Tuesday, June 21, 2011
The Making Of Compelling Black-And-White-Images
Beyond just removing color, see how structure, tonal relationships, form, texture and contrast all play key roles
Eliot Porter and Ernst Haas were two of my heroes in nature photography, both superb practitioners of color photography with nature. I got my start in photography working with black-and-white, however. I hated processing film because it was so boring, but I loved making prints in the darkroom. Like many photographers, Ansel Adams was also one of my heroes, and I read his books multiple times until I felt I understood the potential of black-and-white work.
Yet, because color was so critical to my photography at the time, I began to do less black-and-white. A few years ago, I returned to black-and-white work in the computer with some plug-ins from Nik Software (Color Efex Pro, to start) and the excellent black-and-white section of Photoshop Lightroom. What rekindled my love for black-and-white photography, though, was Nik Software's introduction of Silver Efex Pro 2. This tool allows me to experiment quickly to gain the most from black-and-white images.
Black-and-white, to a degree, abstracts any image. The world doesn't exist in black-and-white, so by definition, black-and-white is an abstract art form. Because of this, you can't rely on color to carry the photograph or to emphasize certain elements in a scene.
Good black-and-white photography starts with an image that has a structure to it that works well with black-and-white. It's often disappointing to simply try to change any photograph to black-and-white if you haven't found its structure. Structure in a photograph holds it together just like the underlying structure of a house holds it together. Structure can come from contrast that helps set elements apart. Or look for defining elements in a photograph that have different levels of brightness. And look for adjacent colors that are quite different so they show contrast when converted into black-and-white.
This will make more sense with some specific examples, all of which have a strong structure to support the black-and-white photo.
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