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.
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.
“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:
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.