&W image with tack sharp edges you can almost feel on your fingertips.  But not all images are meant to be presented that way.

OK, now what? This post is meant to be a thought provoking one. For you as a photographer step back (not if you’re on top of Cadillac Mntn of course!) and prepare yourself to think in and photograph in black & white. Do some research. Look at other’s B&W photography.  What makes it good, or even great?

I challenge you to go out and just try to photograph images that you know should ONLY be processed as a black & white image.  Can you do it?  I know I do on occassion.  It’s fun. It’s challenging. Make it an assignment for yourself to do it.  That’s how you improve your photography skills.

The frosting on the cake: capture some B&W images and either make a print or have one made from a favorite image of yours.  Then hang it up in your house.  You’ll soon see that, yup color is great, but BLACK & WHITE is BETTER!

I hope this spurs you on to better black & white photography.

Bob Ring


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