Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Why Choose B&W
Creating a monochrome image lets you focus on form, texture, shape and composition
I find the most compelling argument for shooting black-and-white today is the way it allows photographers—and viewers of photos!—to explore some of the most basic elements of composition, texture and form. A color photographer often will rely on contrasting colors to create separation between elements within a frame. With black-and-white, we don't have that luxury. Instead, we consider contrasting light, simplistic negative spaces, textures, lines and shapes. Such rigorous concentration helps to expand our understanding of what we're shooting and what we're seeing.
Take, for example, an image of an elephant seal I photographed on California's Central Coast. Normally, I would find this animal's molting skin not only unattractive, but a feature I certainly wouldn't want to highlight in an animal that can be aesthetically challenged to begin with. Seen in black-and-white, however, I'm drawn to the incredible texture. And the molt's texture, coupled with the scarring on the animal's proboscis, creates an engaging set of patterns that keeps the viewer's eye moving throughout the frame. In a color shot, I might consider the molt and scars flaws, but without chromatic distractions, the image is transformed.
With even these few examples, it's easy to understand how black-and-white can reveal different things to a photographer and viewer. As nature photographers, we can develop and use our ability to see in black-and-white to our advantage, expanding our aptitude for seeing the potential of what's in front of the lens. Color is the most obvious element of composition, but shape, line and texture can separate a nice picture from something that's truly special. Thinking in black-and-white will train your eye to spot the full potential of a landscape or a wildlife portrait.
I shoot with the hope that my work helps foster new appreciation for the outdoors and the natural world. One of the things I love about outdoor photography is the potential to reveal things that people normally don't get to see. And a scene's richest potential may lie beyond the obvious. So I believe it's my job—our job, really—to keep looking at nature in new and different ways that expose the depth and richness of both the image and of nature itself. Sometimes black-and-white is just the ticket!
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