Black & White Photography, Take One

This is the first of a two-part series on black and white (B&W) photography.

Welcome to this column on black and white, with a myriad of subtle shades and tones, coupled with contrast and including highlights and shadows, photography.

Maybe we’ll just stick to calling it black and white (B&W) for short.

Working in B&W allows for much creativity, interpreting the scene and displaying your perception of the view.

Digital B&W photography is a unique blend of the artistic and technical. How you process your photos is an individual choice coupled with your software, knowledge and abilities.

You are in control from the initial exposure, through the processing of the image, to the final print. You, the artist, decide how to present and interpret the image.

Each step of the process has an influence on your work.

The image you provide the viewers is your interpretation of the initial capture, drawing them into your world, your consciousness.

We see the world in colour. Visualizing in black and white is an exercise in appreciation for the contrasts, textures, shades and designs around us. Then we get to capture and share them.

Working in monochrome allows the freedom to create and develop using the changes from highlights to shadows and the tonal values – with subtle changes between, or using sharp delineations of lines to create the image.

Those borders define shape and volume of the objects contained in the scene.

Shooting in RAW is preferred to JPEG as it allows us to retain all the red, green and blue (RGB) values of a scene, thus having the ability to manipulate it when converting with software to B&W later on.

RAW is the digital negative and contains all the data captured when the image is taken. JPEGS are compressed and remove data.

Working in B&W gives many opportunities to delve into abstraction. This can be done by removing some of the tonal qualities of a photo and consigning it to only a few, leaving a high-contrast image as a result.

Details can be enhanced or concealed, areas highlighted or obscured.

One of the most exciting aspects of digital black and white photography is your ability to manipulate your image to present your artistic intent.

It allows you to communicate how you interacted with the scene. The techniques you apply define the objective place (the record of that scene) as well as your perceptions and feelings about it.

Camera settings, exposure, processing and printing choices all influence the outcome.

The final image is your artistic interpretation of what you experienced.

Having the ability to alter tone, contrast and brightness gives you the ability to draw your viewer into your feelings of the image and create more interesting photos.

The colours of the subject(s) will determine how the black and white image will appear, as the dissimilar hues may reproduce differently, or appear similar, in monochrome.

Different shades, hues and contrasts interact to change the way your black and white image looks.

You can lighten or darken the sky or change the appearance of other colour values during processing.

Black and white photography uses a grayscale spectrum that ranges from brightest white to deepest black with all the shades in between.

It is the difference in the tonal borders that defines volume and shape.

We rely on light and shadow to create the impact of an image, often providing as much impact emotionally as visually.

Well-done monochrome images are beautifully crafted renditions of a time and space.

B&W photography creates a rich visual environment as the focus often goes to details that are missed when colour is present.

B&W photographs bring the human element into the experience for the viewer, enhancing sensitivity and bringing a story into the encounter.

It causes us to use more than just our vision to appreciate the composition we are viewing.

The exploration of the subject, whether object or person, becomes more personal because of this.

My next column will return to the subject of black and white photography.

Email questions to [email protected] or post them after the column at

Happy shooting and remember to leave the environment as you found it.

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