Black and White Challenge

By Roger (6 November 2014)

We have our Efcubed link on Facebook (here), and we use it as a reminder to check out a new blog; answer questions; and, sometimes, to put out quick photography news. We're always happy when someone “Likes” it or “Shares” one of our posts. I, also, have a personal page for family and friends. I feel compelled to point this out because I don't want people to think I'm an anti-Facebook person. However, I don't ever play along with Facebook challenges, games, lists, or polls. That includes the latest craze sweeping the pages of photographers' accounts – the black and white challenge. Even something like this is on my I-don't-do-that-on-Facebook list.

Black and white – my preferred term is monochrome – has always been one of my favorites. When I was shooting film, I always had one camera loaded with Ilford. I still look for monochrome photos in my photostream. As a matter of fact, I processed, several of last weekend's photos, from Virginia Beach, through one of my favorite Nik tools, Silver Effects. I did this before Mark tried to tweak me with the Facebook black and white challenge. (He knows I don't play these reindeer games.) ;-)

Stormy morning in Virginia Beach

Stormy morning in Virginia Beach

Instead, let's talk here about monochrome. When should you use it?

By now, you should know I don't like all-encompassing rules, but the short answer is: whenever you want to. Black and white can be used in any situation and give you great results. That isn't really helpful, though. Here are the situations where I always consider monochrome.

Textures can be very effective in monochrome. For the best results, you should light the subject from the side; direct frontal lighting will flatten out the texture you're trying to capture.

From my trip to Curacao

From my trip to Curacao

When your subject matter is shapes and/or patterns, monochrome can remove the distractions of color in your photograph. You make it easier for your viewer to concentrate on the tonal information in the image and how it shows the shapes and patterns.

Downtown St. Louis

Downtown St. Louis

I use monochrome to lend an air of realism to photographs of historical events. My sesquicentennial photographs are often toned monochromes because that is how authentic Civil War photographs looked 150 years ago. Monochrome lends to the viewer's subconcious shift to suspend his disbelief that this is how things looked back then.

Cedar Creek, Virginia

Cedar Creek, Virginia

For photographs of real historical locations, black and white post-processing can lend to the seriousness of the event. For example, almost all of my Auschwitz and Dachau photos have been converted to monochrome. It feels right to me because this was such a dark chapter in the history of man on the planet. The fact that the day was rainy and dreary while I was there didn't hurt the photo, either.

Auschwitz, Poland

Auschwitz, Poland

Monochrome portraits are still popular, too. I make them when asked by the client or if the subject is really interesting. Again, these types of portraits remove the color distractions. Without the distractions, you can more easily guide your viewer to a character study, or the emotions displayed, or highlight a mood, or any combination. Especially today, people don't see many black and white portraits, so they pause when they see one.

Singer/Songwriter Tina Hughes

Singer/Songwriter Tina Hughes

There are many reasons to try this type of photography, including you just want to try something different. Or somebody challenged you on Facebook. Pick your own reason. Now, according to the challenge rules, I'm supposed to nominate more people, so I'm nominating you. Go out there and make some black and white photographs. Have some fun with it.