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My Aversion & Conversion to Black & White

For as long as I can remember I have never been the biggest fan of black and white images. I know, it probably sounds sacrilegious since largely the photography scene is all about a mutual admiration for black and white pictures. Recently though, I started giving the subject more thought. One thing I can say with some amount of certainty is that I will never be a black and white photography artist. My brain sees with singular bold colors amidst a dark and neutral background, and most of my images reflect that style. However, there is a time and a place for black and white photography, and ignoring those urges for the sake of keeping a color scheme might not always be wise.

"Chrysalis"

I was giving this topic extra thought when I agreed to photograph one of my best friend’s weddings (March 3rd…wish me luck). This will be the only wedding I photograph, but I still want it to be good. I know she’ll want some black and white pictures. So for the last few months I have been practicing here and there with what makes a good black and white picture. The truth is I still don’t feel like I have a grasp on it. I could probably study it my whole life and feel like I’m just scratching the surface. I attribute that to two things: first, I don’t think in black and white! It doesn’t feel natural and I generally, most of the time, prefer color. Second is that black and white imagery has so much depth and detail that it is an area of study all on its own.

Nevertheless, I decided I would begin taking a stab at it. In the way of practice, I have mostly been editing behind the scenes pictures from various shoots so that I can practice editing black and white pictures in different scenarios: in the woods, in fields, against skies, in the desert…fine art images, portraits, and even beauty shots.

What I have found, first and foremost, is that simply doing a black and white conversion on my pictures almost never satisfies me. I have to edit my black and white pictures the same way I do my “normal” pictures: by selectively changing every little bit of the photograph. With color, this comes naturally for me. Dislike a color? No problem, I go ahead and change it. Dislike a black and white photograph? Well, that is a different set of skills altogether when it comes to determining the problem. I have learned to really focus on the tonal range between white and black, and which parts of an image should have the most contrast to create visual interest. I look at the black and white photograph as if it were a canvas, selecting the parts that should be brighter and darker  and moving forward with those changes.

As with anything, manipulating light (whether in camera or in post) is essential to directing the viewer’s eye around the frame. I usually focus on this in post, and it seems that black and white images need extra special care because there are no colors to aid in how someone sees the picture. Below are the attempts I have made lately at editing black and white pictures. I went into it knowing that there is no right or wrong way to do it, only what makes my creativity sing inside. 

Behind the scenes while shooting "Written in Sand".

Behind the Scenes while shooting "Chrysalis".

Behind the scenes while shooting "The Dance of Birds".

Behind the scenes while shooting "The Sharing Game".

Behind the scenes while shooting "A Boy Broken".

Behind the scenes while shooting "In and of Earth".

Behind the scenes while shooting "Dark Lands and Evil Plans".

Behind the scenes while shooting "Alive in the Forest of Old".

Behind the Scenes while shooting "Chrysalis".

{ 11 } Comments

  1. alirexs | February 6, 2012 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    heloo…….

  2. Paddy McDougall | February 6, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Cool post as always, I love your work and the examples you have submitted are great, the tonal quality reminds me of early 1900’s silent movies.(especially chrysalis)

    For myself, I tend to not to think whether a photo should be bw or colour when I am shooting, rather when I get to the processing stage. Some shots just lend themselves to bw and some do not, however I would struggle to articulate the reason for this. I suppose it’s like sculpters who work in stone or wood who talk about releasing the sculpture thats waiting in the stone or wood, with bw photos its the inherent quality of the light captured in the photo

    I hesitate to give feedback as photography is very much subjective and everyone has their own style, (and you are amazing) however with the intent of nothing more than expressing an opinion,that may or may not help… When I look at examples you have posted I feel that I would want to dodge areas or tweak the levels to make the whites and grey tones stand out more and maybe some of the blacks are too black.

    Best of luck with your friends wedding, I do them regularly and love the buzz and excitement they generate.

  3. Diane Artz Furlong | February 6, 2012 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    I believe you are an artist in complete control of your tools and vision. I would never presume to critique.

  4. Diane Artz Furlong | February 6, 2012 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    I believe you are an artist in complete control of your tools and your vision. I would never presume a critique.

  5. Greg Gardner | February 6, 2012 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    I am actually going through a similar spot while taking a class on how to see photos differently. B&W is such a different animal

  6. Paddy McDougall | February 6, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    @ Diane x2 it wasn’t a critique as I wasnt in anyway critising and I apologise if my post came across this way; maybe thats why i’m a photographer not a writer ;).

    Brooke had talked about her challenges around bw photos and had posted the images to generate discussion, thats what blogs are generally for. :P

    It would be a sad day when people stop having opinions especially in the creative world

    Oh well, I will probably regret posting this comment, so please delete

  7. Cindy | February 6, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Hi,

    I just found your images through Pinterest, and commented on your Facebook page, and now i see that i can comment here… Anyway, Your work is beyond incredible, i would love to own something you have done… i’m totally dumbstruck by how powerful and evocative your images are… anyway, i’m off now to look around some more…

    Cindy

  8. Karen | February 6, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    OMG Brooke!! These are AMAZING!!! I watched a film last night and was thinking I should try some B&W’s. Now I am totally inspired, thankyou!

  9. Chelsea | February 10, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    I am obsessed with your work! I love it!

  10. IPBrian | February 27, 2012 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    I would have to agree…simple conversion looks like simple conversion. It just wont do, but I do find using something like SliverEfex to get me started saves a good deal of time (I do mostly HDR not much Black and White). Good luck with the wedding…I always pass on these offers….it’s just such a different ballgame.

  11. Kjeldsen | March 5, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Your work is inspiring on so many levels. I am no photographer, but I do know how to appreciate beautiful photography, and these black and white photos you claim to be experimental are not different from you other work that are incredibly delightful. eerie at times, but delightful. I admire your talent and I am always so amazed. I am curious though, how do your talents (models) relate to the story you want to communicate? They always seem so effortlessly placed within the frame, they seem like they have always been apart of a vision or creative idea of yours?

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