I’m a big fan of black-and-white photography. Perhaps it’s the poignancy that captivates me, or maybe the nostalgia factor. Whatever the reason, there’s something about the absence of color that draws me in.
Black-and-white or grayscale images are often called monochromatic. The word monochromatic is defined as "of or having one color." But while the term is used for grayscale photography, it can include a much broader body of work, as well. Although a monochromatic palette only includes a limited number of shades, the tones of the single (or near single) color you choose to use in your photographs is entirely up to you and can cover the entire spectrum of the color chart.
Personally, I gravitate toward neutral hues, and my tendency toward the monochromatic runs deeper than just photography, as it’s often visible in my wardrobe choices, as well as my dinner plate. I have a habit of wearing tan and tan, and this uncanny way of cooking up (literally) an entire meal of one solitary shade. Despite what you may think, it’s totally unplanned. But there has to be something to it because I often find myself shooting photographs in much the same way.
There’s something compelling about capturing a color image that’s washed so completely in a single shade that you might question whether it’s a color shot at all. I’m pretty sure that with tones like these, I’m left feeling serene and still. I know that most of my tonal choices offer a sense of serenity, the kind of feeling I like to carry with me amidst the hustle and bustle of daily life.
But what happens when you opt for a more bold monochromatic choice? For as much as neutral tones can bring calm and tranquility to an image, so, too, can rich, vibrant options. As you shoot with a limited palette, remember that with color comes emotion. When you use specific colors, you can elicit all kinds of responses from the viewer. Depending on what your intention is, you can totally control the intensity of your image just by your use of color in your shot.
Often when using color like this, it’s the color itself that becomes the dominant subject of your photograph. This makes it that much more important and influential in your final shot. There’s no right or wrong way to showcase color like this. Whether you’re going for impact and conveying a strong statement or your image is a subtle study of a specific range of color, monochromatic images can be a breath of creative fresh air.
Not unlike getting dressed in the morning or plating a meal for my family, I find myself inadvertently stumbling across these kinds of photographic opportunities nearly by accident. But I also know that a great variety of monochromatic effects can be achieved quite intentionally through postprocessing. Images can be desaturated, tweaked and toyed with until most of the color within the shot is manipulated into a near solitary tint. There are actions and presets and, of course, your own personal editing tricks that can help create a monochromatic look to your images.
How you get to your desired result makes no difference. The only thing that matters is that your artistic intentions and visions are expressed in your image. Shooting with the love of the monochromatic can be a challenging and fun way to create some compelling photographs.
Tips For Making Monochromatic Magic
| 1. There are no real rules about what’s considered a monochromatic shot. Anything that gives the feeling of a limited number of shades (give or take a few) can be included in the genre.
2. Weather can be a big factor in capturing a monochromatic image. Dim light, fog or an overcast haze all can help to dull your palette down to a near grayscale effect.
3. Shooting at night and allowing for a lot of ambient light (and less flash) can help you achieve an overall yellow glow.
4. Shooting with a lot of backlight and exposing (or even overexposing) your subject can help wash out your shot, leaving your image muted and soft in color and in contrast.
5. Seeking out the part of your subject that’s all one color and framing only that part can give the effect of that particular color going on far beyond the frame.
6. The desaturation tool in your photo software can help tone down the colors that might feel too bright for your desired result. You can desaturate all the colors or isolate specific colors.
7. Consider the meaning of colors as you’re creating your images. As you can usually tell intuitively, certain colors evoke certain emotions. Use your color choices to your best creative advantage.
SHUTTER SISTERS is a collaborative photo blog (www.shuttersisters.com) and a thriving community of women, passionate about photography. Beyond the blog, you can find Shutter Sisters on the printed page in their book, Expressive Photography: The Shutter Sisters’ Guide to Shooting from the Heart. Photographer/writer Tracey Clark is the founder of the blog and co-author and editor of the book.