Black and white photography

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Black and white photos do no have the luxury of using color to catch the viewer. Instead we must capture the other parts of a scene to being able to deliver the feeling we got. There is also of course some photos that have better capabillties to become a great black and white photo then other. Urban photography is very trendy today and most photographers have tried it in some way. Often the objects found for this kind of photos are torn, old and have a high amount of contrast dy rust, old paint and materials and also quite often a less amount of ambient light. The perfect urban photo can be found in a sewer pipe with no direct sunlight or in an abandoned and shut building. Both of the examples with very low light. Low light is not always bad though, by utilizing the low light and beeing able to capture longer exposures we can create beautiful photos of ugly things and areas.

Often black and white photography can seem to be easier then color photography due to its forgiving effect. But in fact it is the complete differece. To being able to capture a great black and white photo the photographer have to see beyond the colors onto the object itself.

Different photos can call for different settings to be used to utilize the most of the situation. A nice blue sky can when desaturated look pale and lifeless instead of varm and beautiful. Using filters can help you to change the feeling of a black and white photo by bringing you more contrast and more details between the different colorscales which you are to remove.

  • If you have a very bright sky you can use a red filter to darken it while keeping the details in the foreground.
  • To bring more life into mist and fog you can go for a blue filter which will help those greys to jump out of the blur.
  • Green filters are great to use to capture the difference in greens while photographing vast landscapes or scenes of nature.

Camera settings
Most cameras today have the option of saving photos directly in black and white, both when using JPG and RAW. As most books and guides will tell you the best way to photograph black and white photos is to do so using RAW but not to use your cameras black and white setting. The main reason for this is so that you keep the colorinformation if you for any chance would change your mind afterwards and feel that the photo look better in color. You can also use the colorinformation to keep a single object in color while the rest of the photo is in black and white. This is an effect that have become very trendy lately and can be seen in many places.

“But if I shoot in color and RAW, how do I get my photos to become black and white?”, you might ask. Well, photoeditors today can create great black and white scales of color photos and the ways of desaturate an image are many. The easiest way that is almost always an option in editors is to change the colormode to black and white. This is a technique that might be a bit rough and you do not have as much control over it as you want but as an amateur photographer it will be enough for you to start getting a grasp on the posibilities.

Noise have an tendency to show even more in a black and white photo which mean that we should always keep the ISO-setting of the camera as low as possible. As soon as we start moving up the ISO we introduce noise which will show in our photos and sometimes this is something we want but most of the time we do not want this. It is due to this better to keep the ISO at the lowest setting possible for the scene and instead add noise in post-production if wanted.

General tips
A bright and sunny day can be great for your regular photos but might create slighly overexposed photos in black and white. To counter this at an early stage try to underexpose a couple of steps to keep the spectrum more balanced.

Great scenes for black and white photographs

  • Urban photography and decay in general have a natural feeling of desaturarion.
  • Architecture and abstract creations can be hard to photograph in black and white due to many areas with plain colors but in an interesting angle they can be great.
  • Landscapes can sometimes loose their grandness due to the strong colors. By removing the colors the observer can focus on the whole picture and not the stray details.
  • Textures exist all around us from macro-photos of a leaf to the patterns of a brick wall, and they all is just made for black and white photos in high contrast.