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Contemplating Black & White

Black-and-white photography is totally distinct from color photography. There’s a poignancy to black-and-white images that’s palpable. Maybe it’s because, when color is stripped away, so, too, are distractions. Perhaps the lack of visual interference allows other elements to take center stage.

Light, shadow, texture, line and shape all seem to matter that much more in monochromatic work. How, where and why each of these compositional elements is placed within the frame is significant in providing visual cohesion, as well as for evoking emotion.

The relationship between the blacks and the whites and all of the tones that poetically fall in between work together to tell the story of something that seems to cut to the heart of what’s most important, in the shot and even in our very soul. These are the common threads that weave much of black-and-white photography together, despite all of the genres that are included under a rich and diverse tapestry.

The approach and methods to get to the final image of a monochromatic photograph can be as unique as each image itself. The photographer, as the storyteller, is responsible for why and how each photograph is captured and then, in turn, processed. Although there may be a multitude of ways to achieve a desired result of a black-and-white image, there’s a distinct visual and emotional sentiment that’s universally shared. It’s no wonder, then, that photographers rely on the magic of a monochromatic palette to distill a message, evoke an emotion or share a story through their images.

“I desaturate the RAW image first thing; it reminds me of working from negatives. I then lighten and adjust contrast. I do like to put a slight vignette on the image—it brings your eye in.”


Perhaps known best for capturing eloquent and compassionate stories of the human spirit, Henry Lohmeyer, founder of Camera Men and co-founder of Our Collective, says of his approach to shooting, “I want to remember the story, the feeling. I want to look back on a photo I’ve taken and feel it. I spend much of my time on the streets, outdoors, shooting from the hip. In doing so, I’ve learned you really have to surrender so much control over lighting, the subject, and many times, your camera. What you can control is your awareness, your eye, your passion.” Henry converts the majority of his images to black-and-white, but doesn’t like to use presets or filters. He’d rather just adjust exposure and contrast as would benefit each individual shot. He’s forever drawn to the richness of shadows, and believes it’s in those shadows that magic is found.


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