Playing with light and shadow: Tips for better black and white photos


  • TECH
  • Saturday, 11 May 2019

Getting good results in black and white photography is hard, and knowing a few techniques can go a long way. — dpa

The way they play with light and shadow often leads the viewer to focus on aesthetics and framing, even noticing details that might have gone missed in a colour photo. But getting good results in black and white is hard, and knowing a few techniques can go a long way.

Taking pictures in black and white means a lot of things, but above all, it means concentrating on the essentials.

"A subject that impresses with its strong colours may be disappointing when represented in greyscale," says photographer Rolf Walther.

"Black and white is more abstract," says Frank Duerrach, a lecturer at a photography school in the Germany city of Cologne. "It is a detachment from the subject."

Without eye-catching colours, the content and framing of the image must take centre stage. Examples could be impressive forms and structures or dramatic action, Walther says.

Duerrach recommends starting with subjects that have many colours and then seeing how they look in black and white. That way you get a feeling for what's possible and what looks good. Minimalistic images containing few objects can be a good approach.

"Artful use of black and white photography means imagining the motif in greyscale before shooting," Walther says. He advises aspiring black and white photographers to try this before taking the photo.

In some situations black and white can be a better choice than colour. "You can take pictures in the blazing sun at noon," says photographer Alexander Waszczenko. "The shadows are often harder then."

Waszczenko recommends beginners select black and white or monochrome photography in the camera's settings and also to save a RAW file. Then you have two pictures – a JPEG in black and white on the camera and a colour RAW file that you can play around with on your computer.

When it comes to black and white shots, a lot of post-processing occurs – digitally on the PC or in the darkroom if taken on film. "The photographer is more a director of his own image," Duerrach says.

"The art of digital black and white photography is to achieve the vibrancy and feel of analogue images," Walther says.

Even with entry-level digital cameras you can make very good black and white pictures. Smartphones can also deliver passable pictures.

Programs such as Lightroom, Photoshop or Affinity are useful for digital post-processing. To exhaust all creative possibilities it makes sense to import the RAW file to your computer and work on it there. – dpa
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