“Don’t define your world in black and white because there is so much hiding amongst the greys” – Unknown
BLACK AND WHITE IS A CREATIVE CHOICE
For many of us, our love story with photography started with Black and White film and a make-shift darkroom in a bathroom. I did not fall in love with the rolls of expired black and white film, the darkroom or even the Pentax K1000 I had access to. I fell in love with the elements of black and white photography; the tones, textures, shape and composition. For me, it became a quest to learn how to see… I imagined the colourful world I lived in in tones of grey and became intensely aware of the play of light on subjects, which exposed their form and texture, their secrets. Learning to use my equipment was more about getting the camera to show the subject exactly the way I pre-visualised the image as opposed to getting correct exposure or making a memory. Shooting Black and White back then was a creative choice for me, and it still is today.
BLACK AND WHITE IS TIMELESS
We see the world in colour and therefor colour images record reality in a true to life, familiar kind of way. Stripping the colour allows us to record the world in a way that does not necessarily represent reality, a new way of looking at life and things. Colour is a strong element in any image and over and above the visual impact it has, it can awaken strong subjective emotional responses in the viewer. This emotional significance also has a strong cultural connection as the symbolic value of a particular colour can vary from one culture to the next. Black and White images, free from this subjectivity, are honest and therefor also were the accepted norm for newsprint and the media until quite recently (1980’s), despite the fact that colour film has been around since the 1930’s. So, when asked: “Why Black and White?” the answer for me is simply: “Because Black and White is very beautiful”. Black and White photographs create a sense of nostalgia and is associated with timeless beauty.
Let’s just have a quick look at the jargon, before we continue:
Monochrome: A monochrome image consists of a single color (any colour) of varying intensity against a neutral background. A black and white image is a type of monochrome image, one that uses black and white. All Black and White images are monochrome, but not all monochrome images are black and white.
Tone: When colours are converted to black and white, they become shades of grey, or tones. Light colours become light tones, and dark colours become dark tones.
Tonal contrast: The difference between these shades is called tonal contrast and also is often the difference between a mediocre Black and White image and a great one.
Highlights: These are the lightest tones and this is where the story lies in a Black and White image. Your eye is drawn to the lightest and brightest areas in an image.
Black and White images are associated with many of the great masters, the fathers of photography so to speak, but also more contemporary masters. It is well worth our while to take advice and inspiration from them.
“A TRUE PHOTOGRAPH NEED NOT BE EXPLAINED, NOR CAN IT BE CONTAINED IN WORDS.” – ANSEL ADAMS (photographer and environmentalist, best known for his black and white landscape photography)
Inspiration taken: Simplify by eliminating distractions in order for the image to speak for itself. Let the images speak for themselves through tones, textures, shape and composition.
“TO ME, PHOTOGRAPHY IS THE SIMULTANEOUS RECOGNITION, IN A FRACTION OF A SECOND, OF THE SIGNIFICANCE OF AN EVENT.” – HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON (French humanist photographer considered the master of candid photography)
Inspiration taken: Be attentive for a “moment” happening right in front of you. Capture the moment and it’s significance and emotion. Black and White images are a lot more emotive than colour images.
“IF YOUR PICTURES AREN’T GOOD ENOUGH, YOU AREN’T CLOSE ENOUGH” – ROBERT CAPA (Hungarian war photographer and photo journalist)
Inspiration taken: Black and White seems to suit flower photography. Without colour, you are left with form, shape and texture of the flower’s petals as well as an opportunity appreciate nature’s wonder without the distraction of strong colour. Get in close!
“A VERY SUBTLE DIFFERENCE CAN MAKE THE PICTURE OR NOT” – ANNIE LEIBOVITZ (American portrait photographer)
Inspiration taken: Without colour the tones, textures, shape and composition become important. Including some negative space around your subject giving the subject room to breathe and carefully placing the subject in the frame to create balance, makes for striking images.
“THERE’S ONLY ONE RULE IN PHOTOGRAPHY – NEVER DEVELOP COLOUR FILM IN CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP “ – FREEMAN PATTERSON
Inspiration taken: Yeah! No Rules! Have fun!