Thinking about black and white images

A fine art black and white print of an orchid

I was looking back at some old images and came across this image of a orchid. I was just messing around with an orchid that was in the house, but as I got more and more into it. I started to think about how this image needed to be photographed in black and white. There is something cool about how Mother Nature works her magic on these amazing flowers that makes them fun to photograph. As I spent more time photographing, I just new that the final print of this image would be black and white image with lots of negative space that showed off the great textures of the flower.

That got me thinking about a question that I get asked a lot. What do I think about when I know that I am going to create a black and white image? While it isn’t always clear that an image is going to be black and white, there are few things that I do tend to look at when thinking in black and white. Rather than focus on specific subjects (like awesome clouds),  I thought I might talk more about the more general things I consider rather than the specific content.

When I look at black and white image visualization I try to pay close attention to the following:

  • Range and quality of tones: I don’t focus on the color but rather the various luminosity ranges between the various objects and how they relate to each other. The farther apart the tones are the higher the contrast. While most people are initially drawn to higher contrast images because of the pop between the blacks and white, I do think that there is a subtle sophistication to lower contrast images with great tonal separations. This is often times the first thing that I am thinking about.
  • Textures: These are great subjects for black and white photography. They add dimensionality and depth to an image. They can also really work with the impact of high or low contrast images. As with the flower image above, it is all about the textures and difference between the various petals that makes the image really work.
  • Shapes and patterns: Often times black and white is an abstraction from “what we see.” With that abstraction we rely more on the shapes and patterns that are created by light, texture and objects to inform us in an image.
  • Soft vs hard  and side vs back vs front light: Photography is all about light, knowing and understanding the impacts of where the light comes from and how it tells a story in an image is what is is all about. With black and white, you really have to pay attention to the light since there is no help from colors to build relationships, associations and impact.
  • Creating negative and positive space as it relates to the presence or absence of black and white within the image.
  • Light as a tool for leading vision through the frame. Can I use the existing light and then accentuate it with dodging and burning to push and pull your eyes to follow the light what moves throughout the image.
The biggest thing in the end is that I have a love of black and white images. They have a sense of romance that is different from working in color. Who doesn’t love a little romance.

October 30, 2012

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