Seeing in Black & White

“When you photograph people in colour, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in Black and white, you photograph their souls!”

Ted Grant

“To the complaint, ‘There are no people in these photographs,’ I respond, There are always two people: the photographer and the viewer.”

Ansel Adams

When I was younger and started to draw, it was always in pencil and now that I have grown and try to draw, it is always in pencil. Why? because when I see shades I see them in black and white. I cannot somehow capture light and dark with a pencil when the pencil is a colour. This is how I shoot, I switch my camera to monochrome and shoot in black and white, it’s how I roll and I find it easier to expose my image this way.

I am drawn to black and white like a magpie to shiny objects, the images fascinate me and I find them more complex than a colour image. It allows me to see more of the image and for that reason black and white is one of my favourite forms of photography.

In order to take a good black and white image you need to consider your subject and lighting because you do not have the colour to fall back on to tell the story. Successful black and white images focus on tone, contrast, texture, composition, patterns and shapes, and emotion.

It is important to have an understanding of colour before considering black and white. Colour is made up of three elements these are:

Hue – This is the name of the colour such as red, yellow, green or blue.

Saturation – This is the intensity of the colour.

Lightness – Describes the amount of black or white that is mixed into the colour also known as tone.

So when considering black and white what you are doing is taking away the hue and what remains is the saturation, lightness and contrast in the form of a grey scale. Contrast is used to describe the black to white values within an image with everything else being grey. I can’t really mention all of this without adding a little about the zone system now can I?

Zone System

The zone system is a devised by Ansell Adams and Fred Archer which involves using all of the photographic elements like composition, exposure, framing, choice of lens, contrast etc. to produce a perfectly exposure image. They came up with a numbered chart depicting all of the tones from black through to white to show the light and dark values which should be achieved on the final photograph depending on the subject.

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