A while ago, I wrote an article on low-contrast B&W conversions with Lightroom. After reading through some of the response the article received I was pleasantly surprised that so many of our readers actually prefer low-contrast look over the ever-popular high-contrast conversions. That is not to say high-contrast B&W photography is in some way inferior, not at all. It is merely the more popular, the more easily accepted sort of look, which is exactly the reason why I saw fit to go against the wave and start with the opposite. Now, ever since I wrote that piece, I’ve received several requests for a similar article on a high-contrast conversion. This topic is particularly tricky for me since I rarely do high-contrast B&W, but the requests did remind me of one occasion where I was deliberately working towards such a result from the very start. And so, as always, we begin with a photograph.
What makes a good black-and-white photograph, how do I take one, and why should I try when I have this nifty hypersaturation preset that makes even my lamest photos look awesome? I’ll answer the last question first – your oversharpened oversaturated photos stink. Their gaudy colors may suck the eye in, but then the eye gets stuck, realizes there’s nothing more to look for in the picture and hastily moves on. Effective black-and-white photography relies on form, texture, lines, contrast, tonality and composition to engage the viewer. Without flashy colors to draw viewers in, the black-and-white photographer either masters the principles of composition or perishes. Shooting in black-and-white is a great way to improve your photography skills.
It seems that many photographers go through a certain cycle of mistakes and errors during their photography journeys and careers. Some of these mistakes and photography “sins” have become so predictable, that it is usually easy to identify one’s level simply by looking at their recent work. During my past workshops and one-on-one sessions, I have seen many images that could have been great, if it was not for one or more of the typical mistakes outlined below. I have personally made many of these mistakes in the past and some of them I am still guilty and ashamed of even today, although I continuously work hard on getting rid of them. The article below is not meant to offend or criticize anyone. Although it might sound a bit arrogant or snobby, that is certainly not the intent – in fact, most of the images presented below are mine.
There are most likely as many ways to achieve a beautiful B&W look as there are photographers. Maybe I am exaggerating it a little, but then I am in love with B&W. It is not as if I don’t like colour, oh no. It’s just that I like the “classic” look that much. So today, instead of doing some general article on B&W conversion and trying to cover several different looks, I am going to pick out a photograph and just work on it until it is exactly how I pre-visualized it a second before pressing that shutter. First of all, though, we need a photograph. I think I have just the right one.
You must forgive that this is merely the thought process of a hobbyist, rather than a tutorial from an expert. In a world awash with blinding, over-saturated colour photos, plenty has been written on this subject in response, but I felt it might help some readers (especially those just starting out in photography) to elaborate on my decision-making process and reasons for rendering or shooting an image in black and white (B+W). Your rationales may be different, of course, but by articulating mine it might help an understanding of what makes black and white images so appealing.
She posed atop a sand dune with wind-gnarled cypress trees clinging to a rocky precipice in the distance. She was nude of course, and sitting on a bedpan. A dead pelican lay at her kelp-entwined feet. In one hand she held a nautilus, in the other the most sensuous bell pepper that had ever grown. As I adjusted my 8×10’s tilts and shifts she gave me that glance – just 1/60th of a second, but in that moment I knew there would be more tilting and shifting later as her aperture and my shutter speed would dance in perfect rhythm. I stopped the lens down to f/64, then…I woke up.
A while ago, Nasim went to London to spend some time with his family and meet up with some of our dear readers. You might have noticed that, for a couple of weeks, he did not have much time to work on articles, certainly not as much as usual. You might also have noticed my own absence for the last couple of months at least. We did not plan to take vacation at the same time. It just so happened that I, too, have been extremely busy at the time, hence no new Lightroom or composition-related articles coming out. My time away, however, was rather less glamorous than that of my friend’s. And less relaxing, let alone fun or enthusiastically met. In fact, it was somewhat of a nightmare at times, a blur of nights and days turning into long, long weeks of never-ending stacks of books, articles and albums. How I missed my job! Although rationally I understand it is not, in the moments of weakness writing articles seemed like a much simpler endeavour. Certainly much more fun.
‘Attempting’ and ‘style‘ being the salients word here! Nope, not any kind of expert on this subject either but the style and simplicity of fine art photography is greatly appealing to me, and by explaining why we may consider some important aspects of making compelling images.
If you are inspired by the works of Ansel Adams, James Nachtwey or other masters of black and white photography, you probably want to try doing some B&W yourself. If you don’t know how to take black and white pictures and where to start, then this guide might help you to get into the world of B&W photography. I must admit that I am no guru when it comes to black and white photography, but I have been experimenting with it lately and would like to share what I have learned so far.
This is the second part of the “Best of 2010″ collection for landscape photography. I have not done much of black and white photography, so the below images are sort of “experimental”. Let me know what you think of these! If you like the way they came out, I will post a quick tutorial showing how I did it.