I love black and white photography and how I find it helps to simplify the whole process of finding the right shot when out in the field and time is limited. A world without colour means one less factor to think about in terms of composition. No sleepless nights to catch the sunrise which doesn’t turn out how you want it or late nights returning home disappointed because the clouded horizon wiped out any hopes of a good sunset. Black and white photography is also good during those elusive day time hours. You just need to find the lines, textures and get into mono mode.
The elements and compositional requirements to produce a good mono image are greatly the same as you would if you want to go about shooting in colour. Finding contrast from one object to another however is more important with mono photography so choice of subject and placement is critical. It isn’t just black and white but also greys and different shades and tones that should be used in the frame to build up the picture and in some ways create a link between the extreme dark and light areas.
The image above is the iconic Malham lone tree and emphasises the importance of using good contrast with the light and dark areas of the tree and also the diagonal lines from the limestone rocks as a lead in lines. Simplicity is paramount and again this shot is proof of that. Lead in lines directing the eye to a subject.
I find post processing quite an enjoyable and therapeutic pass time. In colour image editing, I like to keep a balance between what looks real and what doesn’t. When processing a mono image however, I feel less restricted. I like to push the boundaries further by increasing the contrast, clarity and exposure sliders more to the left or right in Lightroom. I am creating a piece of fine art to evoke an emotion, escape from reality and place you in a world of mystery. I like to underexpose the image at first and then slowly introduce light into the frame where I want attention. This is usually done using the radial filter, set at maximum feathering. Adjustments are usually done with the key colours of yellows, greens and blues, which are so often found in a landscape scene. This again also helps to isolate and increase focus on key points in the image. Digital Noise is often frowned upon and although not a criminal act, in colour photography, often to leads to rejection to the depths of photographic failure. In mono images however, it is used to add that timelessness and surrealist look. We are closer to defining what Fine Art means.
Black and white photography is fun and I find it less stressful. Rather than mono photography becoming an afterthought in the digital darkroom, let it be an intention when out in the field. Look for interesting shapes that compliment each other and place them together so they stand out. Enjoy playing with the sliders in post processing. Lastly, remember the slogan ‘If it’s right, then black and white’