Monday, April 4, 2011

5 Things I've Learned ~ Mono Mondays!

"Where Even the Rocks Grow" - Eramosa Karst
(1/50 sec.@ F/8, ISO 160, 18mm fl, kit zoom, mono pod, overcast light, pattern metering)

Having to do a B&W every week has really helped me realize what tips and principles I've needed to apply to each ramble I go on. So I thought I'd share what I've learned over the last couple years with all of you. Ready? Here's five things everyone needs to remember if they want to make better B&W images... beginner or not.

1) When at all possible, refrain from allowing the camera itself to convert your color photo into a monochromatic one on the spot. If you haven't figured it out yet, your camera's auto settings are good for one thing, generalizing every scenario you give it. Including your B&W's. Your camera comes with software, basic perhaps but better than the actual camera, to put on your computer... somewhere in that small program is a way for you to convert the image yourself, controlling your contrast, brightness, etc... so that you get a B&W that pops. The version your own camera gives you will generally be flat and with a minimum range of tones.

2) Lighting is STILL important. You can't just ignore your exposure or settings because you won't be looking at it in color. On the contrary, now you need to pay desperate attention to the light. The quality of shadow and highlights is always key to begin with. Don't relax that simply because it's B&W. Subjects and shape alone can't carry the bulk of the image, as folks tend to let a color image do. Worried you may not get the light just right? Shooting in Raw is key for me. It allows me to edit and tweak areas that need some help later on without destroying the initial quality of the file.

3) Refrain from "image salvaging". I'm referring to those that constantly go through their weaker images left over from a shoot and decide to try them all out as B&W's when they don't work in color. I know I've done it, I'm not too proud to say. Instead, train yourself to look at a new composition and see it's color and monochromatic possibilities before you take the shot. B&W conversion shouldn't be a last ditch effort to save a shot. This is something I've emphasized to myself every time I explore a new subject. And it pays off. I knew taking the image above that I was going to love it as a B&W.

4) Remember Tone, Form, and Texture. Great range of tones comes from sizing up your light, weather conditions, subject, and knowing then how to get a good exposure of your scene or subject. Again, you may have to be brave and get out of those auto modes. Tones are important, and can be tweaked further in editing. It comes down to this... your blacks should be black, your whites nice and white, and a wide variety of greys in between.
Form should be taking the starring role in your composition. Too often people snap a photo of a scene they like without knowing why exactly they like it. B&W makes you aware of what one thing is anchoring the scene, grounding it. It is what needs to grab your attention, since color won't.
Texture becomes a way to enhance and ensure your image has detail and definitive light. Texture isn't popping? You need better light, lower in the sky, or coming from the side so as to highlight all the details that make up an engaging B&W,

5) Lastly, B&W can be useful for subject studies. Scenery or weather/lighting conditions not ideal? Sky looks flat and cloudless? Go tight. Close framing of unusual natural elements, story telling shots of a single subject on the street, wild perspectives of close architectural elements... could give you the best shot of the day.

Black and White. More versatile than you thought. And these are just the tip of the iceberg... but these really are second nature for me, so I thought I'd share. Any other key tips you can't live without when it comes to B&W? Leave them in the comments section! Thanks for the ramble... and have a good one.

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