As we embrace winter, I think about accepting the lack of sunlight and how this affects my photography. The leaves have all fallen, leaving us in the depths of “stick season,” the snow flies and washes out all color. Darkness comes before dinner, and I have hibernation and warm cups of tea on my mind. Winter is a season that drives composition and embraces texture. A season so void of color definitely forces me outside of my comfort zone when it comes to photography, and I begin to see the world again in black-and-white.
A photograph has the power to tell a story by using only light and dark. I find this concept intriguing, and especially true of black-and-white photography. Without the distraction of color, monochrome images leave us with room to grow and space to think. It’s like a pause button or a deep exhale that allows a mind to wander. Black-and-white imagery allows us to de-clutter how we frame our shots and lets us catch a visual moment of peace.
When we remove all color, the skeleton of our vision is revealed. It hangs mostly on lighting, but is fully supported by composition, while a touch of texture adds an element of humanity. Striving for minimalism within the parameters of photography can reveal striking images. This is easily accomplished if you know what to look for.
So, what should you look for when shooting landscapes, portraits or still life in black-and-white? Three basics will get you started: Source your light, choose your composition, and seek out texture or patterns.
Analyzing your light will help you decide the mood of your image. Harness natural light to change the overall feeling of the image. Sun flare and backlighting will create a “lightness” to the mood while sidelighting will evoke drama and depth. Try both, or choose your own personal preference. I’ve noticed my lighting preferences vary day to day based more on my own mood rather than the lighting available to me. I believe we create images based from the subconscious of our emotion, what you seek is seeking you, and this will be discovered through how you choose your camera settings and compose your shot, ultimately, resulting in a powerfully authentic image. Lighting accentuates all compositional elements of an image, so I tend to view lighting as a priority when I’m taking a photograph.
By composing your image with the mindfulness of negative space, you’re choosing a minimalist approach to creating art. This can feel neat and tidy, which is a nice change from the everyday chaos of real life. Minimalism can also summon a humble feeling of vastness while out in the world. Drawing the eye to your subject through the use of negative space will create a sense of peace or a pull of intensity. This use of light or dark will evoke emotion, which is always welcome in photography. Creating this feeling of minimalism will allow the eye to rest and will also draw your viewer into the image.
Taking notice of patterns and textures will add to the personality of your image. Can I relate to your photograph? Do I feel as though I can step into it or put myself in character? Do I feel the image? It will be these details of texture or pattern that make your images come to life. Texture comes in a variety of forms, such as wisps of hair or facial stubble, and patterns can be found in a striped shirt or the repeating lines of telephone wires across an overcast sky. Texture and patterns become more distinct when viewed in black-and-white, perhaps because the distraction of color has been removed, allowing contrast to step in and tell more of the story.
Seeing the world in black-and-white is different than simply processing a color image into monochrome. With forethought and a mindful approach, you can create images that stand out like visions of simplicity and stillness. Seeing in black-and-white flips on a switch in my mind, and it’s through this process that I begin to welcome space and simplicity into my images. This winter, find space in your images and let the world stand still with minimalism and monochrome.
Tips For The Minimalist Monochrome Approach
|1. Go big! Allow a lot of space in your frame for sky, especially if it’s overcast or foggy. Wide-open spaces give you permission to breathe.
2. Put the sun behind your subject. Creating silhouettes is a great way to simplify your image. Be sure to notice the texture of grasses or body language as you compose your shot.
3. Include details such as fabric, hair or hands in portraits. This type of texture adds a layer of humanity that lets you feel the image with all your senses.
4. Slow down and notice the little things. Raindrops or veins of a leaf provide repetitive patterns that become dramatically pronounced in monochrome.
5. Everything is in relation to the edge of the frame. Composition is key!
Meredith Winn is a writer, photographer and Associate Editor of Taproot Magazine. She’s a contributor to Shutter Sisters, featured in our Point of Focus column. Visit meredithwinn.com.