My challenges this year will focus on B&W photography. It’s something that I want to explore more in my own work, so I thought I would bring you along on my journey. I am fascinated by the concept of creating a compelling B&W image from the colorful world we live in. Color often commands so much of our attention that we lose sight of the other elements that are the basis of a strong photograph: lines, texture and shape – all of which are defined by light. By removing the color from our images, we have to rely more on those other elements, which will in turn come full circle to improve our color images as well.
I’ve been watching a lot of photography videos lately and one concept that has jumped out at me is prioritizing the quality of light over composition. In fact some would argue that light trumps all, i.e. the light in a photograph is more important than the subject itself. An anecdote by photographer Eileen Rafferty caught my attention and is the inspiration for this week’s challenge:
I think that sometimes as photographers we can forget that we’re photographing light. I used to go shoot with my friend [who had been shooting for 15 years] who said to me, “You know, you reminded me when we go to a scene, you just keep getting these images that I’m not getting. What’s the first thing you do when we get to the scene?” I responded, “I look for the light. I look for the most beautiful light first. And then I start to see if I can make something out of it.” – Eileen Rafferty
Why the Light?
Have you ever watched a storm part and been mesmerized by the play of light over the landscape? Or been transported by the mystical experience of walking through fog? Or walked into a room in your home to see light falling on a loved one that took your breath away? This week I want you to focus first on finding light that causes you to stop and take notice. Photographer Vincent Versace suggests that we “treat light as if it were a solid object.” With that in mind, search for the light as your subject and then work the scene to discover a photograph that you might not have noticed otherwise. Your goal is to capture the light in a pleasing composition.
Ask yourself, “What caught my eye initially?” and determine how best to capture the essence of that with your camera. Every element in the frame should enhance the purpose of your photo. If there is an element in your frame that distracts the eye or detracts from the essence, figure out how to eliminate or minimize it.
Consider the Quality of the Light
Since we’re creating a B&W photo, the color of the light is irrelevant, i.e. the “golden hour” only translates to B&W in terms of possibly softer light and longer shadows. Think about the quality of the light and ask yourself whether it enhances your image or not. For example, the two images below are of the same type of bird with the same coloration. Only the light is different. On the left, the light was a harsh sun near high noon hitting the back of the bird so that the front is in shadow. On the right, the sun was low in the sky, diffused through wispy clouds and hitting the bird from the right. The combination of the low angle and diffusion allowed the light to wrap softly around the bird to bring out the delicate details of the feathers.
Now you might be inclined to think that harsh light should always be avoided, but that is not necessarily true in B&W images! If the following photo were taken in soft light, it would look flat and boring. The harsh light in this image creates much needed tonal contrast by adding bright highlights and dark shadows. It also helps strengthen the conceptual contrast between the soft lines of the woman wearing comfortable shoes and writing by hand all the while sitting on and surrounded by hard concrete.
Soft light can be beautiful as well! There is good contrast in the photo below because of the darkened interiors, but the soft light enhances wonderful detail in the midtones. Notice how the light wraps around the lamp shapes and illuminates enough of the interior to give some depth to the image.
What direction is the light coming from? Front lighting will tend to make an image look flat, whereas light hitting the subject at an angle will bring out texture as in the photo below.
Don’t forget to explore different perspectives as you work the scene. An unusual perspective can make an ordinary subject seem quite extraordinary – an effect that is magnified in B&W.
This week’s challenge:
- Look for light that catches your eye and work the scene to capture a strong composition.
- You can take your photo either outdoors or indoors, daytime or nighttime, but do not set up lighting around a subject. I want you to first be inspired by a play of light that catches your eye.
- Your final image should be a B&W grayscale image, but you can come to that image any way that you would like from capturing B&W in camera to converting in post-processing.
- Don’t forget about proper exposure and contrast which are especially important to create a strong B&W image.
As a bonus exercise, you might be interested in the videos that have inspired me this week. If you have the time, I highly recommend them. If you don’t have the time, no worries – you do not need to watch the videos to complete this challenge.
- Visual Design of a Photograph (1h40m) by Eileen Rafferty on the B&H YouTube channel
- Seeing in Black and White (1h55m) also by Eileen Rafferty at B&H
- The Lens is the Brush (1h14m) by Vincent Versace at Google
The friendly community guidelines are pretty simple:
- Post one original photograph (Your Image) shot each week per theme posted on this blog to our active community on our Facebook Group, Flickr Groupor 500PX group (or all three). Tag the photo: #10thanniversaryphotochallenge #2018photochallenge #photochallenge #tempusaura
- 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 2018 Trevor Carpenter Photo Challenge is fun and easy.
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