Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Seeing In Black-And-White
How to identify the elements that make for better black-and-white photographs
|This Article Features Photo Zoom|
Knowing that light tones advance and dark tones recede will further help you visualize what will draw a viewer's eye in the finished black-and white photograph.
THE WAY WE SEE, AND WHAT TO LOOK FOR
One technique that can be helpful to physically see the world similarly to black-and-white is to wear rose-colored glasses. Or, more commonly, to wear sunglasses with a strong tint of brown or amber. The shift to a more monochromatic view helps simplify a scene in much the same way that a black-and-white image does, even without the total elimination of color. In fact, they say that yellow and amber glasses (often used for safety) improve visual acuity in terms of sharpness and contrast, further emphasizing important elements in black-and-white scenes and allowing you to concentrate on differences between tonal values, texture and details—everything, essentially, other than color.
There's one technique for literally seeing the world in black-and-white that was unavailable to previous generations of black-and-white photographers. It's the use of a monochrome JPEG preview in conjunction with a DSLR's Live View mode. JPEG shooters who adjust their cameras' picture settings to black-and-white will generate a black-and-white JPEG straight out of the camera. This isn't necessarily the best idea because capturing a full-color image and converting it to black-and-white in the computer offers much more control. But for a RAW shooter, setting the camera's picture style to black-and-white will only render the JPEG preview (what's shown on the LCD after capture) in black-and-white, while maintaining all the color data in the original RAW file. Better still, set the picture style to monochrome and switch on the camera's Live View mode, et voilá—you'll literally see the world in black-and-white, courtesy of the camera's LCD. There's probably no better way to previsualize an image in black-and-white than to let your camera preview the image in black-and-white for you. It's a powerful and easy approach.
Ultimately, it could be argued that the most likely way to find success in black-and-white is to look for the same compositional elements that are important to every photograph, regardless of color—the basic rules of composition. Things like S-curves, leading lines and the Rule of Thirds are the perfect place to start. Place your isolated subject, with help from the Rule of Thirds, or focus on a pattern that might create strong leading lines, or allow a texture to provide a minimalist composition that's inherently compelling. They're all great ways to get down to the fundamentals of what makes a simple and compelling photograph, and that's especially effective when working in black-and-white.
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