Tech of the month: Black & White

Hillary from JapanCanMix (not so) recently asked me how to take great B&W photos. Obviously, I did not have a good answer. But her question made me think about this. Like, really think about it. Only a few days later, we went to see Sebastiao Salgado’s Genesis exhibition. While walking through the exhibition, I looked for clues. I am still not an expert but here are my conclusions:

Salgado's Genesis exhibition at c|o Berlin

Salgado’s Genesis exhibition at c|o Berlin

I have identified three ingredients than can help to make a B&W picture a better B&W picture:

1.) Simplicity

Some of the images in the exhibition that I liked most had a nearly minimalistic composition with lots of empty (black or white) space and a few pronounced lines.

This is one of my older photos, chosen for illustrative purposes. However, if you haven’t seen Salgado’s photos yet, I really recommend that you take a look at the Genesis photos (and while you’re at it, read also about his biography, it’s interesting).

SolitudeII

2.) Congruence

B&W photography is older than colour photography. B&W pictures can thus evoke a sense of antiquity or timelessness. The world is more B&W when it is dark and raining. B&W photography can thus underline a subdued mood. Taking a picture in B&W is more than a decision about aesthetics. The best B&W pictures are, in my opinion, taken with these associations in mind. They show scenes that look like they could have taken place long ago, they portray people in deep thoughts, ..

This is my university. If it was not for the people and the cars, could you tell that this picture was not taken in 1866 when the castle was completed? (I guess experts could but you get my point.)

This is my university. If it was not for the people and the cars, could you tell that this picture was not taken in 1866 when the castle was completed? (I guess experts could but you get my point.)

A rainy evening in Akiba - Olympus Pen EPL-3, 14mm (28mm equivalent), f3.5, 1/10,  grainy film art filter

A rainy evening in Akiba – Olympus Pen EPL-3, 14mm (28mm equivalent), f3.5, 1/10, grainy film art filter

3.) Fusion

Especially in his social photography, Salgado often creates images of humans which form a (spooky) union with their environment. Mine workers resemble a swarm of ants, poor farmers are as bony as their cattle. This effect is created with a unique attention to shapes and lines and is emphasized by the lack of colours. Here is an example. I wish I had a good example myself but this one is probably the most challenging of the three ingredients I identified.

What makes a great B&W pictures in your opinion? What do you look for when you plan to shoot in B&W? Let us know in a new post or in the comments!

ToM is a monthly photo challenge. To participate, take a picture according the theme, and when you post the picture, create a pingback to this post to share your achievements with us. As always, you are also invited to submit your images to Lucile’s photo rehab, and we will list all in-time contributions at the end of next month’s challenge. There is no time limit to participate in the challenges in the archives and you will always be listed at the end of each challenge you completed.

Last month was all about animals, and these are the contributions we received:

Snapshots, Snippets and Scribbles: Caturday, June 6th
Musings of a frequently flying scientist: Gidget’s Photo Shoot (Tech of the month)
Andy Townend: Space | animals
Viaja2Photography: Pelícanos en la costa peruana
Angle and views: Focus on animals
Lucile De Godoy: Focus on animals: Tech of the month in Photo Rehab

This month’s contributions are here:

Andy Townend: Senimo
Desley Jane: Monochromatic Dramatic
Viaja/Viaja2 Photography: Blanco y negro
Playing with my first DSLR camera: Project 365 – Week 8
perelincolors: For ToM: Berlin in Black-and-White
Lucile de Godoy: Tech of the Month: Black and White

This post was originally published on perelincolors.com.

11 thoughts on “Tech of the month: Black & White

  1. desleyjane

    This is a great post, very informative and wonderful to mention Salgado’s work as an example. Your “ingredients” to me, are spot on. I’ve been experimenting with black negative space and white negative space lately and am in love with the technique, I think it adds a lot of drama in a similar way that high contrast adds drama. It gives you the opportunity to see much more detail and clarity in a shot as well. Excellent post again.

    Like

  2. Japan Can(ada) Mix

    A belated thanks for the mention! I appreciate this post because it gives explanations of features of b&w photography that I hadn’t thought of before with clear examples. I’ll be adding your three tips to my little post-it note reminder for taking these types of photos.

    Like

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