Why and How: Seeing in Black and White for Photography in 8 Tips – Part 1

When you photograph nature scenes in black for black and white prints, how do you look ?

Do you watch in color or in black and white ?

The answer to this crucial question can fully determine the quality of your photographic creations.

In this article, I give you 8 tips for better seeing in black and white. You will create more interesting photos. These are tips that I use to create my art prints.

Black and white photograph of a bison in Yellowstone in summer. The details, the form, the structures were necessary to correctly show the scene.
Bison in Yellowstone in summer. It is an animal difficult to highlight in black and white. This photo required preparation.

The Little Story Behind This Article

The first time I went to photograph the canyons of Antelope in Arizona in the United States, my goal was to create black and white photos.

During the preparation of this photo project, I looked at hundreds of photos. All had one thing in common. They were in color. A very large number of them were of very good technical and creative quality, but they all looked alike.

They were not simple copy and paste but each photographer was inspired by the others. The photographs were similar.

To make a distinction, I decided to create a collection only in black and white. So, I booked 4 tours of 2h30 each with a specific guide to help me. Each session was scheduled at a different time of the day to make sure to have the right lights.

During my sessions, the conditions were perfect. I was like a real child discovering his Christmas gifts. It was extraordinary.

When I returned to my studio, I sorted, organized and selected my photos. After few days, I started developing the collection.

Then, I had one of the biggest shocks of my career as a professional photographer. No photo could be developed in black and white. The results were not at all up to my expectations. In color everything was perfect. But I was going to create photos that smelled of deja-vu.

I realized my mistake. I understood that I had looked in color and not in black and white. I missed the essentials. I had wasted my photographic time.

This experience was for me the revelation of what black and white represented.

It is not enough to take a color photo and transform it black and white. You have to think in black and white when shooting. But above all, you must see in black and white.

This is what I will explain to you in the rest of this article.

Why Photographing in Black and White

If you are not yet creating black and white photographs, you are probably wondering why you need to use this photographic style.

The qualities of black and white photographs are numerous:

  • The beauty of black and white is simplicity.
  • Black and white offers other means than color to show an artistic interpretation.
  • Black and white is an artistic style because it never shows the reality which is always in color.
  • Black and white allows a viewer to focus on the content. Color is a distracting technique.
  • Black and white does not make concessions like the color which can hide defects of in shots.
  • Black and white makes it possible to create more homogeneous photographs even in very varied light conditions. The photos are more consistent.
  • Black and white is the root of photography.
  • Black and white is a technique that allows you to create photos with another vision.
  • Black and white adds mystery and helps to create abstract conceptual photos.

For me, the greatest quality is that black and white is its timelessness.

When I look at color photos, I often find them dated, obeying criteria of a fashion that has long since passed. They are no longer relevant.

Black and white art prints cross the ages. You can watch them, even admire them 20 or 30 after they have been created.

This is for this reason that I often say during my photo workshops that black and white offers me the luxury of mastering time.

Creating Black and White Photos is Difficult

Black and white is not a photographic field as I hear it sometimes said. It is a technical approach which concerns both underwater photography, wildlife photography and landscape photography.

Black and white is a creative interpretative technique that is very difficult to master.

Learning is very long, difficult. Many photographers are discouraged when they compare their photos to the ones created by the masters of this technical approach.

The creation of quality black and white photographs is very demanding. It begins with the shooting and ends with printing on paper. The stages of the workflow are completely different from those of color.

In this article, I will only discuss the first step: the field.

How to See in Black and White

I will give you tips that I use during the creation of my collections to see in black and white. Each of the following paragraphs will give you some advice.

But before going further, I would like to share with you this quote which is engraved on my mind and which I repeat myself constantly as soon as I create a project in black and white.

« In photography, perfection is impossible to achieve. Only the constant search for excellence allows us to approach it ».

Black and white is the basis of photography. Since I developed my activity as an artist photographer of nature, I have realized the importance of this technique and its impact.

Black and white, because it is very difficult to master, allows you to approach perfection in photography.

In black and white, framing and composition errors are immediately visible. The color is much more flexible : the errors are less visible.

Reminder on the Definition of a Photograph

Click Here to Read the Next Part of the Article.

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Article published on Friday, March 06, 2020 . Written by
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