Why black & white when we have color? What makes a good black & white? So let’s talk about B&W images today. Some people hate them other people love them. Some photographers love them so much that everything they process is black & white. I myself love b&w if it is done correctly and what I call “correctly” is basically in my opinion. I think people for the most part when asked what it is that they like about a black & white photo will give many different answers. For some they will say it looks nostalgic or old fashioned, others appreciate the contrast between the blacks, whites and all the shades of grey in between. One thing to remember is we all have the ability to perceive images and interpret them differently. I say “have the ability” because sometimes the way a photo is presented to us with captions or context can greatly jade are ability to see what it is we are looking at or the intent of the photo and that is a subject all its own for another blog post.
So when I say “I like a b&w when done correctly” I am referring to detail and or contrast. My opinion is mostly derived from the Ansel Adams zone system. Now I’m not going to bore you with all the details of the zone system. But in short Ansel’s zone system set grey tones on a scale of numbers giving a value to each range of grey from black to white. In the various shades of grey there are certain areas where skin tones belong and this varies depending on whether it is Asian, African or Caucasian skin. The other thing that I think is most important in a b&w image is detail and this is where many b&w images fall apart. When viewing the image in its color version we may see details in for example dark hair, but when processed as a b&w the detail is lost and now the dark hair has been reduced to a dark “mass.” The average viewer may not notice this detail on the surface of their viewing mind, but will notice it in the subconscious viewing mind. So for me when I can look at a b&w image and see the details that would also be there if it were a color image, I can then really appreciate the view and if it has a person’s skin and the skin is close to the proper shade of grey for their ethnicity it makes for a good b&w image. Many times it is where the details start to fall into shadows and again it will look like a black mass. We may not see it but our minds eye sees it.
When I process non-color images I like to move away from the traditional “black and white” and go for a “yellowed or brownish” look or even a “bluish or purplish” look, it can lend a little depth to the photo. Many times we see labels like sepia tones or selenium tones listed in editing software. But I most often create a yellow or amber effect from scratch in Photoshop and I do it a little different for each individual photo. Rather than have a set recipe, I like creating the effect from scratch for each photo as I feel it lends a little more personality to the effect.
Again like all photography black and white is very interpretive and everyone has their opinion of likes & dislikes, but give me details where there should be details and proper skin tones and I’m happy.
Here is a gallery of some of my favorite B&W’s.