Thursday, September 29, 2011

Seeing in black or white


One of my favorite things about photography is seeing things and finding things that other people might overlook.  The details of life and a particular scene are what excite me and when I'm out shooting I'm always searching for those little moments.  I recently shared some tips on converting photos to black and white and some secrets about how I see and really look but what about combining the two?  When I take pictures I can usually see them in either color or black and white...sometimes both, but typically one or the other.  So how exactly does that work?  Lots of practice, for one!  It's not just about using the black and white option in your camera (something I never do) or removing the color in post-processing.  Other than that (ie. the obvious)... 

Here's a good (and crazy simple) place to start (scroll down to see all the photos in color too):

1.  Spot the dramatic light

I'm always talking about the "magic light" - it's definitely out there.  Situations where the light is dull makes black and white photos look dull not to mention blurry and sort of muddy.  This is true with color photography as well, but when you're thinking about black and white try to draw your eye to that light that can make the tones of your image pop and give them the drama that make so many black and images timeless and moving. Which brings me to my next point...

shadows of ourselves.
A personal favorite of mine and one that happened by accident.  If I hadn't fast forwarded in my mind to the finished image in black and white I don't think I would have found the frame and all those anonymous shadows as interesting.

2.  Look out for tones

Contrast and brightness are always there, it's just a matter of really seeking them out in any given moment or scene that you want to capture with your lens.  If you want to enhance the tones set the exposure of your camera to bring them out a little more (ie. take your fancy camera out of auto).  In that same vein, look out for scenes are are overly white or overly black - you want to be able to have a balance so that your photos don't appear either too washed out or too dark.

3.  Check out the lines

Looking for details is so important.  You want to try to hone your eye on what ever it is that makes a place unique.  Often times those things are very obvious and you can make them pop out more if you remove the color from the scene - like with this picture of the Brooklyn Bridge - one of the most photographed places in New York City.



4. Wash that color OUT!

This sounds so obvious but it's something that can be difficult to achieve.  When you're out there shooting, start to think about what your image will look like once you desaturate it.  Someone who is seeing your photos after you process them won't ever know what the colors were when you took the picture.  You need to allow your mind to fast forward to that finished product.  Understand that while there are some images that work well both ways, some photos are better as color and some are better as black and white but you'll never be able to tell the difference unless you can get yourself to imagine it as one and/or the other.  It takes time to train your eye and you can hone that skill by using tips 1 and 2 up top.

Okay, so this one looks kind of like a tribute to Ansel Adams and I love it, but check out the color one below too.  I like the subtle changes in light and detail of the city on the horizon - you lose some of that in the color version but if you hadn't seen the black and white, you would never think it could be anything BUT color. 

 And, again...practice

Here are the color versions - they work "okay" but aren't the black and white versions just better for these particular photos?

Copyright Monica L. Shulman

Copyright Monica L. Shulman


Doors to Nowhere