1 Take a walk on the wild side
Wildlife and non-domestic animals are usually photographed in colour, which is why going for the less-familiar black and white approach can pay dividends, as Anthony Previte has shown with this striking shot taken at Toledo Zoo:
‘I took the original picture soon after I got my Canon 350D,’ says Anthony. ‘I used a Tamron 18-200mm lens at 42mm, and shot at f/7.1 and ISO 800. The original was pretty unimpressive and had some bad reflections covering up parts of it. I put it in B&W because I thought it would really bring out the bear’s eyes against his white fur and the texture on his nose.’
2 Add a Sepia Tone
The term ‘black and white’ shouldn’t be taken literally. As the more correct term – monochrome – makes clear, it’s more about creating images based on varying tones of a single colour. That colour could be black (with its various grey shades) or you could add a tint. Warm tints such as sepia were popular in Victorian times and are popular now for their nostalgic qualities. Photoshop provides a range of methods for converting images to sepia, from using the program’s preset Sepia filter (Image > Adjustments > Photofilter), through to more complex split-toning techniques.
Louise LeGresley used a subtle sepia tint for this shot: ‘I was attracted to this scene as it was the first time I’d seen people with umbrellas in the snow. I used a Panasonic FZ5 at 1/100sec at f3.3. I applied the b&w conversion in Photoshop. I then continued in Photo Filter where I applied a sepia tint that was quite strong, so I desaturated it a bit.’
3 Shoot Infrared
You can get some ethereal, other-worldly effects by using the infrared part of the spectrum to record your image. It’s normally invisible so you’ll need to fit a filter (ideally a Hoya R72, or a deep red filter) to exclude most of the visible spectrum so that only the infrared part reaches the sensor. The results show a world of strange tones, of dark skies and cotton-white foliage. Some cameras have a filter over the sensor which cuts out infrared, making them less than ideal, but many owners of these cameras have reported that infrared photography is still possible, albeit at long exposures. An alternative is to buy a camera specifically for infrared and have this filter removed by a technician. Compacts are often used for this due to their lower purchase cost. For more advice on shooting infrared with specific cameras, visit: http://www.flickr.com/search/groups/?q=infrared
Dave Wild says: ‘This was taken on the bridge overlooking Princes Street gardens in Edinburgh at 9:15am after some rain, so it was unusually empty. The photo was taken using a Canon Digital IXUS 55 with a Hoya R72 filter attached to the camera using a third-party device that screws into the tripod thread.’
Dave’s technique: Using the R72
‘Because of the limitations of the IXUS and the way I attach the R72 filter, it means exposures are chosen based on previous experience. Given the current lighting situation this was a six-second exposure. The screen preview is quite a good guide but I normally take a few shots with slightly different exposure times if I have any doubt.’
Desaturate and set white point
‘The white balance is also hard to get right using this setup so I typically set it to a fixed factory setting (tungsten, but it could be anything), and my shots then tend to come out a nice, uniform shade of purple. Post-processing consists of de-saturating the image and adjusting the white point using curves.’
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4 Look for texture
B&W may not be the ideal medium to capture colourful subjects, but it’s perfect for highly textured ones. Texture adds an intensely descriptive quality to an image that colour can’t rival. Thanks to that primeval urge to touch, texture can be the complete subject of a composition. Texture is best emphasised by oblique lighting glancing across the surface.
5 Walk the line
Black and white emphasises form, tone and texture. Lines, curves and shapes are brought to the fore, so it’s ideal for creating images that focus on the graphic nature of the subject. Lines in an image (such as walls, fences, roads and so forth) that lead the eye from the foreground of the scene to the middle distance will draw the eye into the frame, while horizontal strokes draw the eyes across. Vertical lines traditionally enhance a sense of depth, while diagonals will inject drama and excitement. Practice trying to visualise your scene in terms of lines and shapes.
6 Low key
Low-key images are comprised predominantly of dark tones, with few bright areas. They usually place an emphasis on deep shadows. The effect is achieved through appropriate lighting and careful exposure selection (meter for the highlights to darken the midtones and shadows). Levels control can also be used at the editing stage. Zonia Zena used a low-key approach for this self-portrait:
‘At the time this was taken, I was very into self-portraiture and also nudes. I wanted to do something different. I like to play a lot with the lighting, and how it reacts and plays on the skin fascinates me greatly. I wanted to add a special something. I found these old pair of Polos briefs in my drawer, and said to myself… “why not?”‘
7 High key
High-key and low-key photographic techniques represent the most extreme treatment of contrast to enhance the atmospheric qualities of a photograph. High key is based on the suppression of contrast and shadows while promoting high levels of brightness and exposure. By using diffused lighting to avoid harsh shadows, and exposing for the darker areas so that the midtones are lightened, a high-key effect can be achieved – though be careful to avoid blowing the highlights. Use Levels in Photoshop (see page 80), perhaps with judicious use of the highlight/shadow control to achieve the high-key look without losing detail.
