Creating great black and white photographs starts from the very first process: the sensory input of light into your eyes. The process of learning to see in black and white, before you start pressing the shutter, will determine the quality and impact of your output. Here are some tips to help you improve your black and white senses. Start seeing in black and white so that you can achieve the desired photographs.
Ahhh, look for the extremes. Look out for harsh lighting and dark outlines, silhouettes, shadows and shapes. Squint your eyes a little, and look for the “blacks” and the “whites”. Imagine that your world is rendered in just two colors. Contrasts in black and white pictures help focuses the subject matter for the viewers.
Recognise shapes, forms, patterns and textures
Simple works best. Start observing closely into subjects and objects and look out for simple variations of (or the lack thereof) shapes, forms, patterns and textures. Once you start to see everyday objects in their entirety and identify these features, envisioning them in black and white, you will have endless subjects to photograph.
Understand dynamic ranges and tones
Remember when color HDR was all the range over the past few years? This time, think about HDR but in terms of just black and white tones. The skill here is then to recognise a scene with a large range of tones, so that you can capture one that is similar to the picture above. It requires a keen subtlety and ability to see through a gradual and different shades of blacks, shadows, highlights and whites. Black and white photographs can be beautiful when the tones are visibly highlighted well enough.
Yes, flip through the papers and look at pictures that strike you. Study and analyse them, find out what works for them. There are also plenty of pictures that do not appeal to you. Find out why. Is it the composition, is it the texture, is it the subject, is it the story, the mood, the tones? The best part of reading newspapers is that you can read up on current affairs while engaging in your photography hobby and training your photographic eye!
Resources to help improve seeing in black and white
Here are some useful resources to improve your black and white photography:
- Seeing in Black and White with Eileen Rafferty (Youtube)
- Black and White Photography Field Guide: The essential guide to the art of creating black & white images (The Field Guide Series)
- Digital Black & White Landscape Photography: Fine Art Techniques from Camera to Print
- Creative Black and White: Digital Photography Tips and Techniques
- Black and White: From Snapshots to Great Shots
What are some of the ways you use to train your eyes to see in black and white photography? Share them in the comments below!