Can you see the world in black and white? Look at the scene in front of you and try to imagine it without color. The potential for classic monochrome imagery is all around us. Of course, not every situation lends itself to this artistic style. There are however, certain characteristics one can look for to identify the best opportunities.
5 Characteristics of Great Black and White Photos
A subject with dark shadows and bright highlights would not be ideal for a color photograph. Yet, for black and white photography, this type of high-contrast light can be extremely effective. The harsh mid-afternoon sun is no longer a detriment, but an enhancement. This is a major shift in the way one thinks about exposure. To help recognize these chances, look beyond what is immediately evident and pre-visualize the scene in greyscale. Over time, you’ll know what scenes will look best in black and white before you even press the shutter.
In the absence of color, shapes and patterns become more pronounced. Even something as simple as a shadow on the ground can be used creatively. For some photographers, this may be a very different style of shooting. To practice, I recommend taking a photo hike in which you search for nothing but shadows. You may be pleasantly surprised by how many interesting shots you’ll find.
It’s been said that a person’s eyes are the window to their soul. Their character however, can often be revealed in their hands. The soldier pictured here is bandaged, dirty, and tattered. Yet, he dutifully holds his rifle, ready to take on whatever challenges lie ahead. An effective portrait can be made without showing a person’s face. Look for texture in a subject’s hands, boots, or even wrinkles. When converted to black and white, these details tell quite a story.
Blue skies are often used to symbolize happiness. You’ll see this pattern in magazine ads, television commercials, and even movies. Black and white images however, are associated with a different variety of moods. The precise emotion is ultimately up to the viewer, but a few common themes include solitude, contemplation, and pensiveness. Photographers can work with these traits to effectively portray their vision.
5) Dark Spaces
Subjects that linger in darkness are sometimes more compelling than well-lit scenes. Using black and white photography, we have the ability to show the world in a completely different way. Instead of eliminating the shadowy areas, use them to your advantage. An empty space can actually be an effective method of composition. This type of artistic exposure is more edgy than a literal interpretation.
Photos and Text by Chris Corradino