8 In the background
Busy subjects or compositions will benefit from being shot against a simple, undistracting background, preferably one that offers a favourable contrast to the tones of the main subject. Shooting mono reduces the distraction factor of brightly coloured or patterned backgrounds.
9 Glad to be grey
Unsure when to go mono? Subjects that are in reality naturally low in colour – such as buildings, snow scenes or metallic objects – will often benefit the most from the defining quality that desaturation brings.
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10 Shoot RAW
The advent of RAW files has brought even more possibilities to the B&W photographer. The biggest advantage is the production of post-conversion 16-bit images. This means that the file has 65,536 levels to work with rather than the 8-bit space of a JPEG (which offers just 256 brightness levels). This in turn gives photographers increased creative controls when trying to open up shadows or significantly alter brightness.
Zach Tatum took this beautifully lit image using the RAW mode of his Nikon D50:
‘RawShooter Essentials was used to process the RAW file and convert it to a TIFF. Once exported it was put into Adobe Photoshop 7.0 to convert to black and white with a gradient layer, then the desired brown tones were applied with the Selective Colour and Channel Mixer tools. I also sharpened the photo using Unsharp Mask to give the colours a bit more pop.’
11 Candid camera
Newspapers have been able to reproduce images in colour for more than 20 years, but black and white photography remains synonymous with reportage shooting. Inject drama into your black and white photography by shooting documentary style. Capture candid moments for images full of emotion and spontaneity. Stand back, observe and try not to influence your subject. Use a long lens instead.
12 High contrast
Contrast – the range of tones between total black and pure white – is much easier to manipulate in mono than in colour. A high-contrast image, such as the one below, has a smaller range of grey tones than a ‘normal’ contrast image, and displays a more ‘soot and whitewash’ look. High-contrast scenes can convey a sense of power that commands the eye, while lower contrast emphasises the softer nature of a subject. Gary Jones’ s landscape (Tip 15) is another good example of a high-contrast image.
13 Filter tips
Coloured filters can aid the aesthetic appeal of black and white images in many ways. As a general rule, remember that a filter will lighten its like colour, but will darken its contrasting colour. So, a yellow filter will lighten golden tones, but will deepen any blue colours in a scene. Yellow and red filters are consequently a popular choice when shooting skyscapes, while green filters enhance the lips in black and white portraits.
14 Grey matter
Learning how different colours translate into greyscale is a crucial skill to master. Colours such as red and green convert into nearly identical grey tones, as do many pastel shades, so before you convert to black and white, ask yourself what it was that first attracted to you to the composition. If the answer is not the light, form or texture then it may be better left in colour.
15 Shoot spectacular landscapes
As Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and numerous others have proved, a beautiful and dramatic landscape often works better in mono than in colour. Gary Jones took this in January in Argentinean Patagonia, using a Nikon D70 with his 18-70mm lens at full zoom, and a polarising filter over the front. Exposure was 1/320sec at f9: ‘The RAW file was processed with RawShooter Premium. During RAW conversion, saturation was set to zero and colour temperature was set artificially low to boost the red channel. This introduced noise in the sky, so RawShooter’s colour noise suppression was used to clean up the image.’
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16 Watch and learn
B&W is hugely popular with teachers and students of photography, as it teaches novice photographers how to objectively examine the compositional elements of a scene. Without the inevitable distractions of colour, camera users can practise their compositional techniques, and learn how elements interact with one another within the proportions of the frame. If you’re new to creative photography, experiment with your camera’s black & white mode to seek out effective compositions – the result of this exercise will improve both your colour and black and white shooting technique.
17 Highlight warning
Lost shadows are a lot easier to recover in Photoshop than lost highlights. Which is why most enthusiast cameras feature an overexposure warning option among the review modes, in which areas of blown highlights flash on the LCD. If this happens, reduce the exposure either by using the exposure compensation dial or metering off a darker-toned area, then re-shoot.
18 Black and white preview
Even though most photographers agree that it’s best to shoot in colour, your camera’s black & white mode can be useful for previewing scenes and subjects in black and white, to give you an idea of what a scene would look like in monochrome. It’s a great help for people who aren’t used to ‘seeing’ in black and white.
19 Exposure matters
The most accurate exposure is not always the most effective, especially when it comes to black & white photography, so don’t follow your meter reading slavishly. Exposure is subjective in any case – ‘correct’ depends on where in the tonal range your most important element lies. The camera will try to provide an even balance between highlights and shadows, but by taking a selective reading from the darker or lighter areas of the scene a completely different mood will be created – one which may have a lot more impact and atmosphere than the average reading would create. Try using the bracketing feature to get a range of exposures of the same scene.
20 Grain of truth
While experts have spent years developing films that are resistant to grain, this once-undesirable side effect of traditional photography has become inextricably linked to many people’s appreciation of black and white imagery. The association between film grain and black and white photography has become (quite literally) ingrained in the public’s perception to the extent that digital black and white images can often appear too clean and, well, ‘digital’. Most image-editing programs offer an Add Noise feature that can be used to introduce grain to pictures, while increasing your camera’s ISO will often have a similar effect at the shooting stage.