Mastering black and white is to photography what conquering Everest is to mountaineering. It takes a special set of skills as well as hours and hours of practice to get it right.
In a world awash with color, black and white photography creates searing images that stand out for their stark beauty. By taking away color’s capacity to distract the eye, you capture the rawness of form and the drama of light and shade. If you’ve ever visited a photo exhibit at an art gallery or followed the work of famous photographers, you know that black and white snapshots have an inexplicable power to stir the soul.
While practice is the only road to perfection when it comes to black and white photography, there are a few things you can do to improve the quality of your creations:
1. Pick out shapes, lines and textures
Learn to seek out objects with interesting shapes, patterns with definite lines or texturally rich subjects. Unlike in color photography, these are the details that dominate black and white pictures. Without a strong form in focus, a black and white photograph turns out flat and uninteresting. Contrasts add interest, so you should aim to capture areas of sharp black, vivid white and myriad shades of gray in between.
2. Get the light right
Light is what defines black and white photography. Not just ambient light at the time of clicking the shot but also the interplay of brightness and shade within the composition. The so-called golden hours of photography – the soft light of sunup and sundown – are the best times to shoot outdoors. The softness of light in those hours draws out details better. Overcast days are also great for taking black and white pictures. When shooting still life, using side lights to create more dramatic pockets of brightness and shade create greater definition.
3. Shoot in RAW format
If your device offers the option, try shooting in the RAW format. This gives you greater control over the outcome in the editing phase. Some cameras allow you to click in the RAW and JPEG formats at the same time. Use the option and select the monochrome setting to know what the image will look like in black and white. This is especially helpful when you’re starting out and find it hard to visualize in black and white. If you can’t shoot in RAW, try clicking in color and then changing it to a black and white image.
4. Manipulate ISO and exposure
Tweaking your camera’s ISO setting can make all the difference. Low ISO, especially in good light conditions, eliminates the appearance of noise in the image. Unwanted noise can interfere with the quality of both color as well as black and white pictures. But it is more noticeable in the latter. When shooting scenes with a bit of movement, setting long exposure creates interesting blurs that contrast beautifully with the dominant subject in the image.
5. Use filters
Filters allow you to exercise greater control over light and contrast. Polarizers are helpful when shooting around reflective surfaces like water. A split neutral density filter is useful in creating more dramatic contrasts in very bright conditions.
Keeping these basics in mind, the more you experiment with black and white photography, the better you will get at manipulating the final image and getting the desired result. The holy grail of photography is definitely attainable.