Black and White is Always in Style

Easter is always awash with color: baskets filled with colored eggs; peeps and a wide assortment of candy; flower bouquets; and, of course, pretty spring dresses on all the girls.  I'm a big fan of the bright colors.

But while you're out there enjoying the colors, don't forget the joy of black and white photography (also called "grayscale").  Back in the day - which, by the way, was a Wednesday - black and white was a favored format.  I used to carry two cameras everywhere - one with Kodachrome and one with Ilford Pan F.  This allowed me to shoot both color and black and white of the same scene.  When you learned how to develop film and print your first photos in the darkroom, you always started with black and white.  Today, you can still enjoy black and white images, and I submit that you should.

Black and white allows the photographer many opportunities to see the relationships between light and shadow.  Composition is a very important element in the image because your eyes are not tempted to wander all over the photo, seduced by the distraction of bright colors. It looks really appropriate on old stuff and textured surfaces.  Nice portraits will take on a different feel, since a well-produced black and white can be very personal and heighten emotions.

Black and white photography should always have a place in your portfolio.  It adds variety and can give the impression to your viewers that it is more a piece of art than photo.  In fact, if you are looking to purchase fine art photography, you'll find that more than 90% of them will be black and white images.

If you are shooting a camera with no capability to produce a RAW file, the favored method to produce grayscale is to begin with a color JPG and convert it in post-processing software.  If you set your camera to grayscale, you will get a grayscale JPG, with no ability to convert it to color later.

For those of you shooting in RAW, you can set your camera to grayscale and, later, convert the image back to color if you want both versions.  The bonus here is the ability to view the image on the camera's LCD in black and white while still being able to switch back to color.  Use the LCD to preview your image for your baseline black and white.  Getting it right in the camera is always the goal.

Converting your images can be done easily in your post-processing software, and we'll do another post on our favorite methods later this month.  This blog is to get you thinking about another type of photo technique to try.

While you are experimenting with grayscale, don't forget to emulate the old toning techniques, such as sepia. It produces warm images in more of a brownscale instead of grayscale. While it isn't really a black and white, it is generally lumped into this category and can add some interest to your photography. It was popularized in the late 19th century and adds a distinctive look many photographers still favor.  The wheel spoke below was for a texture theme.

Speaking of black and white techniques, there is one that just about everyone tries - selective color.  In this photo, you can see that a color image has been converted except for the yellow of the rose.  You'll see this used much too frequently in wedding photography: the bride will be rendered in grayscale, while her bouquet is presented in all its glorious color. This photo manipulation is fun, but use it with extreme care.  Like many tricks, it has been so overused that it receives equal amounts of derision and amusement from other photographers.  I made this image from an old film image, while I was experimenting with my favorite Photoshop plug-in for black and white conversions.  How often do I use it?  In my databases of 25,000+ images, I have only five using this technique.  Keep experimenting with techniques to expand your skills and phtographic diversity.