In an era when colors are most popular for photography projects, it can be intimidating to strip down all the hues and go black and white. If you’ve decided to take on the challenge of seeing and capturing the world differently, it’s worth learning some useful tips and tricks to get the best photos. In his video for Shutterstock Tutorials, Texas-based video journalist Logan Baker shared some of the things he learned when he gave it a try.
“The truth is, I don’t know a lot about black and white photography,” Logan confessed in his intro. So if you’re not feeling so confident, know that you’re not alone, and it’s always like that when you’re still starting out. But with these tips, you’ll get a better understanding of what makes a great black and white photo.
Shadows and Contrast
Black and white photography is primarily a play on light and shadows, as Logan stressed in the video. This allows photographers to make compositions showing the drama of the contrast between light and dark elements. So, when planning your shoot, look for locations that will let you take advantage of the interesting shapes and contrasts produced by this shadowplay. Logan recommends consulting the Sun Seeker app to find out where the sun would be situated at any given time time in your chosen location (or where you plan to shoot) so you can follow the light (and the shadows).
Colors and Textures
Logan also mentions shooting in color to later adjust the tones and contrast of them in post process. As he demonstrated in the video, you can use the color sliders to produce your desired look, as some colors will have an effect on the contrast of your photos. This can be a handy trick if you’re not yet confident about shooting in monochrome.
Another thing he realized is that scenes with more textures would look better in black and white compared to those with mostly smooth surfaces in colors. Because textures show more tonal variations than solid colors, even subtle contrasts would be highlighted when you convert your color shot to black and white. So, that’s another thing to consider, especially when you’re shooting street, abstracts, or architecture. However, if you’re shooting portraits, make sure your subject is the focus of your composition, and the background doesn’t distract the viewer’s attention.
Work with Black and White Film
If you haven’t shot with black and white film before, Logan recommends getting into it, even with a cheap, vintage SLR camera so you can fully immerse in the black and white experience. Because you will be shooting with full knowledge that your photos will be black and white, you’ll be composing and capturing scenes that you know will look best in monochrome. On the plus side, the limited number of frames will allow you to better understand how light works to create a great image, and force you to think carefully about your shots.
Draw Inspiration from Ansel Adams
Ansel Adams has become synonymous with black and white photography — especially for landscapes — because really, you can’t get into the craft without coming across his work and the techniques he pioneered. Logan picked up a book titled Looking at Ansel Adams: The Photographs and the Man by Andrea Stillman, and he looked into it for inspiration. In it, he learned about the how and why of the iconic photographer’s equally iconic black and white snaps. So, if you need some inspiration and guidance, this is just one of the many books on Ansel Adams you can find out there.
Do check out the Shutterstock Tutorials YouTube channel for more photography tips and tricks from pros like Logan Baker.
Screenshot image from the video