Back in the days of film photography and Ansel Adams, black and white were the only two colors that you could capture a photograph with. There was no such thing as color film and, if there were, it was just starting out and not nearly as popular. But when color photography did finally become popular, it completely devoured most of the black and white photography. When looking online, you will find this to be very true, especially in the field of landscape photography. It is tough to find artists who are creating mind-blowing work in tones of grey like the great photographers of the past did. Still, there are some photographers who delve into black and white photography, thinking that even one of their images will work out well once stripped of color. Yet they assume far too much.
1. You Think Every Image Can Be a Great Black and White Image
When you are out taking photographs, you should be thinking how you will process it as much as you think of the composition, light, mood of the image. To go out with intentions of capturing a beautiful sunset over the beach, only to turn it into a black and white image in post-processing is not the right way to photograph anything. Not every image will work as a monochrome image. You need to pay attention to how each individual color will convert, how the tones will look overall and if there is enough contrast etc.
2. It is Just as Easy to Find Subjects and Compositions
This could not be any less true. Since you have to pay attention to the way each color will convert on the monochrome spectrum, not every beautiful scene you come across will look right. While it may look good as a color image, it probably will not be as good in grey tones. Take, for example, the difficulty of shooting scenes within the forest. Especially when looking at scenes that are full of just one color – such as green – it is tough to figure out a way to really make your subject stand out in the way it would in color. To say that you must look carefully at every scene before snapping the shutter is a massive understatement.
3. The Workflow is the Same as With Color
Wrong again, my friend. I’m not sure what your workflow is when editing in color but I know that I have been taking a lot more time with my black and white images. Back when Ansel Adams was shooting, his work did not stop when he developed his film in the darkroom. Rather, he had to do plenty of dodging and burning to reveal the true beauty of the image. Even before he snapped the shutter, he would decide whether he needed a colored filter – such as a blue filter to darken the skies – to help change the scene into what he needed it to be. In post-processing, I am constantly playing with the saturation of the colors to change the conversion. I also tend to make my images much darker with higher contrast when I am editing them in black and white. My color images may be dark, but they are not nearly as dark as my monochromes.
4. It is Only One Slider to Convert
Did I not just say that I play with the color saturation too? Besides just pressing the little button in Lightroom that strips my images of color, I am also playing with each of these saturations to see how to make the image look its best. There are tons of other ways to convert your images to black and white as well. Depending on what program you are using, you can simply lower the saturation slider to zero, press the black and white button, throw on a gradient layer, place a black and white layer on your image, et cetera. So many options.
5. The Images Need to Look Dark and Contrasty
Why do you say that? Because that is how I edit my images? Because most of Ansel Adam’s most popular images are like that? No two images need to be edited in the same manner; no two photographers have to have the same exact style. With this in mind, it definitely helps if you have your own style when editing your images. Presets come in handy when trying to do this as well. There are still times, however, when I tend to edit an image to be a lot lighter, a lot less contrasted than most of my other work. It all depends on what sort of feel I want the image to have.
Back in the beginning of photography, black and white was the way to go. Color was considered a joke for a very long while. Now, however, it is difficult to find “famous” photographers who shoot strictly in tones of black and white, especially with landscape photography. With this in mind, I hope that this has cleared up some common misconceptions on black and white photography.
More Black & White Articles
Want to dig deeper into the world of Black & White Photography? Here are some more articles and tutorials to keep you going:
- A Comprehensive Introduction to Black and White Photography
- What’s The Role of Visualization In Black & White Landscape Photography?
- Six Reasons You Must Use Black & White for Landscape Photography
- Interview with Kodak Professional Film Photographer Zach Heaton
- Black & White Photography: A Complete Guide for Nature Photographers