The Unique Beauty of Black and White
There was a time, believe it or not, that there was only black and white imagery. Photographers and Cinematographers understood that proper lighting in monochrome was essential, as only those subtle shades of grey told the story, and set the mood of their images.
Obviously our world is a glorious colorful place, but still clients ask for black and white. Done correctly, it's a powerful medium. Unfortunately, that's not always the case, as many shooters fail to understand it's strengths and how to use it to it's full potential.
I like black and white when color is not part of the story- when shape, and lines are most important, where stripping away the color eliminates the distraction it sometimes adds to a photograph. Some images can be weak without color. Think of a dozen roses. if you remove the color, the lighting of the flowers better be amazing and flawless or else you've simply got a big grey picture! In a black and white picture, the image must stand on it's own composition and lighting to tell the story- no seductive bright colors to carry it. Poorly lit pictures are obvious. That's why learning to shoot in black and white before shooting color is often recommended to new learners. You must see light before you can use it and bend it to your need.
I think black and white is ideally suited for some wedding pix (White dress, dark suit) But often I see pix where someone just dragged a slider in photoshop to pull the color out. Sorry but that's not going to cut it- there's got to be some tweaking, just like you would if you developed film like the traditional way. Remember Ansel cooked his film and prints to limit the image to just 5 shades of grey for maximum wow effect. I like it for places, and people.
There's some stuff I just won't shoot with it- food (yuck, grey food. I don't shoot peppers like Weston or have his B&W food skills) and sunsets. Luckily, now that we can shoot digital, we can review our work and choose to eliminate color and after the fact or offer both. Personally, I look for a black and white image before I shoot it, lighting it so it's a no brainer at edit time. Next time you're shooting, look past the color before you trip the shutter and imagine your subject in a black and white world.
Keywords: black and white
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