Why do we need to take photos in “less information” format? When even the cheapest digital camera in the market would able to produce photos in colours (full information format).
Photography means drawing with light. In black and white format it is like drawing on blackboard with white pen or drawing on whiteboard using black pen. We use differences in contrast to structure forms of our subject and object.
Personally, I love to produce black and white photos although I have to admit create great black and white photos are harder than regular colour photos. Main reason is because I have one less information than can affect aesthetic look or audience’s mood.
If someone told us “If you ever have bad photos, just turn them into black and white, it will make them looks good instantly” then dare I say this statement is totally wrong!
In Black and white we only can control three “colours”: Black, white and grey. All degradation colours would determined only by highlight and shadow. If we do not have the right amount of both highlight and shadow then we get the “wrong” contrast, either it is too little contrast (images look flat and uninteresting) or too strong contrast (become muddy or over highlight clipping). That is why to shoot black and white we need to pay even more attention about light quality than shooting with colours.
However, the reasons why I still love to shoot in black and white are:
Focus more on story
By eliminating colour elements our brain will “read” photos more on the content itself. We give up one less information but we gain stronger focus on the rest part of images instead (especially feel and story inside photo).
Be it photo of a person or group of people I feel that I able to focus more on action inside photos better than colour photos. By remove colour elements I can understand the meaning of subject’s action easier.
The main reason I create black and white tone to photo above is because I can have stronger feeling about what she felt at the moment I took this photo compare to regular colour photo. I want translate more of her emotion instead of full information like her skin or dress colours. I eliminate colours because for me it is an unnecessary factor that will lower her emotion presence.
For me her emotion in this photo is: Pretend to be a strong person (sharp looks from her eyes) but at the same time also feel worry or nervous about something (fingers near lips) and slight being mysterious as well (lips shape like want to say something but she hold that words).
If I put it in colours, our eyes will get distract to his clothes and lamp colours, which is will lower the feeling presence about he tried so hard to lift the heavy barbell.
Gesture may only take small portion from the whole image, however a strong gesture will lift up the dynamic level regardless the “size” of it. It will lead audience’s eyes to the main topic about what story we want to tell with our photo. (Read here for more about Gesture)
To make audience easier catch gesture we can use the benefit from black and white format: Less distraction by remove colours, and let audience focus more on the rest part. Like in the photo above I remove the colour of her skin colour, dress colour, product colour, and advertising board’s lamp colour. We simply focus instantly on gestures (her smile and his hand pose) with extremely low distraction.
The reason why I created photo above in black and white format is very obvious. I want to minimize distraction as much as possible to let audience focus on crying boy while all other person are “busy” praying. Most people there use different clothes’ colours, plus there are some colour elements on the boat surface as well. If I let this photo in colours then there would be too much things going on at the same time and the presence of the crying boy will significantly lower.
The most contrast colour combination
I believe we all aware about colours match. We blend few colours that have strong contrast one to each other to make a strong look image. Lucky us, black and white have the strongest contrast from them all. Just put a black object on white background (or vice versa), our images will become so dynamic in looks and easily let the audience focus on the story we want to tell.
By put colour contrast with only black and white element, we do not need to think about what mood created by colours (like blend the warm and cool tone in a scene). We only need to pay attention to the intensity of light that fall to object and background.
As we know, strong light creates strong shadow. The stronger the white (light), the stronger the black (shadow or silhouette). That is the core key of make black and white photos. Search a strong source of light to create white part, and let the rest become dark covered with shadow/silhouette.
Put our main subjects or objects at the strong contrast condition so audience’s eyes will automatically see them from the very first glance.
Like in the photo above, audience’s eyes “can not escape” not to see her face as main point of interest as her face has the strong contrast created by light. It has much stronger presence than the face behind her that covered by dark shadow.
As normal human we see the world in colour. Therefore, every time we see black and white photos, there is always an additional of surreal effect inside.
Surreal feel is an important factor to create a dynamic composition or strong looks photo. It “force” audience to blend their imagination with reality to “translate” scenes inside photo.
Retro or classic look
I love retro looks things. Literally on anything. It is simply timeless.
I love retro look photos because it able to make my mind to think like: “What if actually I ever lived at old days (before I was born)? How to live at old days when technology way less advance than now?”.
It feels like bring back my nostalgic feeling about something that I never experienced. Weird me, but that what I always feel every time I saw retro look or the real old photos. I can just stare at them for long time and wondering my self about what the actual stories or moments inside.
Classic look in black and white photography strongly affected by the fact that all really old photos only taken in black and white. In the photo above, If I created it in colours then our perception would get distracted with “modern” colours (car, dress, and building colours), they will instantly remove the retro look feeling from this photo.
That is all about my thought of black and white photography. Have fun shooting out there while keep looking for good quality of light and strong contrast scene to create a retro look and beautiful black and white images.
Keep shooting and stay inspired,