2017 PHOTOCHALLENGE, WEEK 39: B&W with Soft Light

2016 WEEK 37: B&W - SHAPE “Dahlia” by Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero

This week’s challenge is to “see” in black and white. As I was doing research for this challenge, I came across the following quote which I absolutely love: “From an artistic viewpoint; color depicts reality. Black and white is an interpretation of reality.” In B&W, colors are “interpreted” into differing amounts of light and dark, i.e. different tonal values. In this challenge we are going to practice seeing a scene the way our camera interprets it in B&W or monotone.

Luna “Luna” by Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero

The most successful B&W images have a full range of tonal values from pure black to pure white with lots of wonderful gray tones in between – and it is those gray tones that keep the viewer lingering over a B&W image to explore the detail after the initial punch of contrast caused them to stop in the first place. The best way to capture the “in between” gray tones is to shoot in soft light, i.e. an overcast day, shade, the light from a north-facing window, etc.

Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts “Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts” by Steph Adams

“Although it’s relatively simple to give any image the black-and-white treatment, creating the kind of dramatic, moody black-and-white images you see in the portfolios of many a pro is all about choosing the right subject, [and] getting the lighting right…“ For example, the following two photos were taken just 30 seconds apart – same bird, same overcast light, same camera settings. I think you’ll agree that the tonal range of the bird in the photo on the right looks much better. But why? The difference is the background. In the photo on the left, the railing was much lighter than the bird and the even the background was a bit lighter making the bird appear relatively dark in the photo. In the photo on the right, there were trees with dark green leaves in the background and the bird is relatively much lighter.


It can be tough at first to embrace the idea that contrasting colors do not necessarily mean contrasting tonal values. For example, a photo of a red tomato still on the vine may appear to be wonderful contrast, but when the red and green are shot in B&W, the resulting image may surprise you.


I was curious how my camera treated the different colors when taking photos in B&W, so I created an image with a rainbow spectrum, took a photo of it on my screen and then superimposed the B&W from the camera over the color. (If you’re interested in doing the same, click here to download my rainbow image.) Notice that the magenta-green colors have nearly identical tonal values. Same with red-blue and cyan-yellow. While this is interesting to look at in theory, I’m not sure how much it helps when out taking actual photos. One tip I learned from multiple sources is that if your camera gives you a preview what an image looks like in B&W, use that to help you learn what looks good and what doesn’t.


Because we are focusing on capturing an image with full tonal range, the histogram will be very helpful in telling you whether or not you have achieved that. As I’m sure you can already guess, you want the histogram to span the full width, i.e. the full tonal range.


For more information on “seeing” in black and white, I found the following links very helpful:

Mastering the Art of Black and White Photography

How to Master Black and White Photography

The Complete Guide to Black and White Fine Art Photography

Flowers in Black and White

This week’s challenge:

  • Compose an image in soft light (shade, overcast day, ambient indoor light, etc.) that converts to a B&W or monotone photo with full tonal range.
  • If you shoot in RAW, it is fine to convert to B&W in post-processing. If you prefer SOOC (straight-out-of-camera), it is also fine to capture the image in B&W mode in your camera. The emphasis for this challenge is finding a softly lit scene that “translates” well to B&W, not the process you use to convert to B&W.
  • Please post the histogram for your photo in the comments under your post. If you are new to the challenge and haven’t done this before, it is easiest to take a photo of the histogram on the back of your camera. Or take a screenshot if you are using your phone. You can refer back to my first challenge this year if you would like more information on histograms and how to find them on your camera.

Our friendly community guidelines are pretty simple:

  • Post one original photograph (Your Image) shot each week per theme posted on this blog to Facebook, or Flickr (or all three). Tag the photo #photochallenge and #photochallenge2017
  • The shot should be a new shot you took for the current weekly theme, not something from your back catalog or someone else’s image.
  • Don’t leave home without your camera. Participating in the 2017 PhotoChallenge is fun and easy.

About thedigitaljeanie

I’m a self-taught photographer and way back when I used to love taking photos, but I allowed a business that I started in 2004 to take over my life and my photographic repertoire was reduced to quick product shots and how-to tutorials. When I joined the PhotoChallenge in December 2015, I was looking to rekindle my creativity and bring some joy back into my photography. I jumped in with both feet and have not looked back. I believe that photography can change the way we see and interact with the world around us. Some people may think that I hide behind the camera, but I feel that I experience the world in a much more intimate way when I am creating a composition in my viewfinder. In those moments distractions disappear, my mind focuses and I am fully present. It is just me and my camera capturing a moment in time that might otherwise go unnoticed. My background is as varied as the photos that I take. I’ve trained and worked as a software engineer, a massage therapist, an English teacher in Vietnam, a photo restoration artist (which is how I learned Photoshop) and for the past twelve years I have run a small software business with my husband where I have been published in numerous books and magazines, appeared on PBS television, created designs for fabric, quilts and machine embroidery and won awards for some of my quilts. It should come as no surprise that I am intensely curious about life and love to learn new things. I am blessed to live in the beautiful state of Colorado, USA in the Rocky Mountain foothills outside of Fort Collins with my husband and cat. You can find me online at: Photos: flickr.com/photos/the-digital-jeanie/ Day job: KaleidoscopeCollections.com Facebook: facebook.com/jeaniesa