Sunday, February 7, 2010

On Black and White Images

There are three types of black and white photographs: those taken directly in black and white, those converted from color to black and white, and infrared photographs. Each method has its place in photography and each provides amazing visual appeal.

Plantation House
Plantation House


Deliberately taking a photographic trip strictly to make black and white images opens up a new world in photography because black and white photos are all about contrasts - contrasts in shape, texture, and especially contrasting light.

I have found that one of the best ways to learn more about black and white photography is by watching old black and white films. In the black and white films of yesteryear, items like clothing, hair styles, and the general surroundings of a scene have a much different emphasis. Form, outline, and symmetry are used to leave the impression colors are used for today. If you don't believe me, imagine watching your local weather forecast on a black and white television (I have done this before). It is amazing to realize just how much we rely on color.

Bird of Paradise Leaves
Bird of Paradise Leaves


Similarly, learning to visualize an image as it would appear in black and white is, I believe, a great way to better your color photography. It causes you to concentrate more on composition than color photography does. This is especially true in the use of infrared filters. Infrared greatly alters elements in a scene. The underlying structural components (tree trunks and limbs, rocks, buildings, even water and skies) become foremost in the scene instead.

Here's another project for visualization. Take a color photo and using Photoshop's Channel Mixer select "Monochrome" and change the picture into a black and white. Save this image, reopen the original again, and repeat the procedure only this time alter the amount of red, green, or blue of each channel.


Implied Color

I once saw a black and white photograph of a beautiful rainbow with the backdrop of a large waterfall. It was amazing to me that I could both recognize it was in fact a rainbow and identify each of the colors. This is because, just as in the example above, black and white still relies on color. Each of the channels, red, green, and blue, are represented.

Knowing this brings up a whole new line of thinking where photography is concerned. And being able to represent color in strictly grayscale tones becomes a really fascinating and challenging subject, especially in infrared images where waters and skies turn black.

Docks, Lake Kissimmee, Florida
Docks, Lake Kissimmee, Florida

With every photograph taken, a photographer should always strive to learn something new. I have found that black and white photography is another great tool I can use to enhance my ability to visualize a scene and to better capture light, whether I am usually a color photographer or not. It allows me to be a bit more creative and yet achieve some fascinating results.

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Suzanne Williams Photography
Florida, USA

Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.

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