Black And White Photography-II — What To Photograph Beyond The Colors

Once you’re ready to look beyond the colors you’ll discover the beauty of the colorless world. Welcome to the second part of the Black and White Photography series. In Part I we saw how black and white photography fell a class apart from the colorful world, the kind of challenges black and white photography poses and a brief introduction to looking beyond colors.

When shooting in black and white it is essential that you have a solid foundation on the very basics of photography, explore creatively, learn and then experiment. This post covers and summarizes various features and elements that you can highlight in your photographs to achieve the target results and draw viewers attention to your work. Most of these can broadly be classified into three components – composition, details and effects. Let’s get familiar with features and elements that you can highlight in black and whites.

  1. Black & White Photography and Composition

    It is all about what you capture in the shot, what you choose to highlight and what you choose to leave out. Your viewpoint and what you frame – all is a part of composition.

    • Simplicity: Too much clutter distracts attention from the subject. Simplicity aids viewers’ interest and brings elegance to the picture.
    • Rule of thirds: The rule of thirds guides you on how to place the subject at naturally pleasing positions in the frame to draw more interest and attention from viewers.
    • The Golden Ratio: Just like the rule of thirds, the golden ration is another rule that guides you on positioning the subject such that the areas in the image form pleasing proportions and add a sense of natural balance to the picture.
    • Lines: Lines lead the eyes. Vertical lines convey strength. Horizontal lines convey balance. Diagonal lines guide the eye and curves emphasize sensuality.
    • Framing: Adding a natural frame to the image adds depth to the otherwise two dimensional view.
    • Perspective: Perspective helps draw a lot of interest as it allows viewers to explore and appreciate the subject from newer viewpoints.
  2. Gain Appreciation for black & white photographs by Capturing Details

    • Shades and Tones: Shades and tones are what the colors are in colored images. Shades and tones add definition to the image and various areas of the picture while developing an overall mood of the scene.
    • Patterns: Patterns steal interest, can form the mood of the picture, emphasize energy and hypnotize the viewers. Used judiciously they are a very strong tool and make excellent subjects. However generally when not forming the main subject they are often distracting at the best.
    • Shapes: Shapes distribute energy, create or offset the balance. They make excellent abstractions.
    • Textures: Textures add fineness, sharpness and detail to the image.
  3. Introduce Effects for awesome black & white photographs

    • Depth of Field: A narrow depth of field helps eliminate the subject from the background and introduces softness in the image. A high depth of field adds sharpness to the overall image.
    • Blur: Blur emphasizes motion. Generally avoided, when intentionally introduced in the image a slight blur in the river water would liven up the image and add the perception of flowing water in the otherwise frozen waves and water reflections.
    • Filters: Filter effects are often used to transform particular colors to shades and help distinguish various areas while adding definition to the image.
    • Silhouettes: Silhouettes make excellent abstractions and create a strong mood in the image. The subject is totally black with a background light blinding the camera lens.
    • Exposure: Overexposure and underexposure bring out details from the otherwise overshadowed or washed out areas at the cost of loosing details visible to the naked eye. They create some unique effects when used creatively.
    • Quality of Light: A hard or soft light is often used to emphasize the mood, defining shapes and figures or highlighting the various areas of the subject.
    • Direction of Light: Direction of light can help you highlight texture or create impressions of horror or mystery.
    • Vignette Frames: Vignette frames redirect the attention to the subject and add a classy touch to the picture.
    • Contrast: Contrast is the difference between the highlights and the shadows. A higher contrast forms a clearer image wherein various elements in the scene are clearly stand out. A lower contrast creates a softer image but also increases the risk of losing out a lot of tones and shades.
    • Transparency: Transparency emphasize clarity and purity while making interesting subjects.
    • Reflections and shadows: Reflections allude and hypnotize while shadows form abstract figures and form the mood of the picture.
    • HDR: High dynamic range while visually captivating captures and retains more tones and shades than a regular image. They look more natural and life-like.
    • Digital Manipulation: Other digital effects like image-overlays make abstract forms, moods or relations between the two overlays. It doesn’t even have to be black and white; desaturating the colors to the minimum while leaving a touch of hue created different mood depending on the hue. So experiment and break the rules.

While this list is not exhaustive it certainly highlights the fact that there’s lot beyond the colors which the human eye appreciates. Effectively photographing keeping in mind the above elements and guidelines will certainly get you some outstanding results.

Continue to part 3.

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