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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Traveling The World In B&W

Eliminate color to create richer images and more evocative stories of people, places and cultures

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Though it was overcast with cloudy skies, the rich diversity of tones provided an ideal backdrop for a black-and-white image of these young lovers on a bridge in the middle of Paris. The light was fairly flat, but the couple and the surrounding scenes were rich with a range of light and dark tones, which I accentuated once I brought the image into Adobe Lightroom. I didn't concern myself that the resulting original file likely would look a little flat. Instead, I focused on carefully composing my shot to capture the momentary gesture of the young girl touching her companion's cheek.

When we think of travel photography, the first images that flash in our minds are likely in color. Whether the destination is Paris, Morocco, Honolulu or Rio de Janeiro, the images we imagine are undoubtedly influenced by the photographs we've seen in magazines, not least of which is National Geographic, whose photographers have made the use of light and color an art form. As evocative as those color photos are, there are times when a scene is even stronger if it's rendered in black-and-white. The natural world is rich with saturated greens, reds and blues, but sometimes the monochromatic image more adeptly expresses our personal experience of a scene and a moment. It's no less so when we're traveling, even in largely urban environments.

For my image of the "Love Locks" on the Pont de l'ArchevĂȘchĂ©, I knew I wanted to make a photograph of more than just a cluster of locks. I wanted to have a storytelling element that included a couple attaching a lock to the bridge. After choosing a lock that would be prominent in the frame, I chose a wide aperture to achieve a very shallow depth of field. The resulting shot serves not only as a good storytelling image, but eliminated the strong distracting color of the man's jacket. To me, the black-and-white more truthfully conveyed my experience of the moment than the color shot ever could.
Use Your Nature Skills
The great thing about producing black-and-white travel photography is that you're utilizing the very same experience and skills you practice when you're photographing nature. Your ability to see light and shadow and to build strong, effective photographs of nature are the same skills you need to produce great black-and-white travel images.

I realized the truth of this when I began to photograph nature. I thought I was at a severe disadvantage because I rarely photographed natural landscapes, macro subjects or wildlife. I was nervous that anything I produced would be a bust, but I quickly discovered that everything I had learned about light, contrast, color, composition and foreground and background relationships from travel photography was still at play even though I was photographing in Death Valley or Yosemite. Yes, the subjects were different, but the concepts that make a good photograph were still the same.

It's Still About Light
A great way to begin seeing and photographing in black-and-white is to simply pay attention to the light. Just as with color photography, the early morning and late afternoon deliver strong directional light, which produces strong points of contrast between light and dark. The resulting contrast can help reveal shapes and textures that otherwise would be lost under flatter, even light.

Though it's easy to want to sleep in, especially during our vacations, the choice to rise early and stay up later has its advantages. The magic light during those times is just as magical when color is no longer a factor. Though you may not use it to take advantage of the vibrancy of reds and blues, you're still using that same light to create a different relationship of tones, shapes and patterns.

Whether the shadows are stark or hard as a result of strong directional light or flatter because of a rainy overcast day, the photographs become as much about the range of tones than just the subject or elements within the frame. In fact, the tones themselves become the critical concern as you explore the world in black-and-white.

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