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Sunday Read: Learning to ‘See in Black and White’

11 September 2022

Sunday Read: Learning to ‘See in Black and White’

 

Sunday Reads

Laura Currie 
11th September 2022

Magical monochrome...

To capture black and white images that really stand out, you need to learn the art of ‘seeing in black and white’. This might sound like an alien concept, but once you get the knack, it will open up a whole new world of inspiration and possibilities. Flat, dull imagery will be a thing of the past and you will be creating artwork that really ‘pops’ in no time!

An easy trap to fall into can be shooting hundreds of images with the intention of figuring out which to convert to black and white later. But it’s far more effective to shoot with purpose, to really analyse the scene before you and assess – at the time – if it will perform well as a black and white image. Back in the day when film was our only option, we didn’t have this luxury, you’d load either colour or black and white film into the camera and that’s what you were stuck with, so you had no choice but to shoot with intent.

When I used to shoot with film, black and white street photography was my favourite genre, and I loved nothing more than wandering around town with only a single roll of film (student budget) and having to be sparing and considered when hitting the shutter. I would then dash back to the college darkroom to see if the colour scene I’d seen though the viewfinder had materialised into what I’d had in my mind’s eye when I took the shot. The whole process was a joyous journey towards the end result, you didn’t have that instant gratification that digital now offers.

While this makes me a bit sad, it’s also encouraging and exciting that this ability to instantly see if you have captured what you were visualising makes the learning process SO much quicker. No longer do we have to spend hours in the darkroom, emerging at the end of the day ­– a little light-headed and smelling a bit like a hamster cage – ­with only a handful of images to be proud of.

So, how do we ‘see’ in black and white? The trick is to observe the brightness of the elements that make up the scene before you. Drastic differences in light intensity will give you punchy, striking black and white images that really draw the eye. It sounds obvious, but you have to try to totally ignore colour; two colours that look completely different but are the same brightness can look identical in tone when converted to black and white, as demonstrated here:

Now to choose a camera. Whilst the list of options is endless, there is one camera in particular I think is especially lovely for this slow, thoughtful style of photography, and that’s the Fujifilm X-Pro3. It harks back to the days of film cameras with its wonderfully retro aesthetics and solid build quality – it’s as lovely to look at as it is to handle.

When you look at the back of the camera, the apparent lack of an LCD screen further enhances the old-school aesthetics and heightens the feeling of nostalgia. If this element sounds off-putting, fear not, there is an LCD screen but Fujifilm has hidden it away. To view the screen, you have to manually flip it out into its temporary position – some have criticised Fujifilm’s design decisions here, but I think it’s a genius move. By making it inconvenient to review images as soon as they’re captured, it encourages creativity and reduces distractions, offering a truly immersive, creative experience. In addition, if you can wait until you’re ready to offload your images without taking a single peep, it adds to that film ethos; just wait and see what you’ve got – be patient and let the anticipation build!

Image credits respectively – Robby Mccullough, Nikolay Loubet, Ashikul Islam, Jamie Davies, Christin Hume (colour edit only), Fujifilm stock, Jorik Kleen, Matthew Henry, Keith Misner, Talles Alves, Matthias Munning, Nicholas Doyle, Daniele Fotia, Jacob Mejicanos.

Magical Monochrome…

To capture black and white images that really stand out, you need to learn the art of ‘seeing in black and white’. This might sound like an alien concept, but once you get the knack, it will open up a whole new world of inspiration and possibilities. Flat, dull imagery will be a thing of the past and you will be creating artwork that really ‘pops’ in no time!

An easy trap to fall into can be shooting hundreds of images with the intention of figuring out which to convert to black and white later. But it’s far more effective to shoot with purpose, to really analyse the scene before you and assess – at the time – if it will perform well as a black and white image. Back in the day when film was our only option, we didn’t have this luxury, you’d load either colour or black and white film into the camera and that’s what you were stuck with, so you had no choice but to shoot with intent.

When I used to shoot with film, black and white street photography was my favourite genre, and I loved nothing more than wandering around town with only a single roll of film (student budget) and having to be sparing and considered when hitting the shutter. I would then dash back to the college darkroom to see if the colour scene I’d seen though the viewfinder had materialised into what I’d had in my mind’s eye when I took the shot. The whole process was a joyous journey towards the end result, you didn’t have that instant gratification that digital now offers.

While this makes me a bit sad, it’s also encouraging and exciting that this ability to instantly see if you have captured what you were visualising makes the learning process SO much quicker. No longer do we have to spend hours in the darkroom, emerging at the end of the day ­– a little light-headed and smelling a bit like a hamster cage – ­with only a handful of images to be proud of.

So, how do we ‘see’ in black and white? The trick is to observe the brightness of the elements that make up the scene before you. Drastic differences in light intensity will give you punchy, striking black and white images that really draw the eye. It sounds obvious, but you have to try to totally ignore colour; two colours that look completely different but are the same brightness can look identical in tone when converted to black and white, as demonstrated here:

Now to choose a camera. Whilst the list of options is endless, there is one camera in particular I think is especially lovely for this slow, thoughtful style of photography, and that’s the Fujifilm X-Pro3. It harks back to the days of film cameras with its wonderfully retro aesthetics and solid build quality – it’s as lovely to look at as it is to handle.

When you look at the back of the camera, the apparent lack of an LCD screen further enhances the old-school aesthetics and heightens the feeling of nostalgia. If this element sounds off-putting, fear not, there is an LCD screen but Fujifilm has hidden it away. To view the screen, you have to manually flip it out into its temporary position – some have criticised Fujifilm’s design decisions here, but I think it’s a genius move. By making it inconvenient to review images as soon as they’re captured, it encourages creativity and reduces distractions, offering a truly immersive, creative experience. In addition, if you can wait until you’re ready to offload your images without taking a single peep, it adds to that film ethos; just wait and see what you’ve got – be patient and let the anticipation build!

Image credits respectively – Robby Mccullough, Nikolay Loubet, Ashikul Islam, Jamie Davies, Christin Hume (colour edit only), Fujifilm stock, Jorik Kleen, Matthew Henry, Keith Misner, Talles Alves, Matthias Munning, Nicholas Doyle, Daniele Fotia, Jacob Mejicanos.

Laura Currie – 11th September 2022