There are so many things that could be said about black and white photography. We could get into the history of how images were once captured with only B&W, the styles and techniques that are most commonly used with B&W, and then there’s about a million differing opinions about how and why it should be used, and when it shouldn’t. For the sake of time, I’m just going to touch on what B&W images mean to me and how and why I use them.
When I think of B&W images, there’s one word that always comes to the forefront of my mind: clarity.
My favorite thing about B&W images is that they typically seem to impress a sense of clarity or uniformity across an image. For many photographers, B&W can be used to make things moody, dark or contrasty. That’s OK. But I think at the heart of most compelling imagery is the ability to clearly express a thought, idea or emotion. That simply won’t happen if the viewer is disoriented, distracted or confused by an image that’s too busy. If an image is in B&W, no matter what, there’s going to be a consistency in, at least, the tone. That’s why so many street photographers shoot in B&W. There’s just too many colors vying for your attention, that is, until all those colors are converted to shades of gray. In the image above, Ford, WebComm’s resident baby model, was wrapped in a bright blanket covered with colored polka dots. Both the bright colors and purple flare from the speed light were a bit distracting. Simply processing the image in B&W neutralized those distractions and gave the image a much better sense of uniformity. That’s not to say B&W will fix a terrible image. If a picture is bad, it’s just bad. Slapping a B&W filter on it isn’t going to fix a terrible composition, but it can definitely help improve an already good one.
I think I associate B&W images with old school photos, which is probably why I think B&W portraits often look so classy. If you have a sharp dressed man or woman, mix in some flattering lighting, bump up the contrast and shadows, and turn down the saturation 100 percent, then you might get one slick, sophisticated image like the one I took of Kelly Damphousse, dean of OU’s College of Arts & Sciences, in our studio.
Occasionally I’ll take photos that feature something that might have historical value. Or sometimes it’ll just be something that looks old. Either way, using B&W can help draw out the feelings and emotions you intended to capture. The picture above features one of the underground tunnels hidden on OU’s campus. I’m not at liberty to say where!
I debated whether or not to feature this image. On one hand, this picture works because of the lighting used, not necessarily the B&W effect. On the other hand, it serves to show how great the use of B&W can aid when making a dramatic image. Going back to my first point, the use of B&W neutralized the skin tones, the colors on his shirt and the blueish flare from the off-camera flash. It also helped deepen the rich, true black that occupies the center of the frame. Thanks goes out to Brandt, WebComm’s resident non-baby model.
Ok, so I didn’t take this on OU’s campus, but it’s one of the strongest images I’ve ever captured. It’s the best example I could think of where my use of B&W works to serve the image as a whole. Taken with an iPhone 5 near Tokyo Station, everything about the image is full of contrast. Juxtaposed against the hurried bodies of the city, you’ll notice one of Shinjuku’s homeless go almost unnoticed. Still vs. motion. Rich vs. poor. Light vs. dark. Even the frame is evenly divided with upright walkers on the left and the sleeping man on the right. Images like this tell a story, and if there was ever an appropriate time to make an image B&W, this was it.
That’s all for this week, folks! I’d love to see your favorite B&W images! Find me on Instagram and tag your favorite B&W photos @thedrumms.