Tips for Black and White Photography from Dennis Skley
Black and White Photography
Black and white photography can turn a drab color photo into a stunning image. It is also 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.
Black and White Photos
I have seen many great black and white photos in print and online magazines and always wondered if there were originally in color or in black and white. Whether there were 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 enjoys taking still-life photographs in color.
He also likes to experiment with different film development techniques and taking self-portraits.
Q1. Tell us a bit of Your Background
I have always been intrigued by gadget and “technical toys”. The camera was one of them.
My first photographic obsession got started with a Minolta 5000 AF camera, an emulsion film SLR camera, released in 1986. This obsession continues 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 Camera 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"
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. 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 And Not 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. So, that's how I decide when to shot in black and white or in color. Sometimes, it is a spontaneous action.
Q6. Are Most Of Your Black And White Photos Shot Originally In Color And Converted Later to Black and White?
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 photos as they give stronger contrast.
Q7. Is There Any Adjustment You Make for Black And White Photos Like Low ISO Etc?
I generally do not do any other adjustment for my black and white photos. I prefer to work in a situation that is given. However, I work with low ISO film as the high ISO film 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 adds texture and ambiance 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. Instead, look for an active sky. In some instances, a featureless sky can also be interesting depending on the overall composition. So, experiment and see which work best.
Q9. What 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 a higher contrast. Therefore you might get a good effect if you shoot with the light source in front of you. The strong shadow coming from the 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 Photos?
You have to look for the subject with complementary colors. Some colors look the same in black and white and you don't get good contrast. Red and green for example, will look the same in black and white. So, as I had mentioned earlier, black and white photos are interesting if they have good 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 Black And White Photos?
I mostly use Pol-Circular-Filter, sometimes Color-Filters. on black and white photos will be useful for landscape photography as it will enhance the cloud and give better contrast. The effect is quite powerful in architectural photographs as well. Orange filter
Orange filter has a strong effect on blue and violet images and will darken very strongly. For green images, it doesn't darken that strongly and it is less strong for yellow-green images.
In nude photography, you will get a strong contrast if the photo is taken with green plants/scenery as the backdrop.
That is why I like using the orange filter for my black and white photography.
Q13. Is It Important To Shoot Black and White 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.
Q14. Is It Different When It Comes To Composition For Black And White Photo?
None whatsoever. 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 as 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 Do You Have To Take Outstanding Black And White Photograph?
It is essential to photograph items that fascinate you. If you see a house with special windows, then you shoot the windows only and not the house. 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 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. You will pick up lots of tips from there.
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 types of equipment to help you with your photography. 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 on how 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
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Mazlan