Black and white photography is really an art unto itself.
Black and White is not Easy
Many people think it is easier to make a black and white photo because there is no color. The opposite is true. Black and White is more difficult because the photo lacks color.
The human eye is great and seeing color. On average, we can distinguish between 10 million colors!
Colors play such an important role to our vision that we often overlook several other qualities of an object, such as:
- Tonal Range (basically, the range of luminosity in the photo. You want there to be darks, mid-tones, and lights)
With black and white, color isn’t there to distract you, and you have to emphasize these other things to make a good photo.
Ironically a variety of color in the scene can help a black and white photo. In digital photos, you can adjust the color balance of a photo so certain colors will be lighter or darker than others.
In the film days, that was accomplished by using different film stocks and by using colored filters to filter out certain wavelengths of light.
Color vs. Black and White
Let’s look at both the color version and the black and white version of some photos.
Chloe on the Chair
This first photo is one I published earlier when the topic was the rule of thirds.
This photo, in my opinion, works as a black and white. It has good tonal range and a good amount of contrast. You can see the texture of the chair that Chloe is on, and there is a good bit of detail in her hair as well.
The composition could definitely be improved, but it’s not horrible.
The black and white version of the photo has another advantage, too. I don’t think the furniture in the background is as noticeable in black and white as it is in color.
Chloe on Grass
I wanted to give you an example of a photo that doesn’t work in black and white, and I believe this to be such a photo.
The tonal range isn’t that great in this photo. There’s lots of brights and lots of darks, but not much in between. You get some sense of texture from the grass in the lower-left hand corner, but not much detail from Chloe’s fur.
Copper and Oakley
Just last week, I featured these two “brothers” for our cityscape theme. This was a great black and white photo.
The black and white photo does a great job of bringing out the texture of the dogs’ fur, the cement, dirt, and pebbles, and the brick wall in the background. The tonal range goes from the white in the dogs’ fur to the midtones in the cement to the darks in the alley behind Copper and Oakley.
This photo is also a good example of how color can change the feel of a photo. Not that it’s a sad or hopeless setting by any means, but the mood of the color photo just seems lighter and brighter.
This week’s photo
For this week’s photo, I took Knox onto the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi here in Hattiesburg. Like most college campuses, USM has a grounds crew that does a great job. It’s late spring, and I knew there would be some good color. It was still bright enough that I knew I could get some good contrast in the photo.
I included the color version of this photo so you could see something about black and white processing of digital photos. Both photos have identical adjustments made to them–it’s just one photo is in color and the other in black and white.
Compared to color photos, you can adjust the exposure and contrast of black and white photos much more. In the color photo, the bright sidewalk in the background is distracting. While the sidewalk is still bright in the black and white photo, it is nowhere near as distracting. The large amount of contrast on Knox himself is really ugly in the color photo.
I was able to adjust the color balance to give some brights, darks, and midtones to the black and white photo, resulting in a good range of luminosity.
Knox’s big ole poof head visually balances the sidewalk in the background, both in terms of the respective size of each, and in terms of luminosity. Speaking of the poof head, the position of the sun supplied a natural rim light to provide separation the background.
Finally, I love the way the texture of Knox’s fur was brought out. You can almost feel the relatively straight hair on his ears compared to the tight curls on his torso.
Next, we go “across the pond” and visit Sam Adele, the Hoof & Hound Photographer covering the Lancaster UK area.