Why Shooting Black & White Photography Makes you Better

March 09

10 min. to read

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It's monochrome monday again and we share cool tips, tricks and ideas in black & white.

Declaration to the reader

I am by no means a noteable or fantastic photographer. I am only and simply a humble student dedicated to the art and science of optics and light vis a vis photography.

Black and white photography. How can something so seemingly simple be something so hard to perfect? Why do so many photographers shy away from black and white photography? After all, black and white photography at its core, IS photography and to shoot great black and white images, one has to start seeing the world in a different way. 

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A world in contrasts, highlights and shadows. A world in which tones of black, white and grey dance and interplay in endless variations. A world in which a complex drama unfolds, requiring you to balance and understand the delicate relationship between subject matter, emotion, shades of light, lines of perspective, patterns and shapes. Then analyze how they all mix with one another and translate that into a usable black and white image.Why Shooting Black & White Photography   Makes you Better Image1

Yet shooting great black and white images isn’t hard. When you boil it down, the idea of it is simple. So is the act. Press a couple of buttons and bam, you’ve got it. But to make an attractive and compelling monochrome image is something else entirely. It requires you to shift your perceptions in ways you maybe have never thought of before; creatively or personally. It will challenge you to translate the world you see into simplicity, which for some can be difficult. 

But fear not! Once your eyes and perceptions have been trained, and using quality conversion tool like Tonality, you’ll begin to see the world in monochrome. Some things in life aren’t quite as black and white as you’d think...Why Shooting Black & White Photography   Makes you Better Image2

The first step to getting a fantastic black and white image is to get a terrific black and white converter program. You’ll want app that is powerful, yet agile. For the ultimate in flexibility, you want to maintain as much control over the image editing process as possible, but also have a tool that’s easy to use. Tonality is the perfect program. Tonality has tons of presets that allow you to find the perfect look in just a click. 

Or, if you’re like me and think every image has it’s own unique and one-of-a-kind final look, you’ll find the detailed and powerful adjustment sliders to be the best part. From adjusting highlight and shadow contrasts individually, to adding grain or preloaded film types, Tonality has every type of adjustment you’ll need to edit a fantastic black and white image.Why Shooting Black & White Photography   Makes you Better Image3

The second step is to set your camera’s capture setting to RAW. You’ll need the greatest amount of information possible from your camera sensor. This will allow you to edit without having to worry about banding or artifacting, such as when you use a JPEG file. The more data the better. If you aren’t shooting in full manual, start. You’ll want to have maximum control over the final look of your image. Shooting black and white images is about crafting images based on what YOU see, not what the camera sees.

The third step, which was the first step of this article (and should be considered for all types of shooting) is to, once you have your camera set to capture RAW files and your camera set to manual, COVER YOUR LCD SCREEN WITH GAFFERS TAPE FOR 30 DAYS. SHOOT EVERYDAY. LOOK. LEARN. ADAPT. You don’t need anything else except ISO, Shutter Speed and f-stop. Set your white balance to auto. Color temperature, at this point, is irrelevant for black and white shooting.

As you start shooting without looking at your images in camera and as you train your eye to see in shades of grey, you’ll begin to loosen up and become more aware of your surroundings. You’ll begin to see the world with new lines of perspective and in varying degrees of contrast. You’ll begin to see the world for what it is and accept it, instead of trying to force it into something you want it to be. You’ll begin to anticipate scenes, strategically placing yourself to capture the “decisive moment” just as it was meant to be, without hesitation. Details will become more noticeable and emotions more nuanced and subtle. As time goes on, your images will be more a representation of you and your vision, instead of what you think others want to see.Why Shooting Black & White Photography   Makes you Better Image4

It will be scary at first. But that’s exciting! The anticipation of not knowing and wondering if you got the shot is like being a kid on Christmas morning again. Once you’ve freed yourself from looking at the back of your camera, you can begin to immerse yourself in what is going on around you. This is requisite for shooting black and white images. You must feel the scene and be a part of what is possible. You will be forced to look beyond the obvious and to see what others do not. Shooting in black and white will force you to grow in ways beyond any horizon you’ve ever known.Why Shooting Black & White Photography   Makes you Better Image5

It only takes a few days before you’ll begin to see and imagine shots in your head and seek them out. You won’t NEED to check the back of your screen anymore. You’ll be able to think of a shot and immediately know how to create it. It will be EXACTLY as you planned. Eventually, you won’t even think about camera settings anymore. Your thumb and forefinger will do all the work, adjusting your shutter speed and f-stop and ISO as needed. It’s as if it just happens without the slightest thought. All you will be focused on is the world in front of you and trying to capture it in the simplest of terms, and in a way that causes the viewer to engage, to think, to be impacted...to wonder.

After 30 days with the tape, I guarantee shooting in black and white will be second nature. The best part; your overall images, will be better whether in black and white or in color. You won’t be focused on the technicalities of creating an image, instead you’ll trust yourself. Your images will be proof of this! Shooting good black and white isn’t about TRYING to shoot good black and white. It is about letting yourself go to be among the world as it is, in the most simple of ways. Capture that essence in monochrome and your images will thank you for it. Be free.

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