Shooting for Better Black and White Images
by Sue Barthelow
Creating a captivating black and white image starts with the photo. Good digital processing skills come in handy when you're preparing your image for its final presentation. However, if you don't start with the right photo, you probably won't end up with a black and white image that stands out. For the best results, consider taking pictures specifically for black and white conversion. Here are some tips on how to find subject matter targeted for black and white.
Contrast makes or breaks a black and white image. Try to capture an image that has a variety of colors and shades. After converting it from color to black and white, your image should have a least a bit of black and a bit of white. Then, most importantly, it should show itself off with a multitude of gray tones. Think of the gray tones as you think of colors. Each tone is visually different and carries a different weight in your picture. The colors and their shades are what will give you contrast. Use them to your advantage.
Shapes and patterns strengthen your image. Give your viewer something to look at. Use the shapes and patterns to guide your eyes around the image. Beware of pictures that have too many major elements. A busy composition can weaken the image by overloading the viewer with things that demand attention. Look for a composition that has a single strong element and make that element your subject. Let the other shapes and patterns support your subject and glue the image together.
Texture and surface details promote visual interest. Choose a subject that has at least a bit of texture or surface detail and then bring it out with side-lighting. Side-lighting reveals detail from the shadows it creates. Direct lighting works its way into the nooks and crannies, effectively hiding them from view. Back lighting will obscure most of the surface details.
The light gives impact to your image. Harsh light my result in a picture that has too much contrast and looses too many of the gray tones. This super contrast may be perfect in some instances, but most of the time it's the soft light that will give you the best results. You'll get more shades of gray from soft light.
Keep an eye open for compositions that have these four attributes. If some of your digital color pictures look like they might be good in black and white, use your image software to convert them. Study different pictures and develop your own style. Try doing a photo shoot specifically for black and white images. You may find that it helps you search out those images that will convert the best.