About Monochrome Photography
Photography was born in monochrome, more commonly called black and white. Although color film has come into use and seems to have taken the lead in the digital era, monochrome photography is still alive and regarded as a classical way of producing photographic art. It is considered by many photographers as a really powerful means to convey deeper feelings, to create special atmosphere and seen as a great way to convey the vision of the world as dreamt by an artist. In areas of photography such as street, landscape, portraits, documentary, wildlife or abstract, Black and White photography brings images to life, overflowing them with emotions. Needless to say, color distracts our vision; thusly the images presented in colors would be just a simple representation of the subject captured by the lens, dull and soul-less, if it’s not really well taken.
Kodak, Ilfrod, Fujifilm are well-known for the quality of their films. Some photographers still love to use them, albeit digital cameras, nowadays, offer black and white settings. Furthermore, for a good result in Black and White photography, color filters are of good use, although nowadays few photographers choose to work with them due to softwares enabling to add it in the post-processing phase. Nevertheless, the latter can not compete with the use of filters on field.
Thus, different types of color filters exist : yellow, green, red and orange. Since light is a combination of different wavelengths that we see as colors, these colored filters block some wavelengths, highlighting only one specific color. Understanding color channel and tonality in photo softwares while post-processing, will make your thoughts on image complete and will help you adjust some technical aspects such as brightness, contrast, tones and curves to finalize your work of art.
While shooting Black and White photography, shapes, forms, details, patterns, contrast, textures, lighting, highlights, shadows and composition are the main factors every photographer should be cautious with. He/She should, indeed, focus on them all and try to make them play a role in the picture in an artistic way.
The best way to move one step forward is to compare your work with the professional ones and to learn the essential skills and techniques from them. Try to get familiar with all those processes, in order to create a masterpiece of your own. By keeping experimenting, you will recognize your areas of interest and reach that position where you will be able to deliver your own style and vision.
Let’s take a closer look to some technical aspects that might help you to start with Black and White photography :
• First and foremost, give preference into shooting pictures in color, even if most of the cameras, nowadays, enable you to use Black and White mode. Pictures taken in color will give you more details. Indeed, digital cameras are catching up, thanks to their three channels : red, blue and green, a lot more shades of color. You can always post-process your pictures and convert them into Black and White on your computer by using available photo softwares.
• If possible, always shoot in RAW. Not all cameras are equipped to do so, but if it is the case, just learn about how to do and get used to it. Since RAW format has higher image quality with more tones in color than JPEG does, it will give you a more precise control while post-processing.
• Identify the right time for shooting. To shoot very impressive Black and White pictures prefer a day without too much sunlight, rather pick a day covered with fog or morning dew, just before or after rain or cloudy, with some sunbeams penetrating through. This low contrast atmosphere will enable you to highlight your subject angle-wise. On the contrary, shooting under full light atmosphere would just erase shadows and make subject flat with poor contrast. Moreover, avoid background with too much light and reflections, which would prevent you from putting more emphasis on the subject.
• Be vigilant. Always look for the light source no matter the sun or external light, understand it and look for shadows. Be tactful while deciding placement of the subject. If you are using external light source of your own in studio, then high key and low key format is really nice if you use those properly.
• Remember. Always try to shoot by lowering the ISO as much as possible in order to lessen the noise in the picture. While post-processing, a lot of impurity might appear very clearly, spoiling it. However, you can avoid that with low sensitivity mode rather than high one.
• Framing and composition is important. Since there are no colors distracting the eye and the focused subject is distinct, you should be really careful. Learn how to play with shadows and highlights, for those two aspects will create the atmosphere of your picture. Furthermore, texture, patterns, shape, forms, tones and use of negative space are the composers of a good Black and White photography.
• Try to understand the histogram of your picture with its shadows, midtones and highlights to get a proper exposure.
• Do not process your bad color image into black and white if you don’t like it in color, thinking you will have a better result in monochrome.
Finally, use a photo software such as Photoshop or Lightroom with Nik plugins to post-process your images and convert them into Black and White photography. Thanks to these softwares, you can play on contrast and you can change shades of blue, red and green, in order to give the effect and emotions you are looking for. You will be able to deliver complete different versions of one single image. Some photographers prefer dark tones and a lot of contrast, while others use less contrast with soft tones. It depends on your style and the field you are working in.
If landscape is your main focus, you can use ND grads to get proper exposure. To use a polarized filter will help you to achieve rich color tones and it will help to get details on skylight and its clouds by darkening a bright sky, removing reflections and unpleasant brightness.
After basics adjustments on my RAW file, I personally use in post-processing phase most commonly, shadows and highlights, dodge and burn, channel mixture, layer masking, and tonality tools. There are small plugins like Actions in Photoshop or Presets in Lightroom which will help you to get the result you are looking for. But composition is the key factor in Black and White photography. So keep in mind the rules of elements in foreground, symmetry & patterns, leading lines, balancing elements, golden rule, and the odd rule.
Black and white photography is a beautiful artistic discipline. However, in order to make a really good monochrome image, the artist should not only have technical qualities and good equipment but also put a little bit of his/her soul in it.
Thank you for your stay.
All content © Amit Jung K.C
Posted on February 22, 2014 » by Lensman