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Black and White Photography (Part III)


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Black and White Photography (Part III)

14 Oct 2019 8:02PM   Views : 728 Unique : 461

Last time I looked at some of the reasons for choosing monochrome. Now I'll look at some aspects to consider when creating your image.

As colour became more popular and cheaper, due in part to the growth in package holidays with tourists wishing to record their travels in colour, mono becme a niche choice. Ease of home processing and with it control of all aspects from capture to print were attractive to the enthusiast.

Then there's the creative choice. Today that is the driving force as images are captured directly in colour, save for rare beasts from Phase One or selecting mono mode if you have one. The apects that I discuss below also apply to colour images of course, but are strengths of mono. If your image contains these elements in any great amount chances are you image will work well, or better in mono. Use them to your advantage.


Light and Shade
The literal translation of 'photography' means 'drawing with light'. It's the difference between light and dark areas that build up to create the image. Realising that will help when viewing a scene in determining the composition. What to include or exclude, where to place the light and dark areas in the frame and in relation to each other.
Small sized light sources produce hard well defined shadows. The sun in a cloudless sky or an LED work lamp for example. Large sources uch as an overcast sky or shooting in a light tent are at the opposite end of the scale.

Being aware of the mix of light and shade, their position in the frame and the change between them (gradual through to abrupt) are all things to take into account.


Line and Form
Lack of colour means lines and shapes become more important in un appreciating the image. A railway line through an autumn landscape is appealing in colour. In mono, the rail lines themselves become a stronger more dominant feature. Architectural features can be emphasised as the viewer doesn't have to contend with colours of brick, tinted glass, painted metalwork and so on.


Angled light brings out textures, whether that's pebbles on a beach or a person's weathered skin. While these can be captured perfectly well in colour, they can be accentuated in mono.


Patterns in a scene such as regimented rows of trees, windows along a row of terraced houses or simply a pile of bricks make appealing subjects.


Tonal Contrast
Black and white images rely on grey tones which are essentially a range of brightness levels. In the digital domain these are from 0 (black) to 255 (white), for an 8 bit image. In a colour image each of the red, green and blue channels have those values. Red, green and blue are easily differentiated, for anyone with normal colour vision.

But let's just consider only the brightness levels of those red, green and blue tones. If the levels are very close then in monochrome they will all have a similar shade of grey. Consider the red berries on a honeysucle with vibrabt green leaves against a blue sky. Vibrant in colour but rather flat looking in mono. In other words there is a lack of contrast. Tonal contrast allows us to make sense of the image and gives what we call punch or bite. It grabs, and keeps, the viewer's attention.


This is a problem for monochrome digital images. It's not a matter of turning up the contrast slider per se. It's also an issue for photographers using black and white film. I'll just add here that I refer to panchromatic film which has a normal type response to the visible spectrum, and ignore orthochromatic film which was insensitive to red light. What is needed is some way to adjust the brightness levels of each colour, relative to one another. This can be done for a more realistic relationship between the tones or can be exaggerated.

Film photographers use coloured filters. A yellow filter absorbs blue but passes yellow orange and red, with some green.An orange filter absorbs more blue and green but passes orange and red. And so on. The result is some tones are darkened and others lightened. By choosing the colour and strength of the filter the tonal relationships can be altered. That's how very dark dramatic skies with bright white clouds can be produced.


It's an important principle to understand as we use it when converting a colour digital image. More on that next time when I discuss image processing.

All text and images Keith Rowley 2019

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