Tips for Black and White Photography
Black and white photography can turn a drab color photo into a stunning image. It is also a perfect media to take photos on overcast days. In black and white photography, you focus on the subject and not distracted by the 'props'. This amazing media has now been ‘rediscovered’ by many great photographers and fashion magazines. The trend and demand for black and white photography for portraits and weddings are also on the increase.
I have seen so many great black and white photographs in print and online magazines and have always wondered if it was originally in color or in black and white. Whether it was photographed with digital cameras or on films. Were they digitally altered using photos editors?
I was pleased when a photographer agreed to share his experience, give tips on how to take black and white photos and provide answers to all the above questions.
Let me introduce you to Dennis Skley, a photographer based in Berlin, Germany.
Besides taking beautiful black and white photographs, Dennis also enjoy taking still-life photographs in color.
He also like to experiment with different film development techniques and self-portraits.
See His Full Porfolio
You can see more of his work on Flickr at flickr.com/dskley
He is also on Facebook at Skley.Photography
All photographs featured in this article are the works of Dennis Skley, who had given me permission to use for this article.
Q1. Tell us a bit of your background
I have always been intrigued by gadget and “technical toys”. Camera was one of them.
My first photographic obsession got started with Minolta 5000 AF camera, an emulsion film SLR camera, released in 1986. This obsession continues until today.
Q2. Is there any one of your equipment that you consider most important to you?
Well I do a lot of analog photography and develop the films myself. Therefore, I consider the container to develop films in as my most important piece of equipment. Strange, but it is true!
Q3. What type of cameras do you use in most of your work?
I use both digital and analog cameras as I enjoy editing pictures digitally as well as processing the films and printing them, the old fashioned way.
I use Canon EOS 600D for all of my digital photography. For analog, I use both Canon EOS 500N and Ricoh XR 20SP.
Q4. In any one session, how many pictures do you take to get "the right one" or is this no longer important as you can later re-edit using programs like Photosh
Most of them are "one shot" but for tabletop or still life pictures, I might need three to five takes. Most of my editing works are with Lightroom instead of Photoshop. However, I use Photoshop Elements when I want to create a montage, to get an effect, or do some other processing.
Generally, I use these software to edit all of my digital photos; yes, 100% of them!
I do not do any editing for my analog photos.
Q5. What makes you decide to photograph something in black and white over color?
With black and white photography, the object becomes the center of attention. It is more focused and more emotional. Only with black and white photography will you be able to find the soul of an object.
Q6. Are most of your black and white photos shot originally in color and you converted to B&W later?
No, I take all of my black and white photographs with my analog cameras and shot straight in black and white.
It is better to photograph straight away in black and white as you can "molest" the films by 'Push Development and Pull Development'. You cannot do this with colored films.
I also use colored filters for my analog black and white pictures as they give a stronger contrast.
Q7. Is there any adjustment that you make to take photos in Black and White like low ISO etc?
I generally do not do any other adjustment. I prefer to work with the situation that is given. However, I work with low ISO film, as high ISO tend to make black and white photos, grainy.
Q8. Is lighting important for black and white photography?
Lights are essential for all kinds of photography. However, in black and white photography, lights are even more important as it will add texture and ambience to the overall image.
For example in landscape photography, a clear sky with no cloud will turn out as a white or grey in the final print. Look for active sky. However, in some instances a featureless sky can also be interesting depending on the overall composition. So experiment and see which work best.
Q9. Which sort of lighting should someone be looking for?
I prefer natural lighting and if I work in the studio, it will be artificial lighting. Black and white photos look more dramatic if you have higher contrast. Therefore, you might get good effect if you shoot with the light source in front of you. Strong shadow, coming from light source in one direction, is another feature you might want to consider for your photos.
Q10. What is a good subject for black and white?
You have to look for subject with complementary colors. Some colors look the same in black and white and you will not get good contrast. Red and green for example, will look the same in black and white. In fact, what makes a black and white photo interesting is the contrast.
Q11. When is the best time to shoot in black and white?
I personally prefer to take between dawn and dusk, but there is no ‘best time’ in any photography. You just have to know how to capture the moment, to film
Q12. Are there any special filters to enhance your black and white photos?
I mostly use Pol-Circular-Filter, sometimes Color-Filters. Orange filter on black and white images will be useful for landscape photography, as it will enhance the cloud and give better contrast.
Q13. Is it important to shoot photos in RAW?
It´s not important to photograph in RAW, but it will be easier later. Without this format, you have to concentrate more on picture taking. With RAW, you can edit it later, if the picture did not turn out the way you had wanted it to be.
Q14. Is there any difference when it comes to composition for black and white as compared to color photographs?
There is no difference. The standard rule on symmetry, rules of the third and the “golden cut”, work well for both color and black and white photographs.
Black and White Balance
Also, imagine how the black and white will balance in the final picture. Do not let gray dominate your photo; the final image will turn out flat and uninteresting. Aim for a wide gradient of grays as this will add depth.
Q15. What other tips and advice would you give to a photographer in learning to take black and white photograph?
It is essential to photograph items that fascinate you. Seeing a house with special windows, you should not photograph the house, but the windows only. Capture the texture and detail; it will add more interest and excitement to your photos.
Take Many Photos
In addition, take as many photos as possible. This is not only fun, but also effective. Practice makes perfect. Right now I am part of the 365-project, i.e. one photo per day.
I would also suggest that you study the works of the earlier photographers or browse through some of the earlier black and white photo books. See the effects they get with different approaches to lighting.
Other Aids to Your Photography
If you have color photographs and want to convert them to black and white, read BeFunky online photo editor and learn how to get various effects in black and white.
Besides having a good camera, you will need other equipment to help you with your photography works. Read Essential Photography Equipment for various types of equipment that you may consider buying.
If you are thinking of buying a camera, then you should read The Best Cameras For Photography. It gives you all the tips and advice to buy or upgrade your camera.
Appreciation and Gratitude
I like to extend my appreciation and gratitude to Dennis Skley for agreeing to do this interview. For him to take time from his busy schedule is a big sacrifice, for which, I am truly grateful.
NOTE: All the photos used in this article are with special permission from the owner and photographer Dennis Skley. You can view more of his work at flickr.com/dskley