If there is one genre of photography, I find especially challenging and joyful then it must be High Contrast Black and White. There is an honesty in such pictures, that you will not find in other images. It sets special demands on the photographer, how he portrait, his choice of ISO, his control of the light. It is also a platform where I as a photographer is able to express my own emotions, if I got a depressed day it reflects expresses itself in a melancholically way.
Since you do not have colour to lead your eye around the image, strong composition is important. What works best for me is often images that are simple, uncluttered compositions where the main subject is isolated and easy to identify. So do consider how the contrast will shape your photo. Lightning plays a big part here, direct light adding to contrast, where side lighting develops grain. This is particularly interesting when taking photos of people, while it enhances their features, and brings out their personalities.
Shapes and Silhouettes
Bold shapes that stand out well against their surroundings can make powerful black and white images. The strong outline of a hot air balloon mid-air makes a bold statement against the bright sky; Architecture can be a great source of strong graphical shapes that lend themselves to black and white photography. Cityscapes, The angular shapes of tall houses against the skyline, together with the square and rectangular windows, create an interesting black and white photo full of shapes to lead the viewer’s eye around the image.
Creating silhouettes is a particularly effective method of accentuating your subject’s shape. When creating a silhouette image, the subject needs to be lit from behind, like when taking photo of a tree with the bright sky behind it. Landscapes is stunning in black and white but do pay careful attention to the sky, as dramatic or interesting cloud formations is a decisive in such photos.
It is All about Contrast
You will find that the general rules of how to frame a pictures applies equally to black and white photography as they do when shooting in colour, with the obvious difference vivid colures, usually pleasing the eye, is not there. You will have to find the interesting edge in grain, shapes and tones. Shadows and highlights, is the important features of your shot. Breaking the rules of photography is often what makes a picture spectacular.
Whenever you would find yourself complaining about poor light, these are situations where I seek comfort in Black and White, a dark or overcast day can be a great time to shoot outdoors. Rainy days, where the asphalt kills the light, when everyone else mindlessly fires off their flashes resulting bland meaningless photos, high contrast BW will find you the interesting edge.
A technical perspective.
I usually seek the lowest possible ISO, if this a preference at colour photos, then it is particularly important when it comes to black and white. Noise created by ISO is on your tail and you have to watch out. Though grain is often what you want, do remember you can always add more in the processed picture, but it is very hard to remove.
Many argues, that it is just as easy turning a coloured photo into a Black and White; I disagree… to compose right, you will need to be ‘seeing in black and white.’. This might sound easy but nothing could be further from the truth. My Sony Alpha A99V, which is a translucent full frame camera, really helps here. It has live view, which is displaying the effect of a function on the screen, such as the effect of the exposure compensation value.
The best work ever written on Filters and Black and White photography.. A absolutely must read Using Coloured Filters in Black and White Photography.
Another stunning example, showing how grain can add to a picture. If higher ISO is giving you the edge, it does not mean you end up with an unusably photo. Chris Formont kindly borrowed me this masterpiece of a snap. Do enjoy, and get inspired..
Another good example, showing how an interesting sky creates the photos. Martin Jack kindly borrowed me this great shoot. Venture to his Flickr and get inspired.