Seeing in Black and White

I very much enjoy black and white photography but am conscious that I tend to rely on instinct rather than on any particular skill or technique. I’ve read a little on the subject and, so far, the consensus seems to be that an accomplished black and white photographer is one that has learnt how to see and think in black and white before they press the shutter release button. It is possible to use a filter or to take a shot and then look at the preview image on the camera, of course, but I am learning that it is also important to understand something about tone, texture, shape and, as with all photography, composition.

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These photos were taken in the Canadian Rockies in 2008 (right) and 2009 (left), when I was still letting my camera do all the work!  Despite that, I remain quite fond of them, though suspect that might be more to do with the subject matter than the quality of the image.

The two photos below were originally taken in colour.  I wanted the distinctive shapes of the trees to become the focus, so chose to create silhouettes by metering for the sky.  The final images had very little colour, so it was a natural next step to convert them to black and white.  A slight adjustment to the contrast using editing software added a little more interest to the sky.

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Taken in February 2013, on the Staunton Harold Estate, Leicestershire.

Where texture is an important element, I find black and white photography to be particularly effective.  I’ve not quite mastered close-up photos of the knots and patterns in tree trunks – I need to work on ensuring the image is exposed correctly – but the outcome is still quite interesting.

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Photos 1, 3 and 6 were taken on the Staunton Harold Estate and photo 2 was taken at Leeds Castle, Kent, all in February 2013.  Photos 4 and 5 were taken at Scotney Castle, Kent in March 2013.  Photo 3 is not the most attractive of images but there was something arresting and jarring about it; I couldn’t walk by without taking a photo.

There are some images that I simply prefer in black and white, rather than colour.  The one below right, for example, used a shallow depth of field to reduce the distracting details behind the primary subject.  The colour version remained confused, however, because there were blurred but still distinct colours in the background that drew the eye away from the foreground.

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Both of these photos were taken at Leeds Castle, one (left) in May 2013 and the other (right) in February.  The flower needed a little fixing and with the help of editing software I was able to remove a nasty black spot from its centre.

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Apparently I’m rather keen on black and white images of chairs and benches!  The photo on the left was taken at Nymans in May 2013 and the other two at Scotney Castle in March 2013.  You’ll get used to seeing photos of Scotney if you visit this blog often enough – it’s one of my favourite places…

If you want to see a pro working with black and white photography, and you’re based in or around London, then I’d recommend a trip to the Natural History Museum and Sebastião Salgado’s Genesis.  There is an entrance fee (advance booking is recommended) but also lots to look at.