A Guide to Better Black and White Photos
To achieve a good black and white photograph, it's important to understand how light, tones, and shadows work together.
The Importance of Lighting
Good lighting is essential for creating a wide tonal range in a black and white photograph, which is necessary to create a sense of depth and dimension.
A bad lighting example would be an image that is very flat lit. While Flat Light definitely has its place in photography (especially portrait work), when there is no dimension in the lighting (meaning little to no shadows), there is less room for a good range of tones and the image looks like an even grey tone overall, looking somewhat dull.
Shadows, in particular, are important as they :
- Help to define the shapes and contours of a subject and add depth to the image.
- Create a sense of mystery, mood, drama, and/or tension.
- Add depth by drawing the viewer's eye to specific areas of the image.
The Tones of a Black and White Image
Black and white photography relies on the many different shades of grey to create contrast and depth. A good black and white photo will have a wide tonal range that includes a balance of highlights, mid-tones, and shadows altogether.
Highlights consist of the brightest areas in the photo, shadows consist of the darkest areas, and mid-tones are in the area between the two (Highlights and Shadows).
As with any photograph, composition is crucial. A well-composed image will guide the viewer's eye through the photograph and help to create a sense of balance.
Textures and Contrast
Contrast is the difference between the lightest and darkest areas of an image. This is where those tonal values that I mentioned above come into play, as contrast is used to create depth and dimension.
Texture can add depth and interest and as mentioned before, light and shadows in a black and white photograph can really highlight textures. It can be used to create a sense of tactile quality, and to draw the viewer's eye to specific areas of the image.
There is just something about removing the color from an image and how it really highlights the emotion that is captured. This is one of the reasons I love black and white. It has a timeless feel as well as draws you into the scene and the subject.