Black and white elegance
Add drama and intrigue to your Canon shots using some of our tips for lawless black and white images
Black and white images are timeless in their appeal and the good news is that the whole procedure can be simple. Because cameras have default style options for colour toning and advanced white balance controls, shooting in black and white is relatively easy. Select your shooting mode, set it to black and white and away you go. But if you are serious about the style, you will need to put in a little more effort for the results you want.
The rebirth of black and white
The first Sin City film was an explosion of style that captured people's imagination. Shot on green screen, lit to replicate the classic film noir look and mainly black and white, it paid homage to its source material, and also made black and white new and accessible as a creative method. Whereas black and white had been typically employed as a reportage or fine art option for many years, suddenly billboards were saturated in timeless, modernised, monochromatic images designed to be edgy, cool, and dramatic. Brands adopted the style, and portraiture companies busied themselves to sell to the public.
Obviously black and white existed before digital and way before colour, but as it's in vogue again, and with the advantages of modern digital techniques, mastering the art is now essential.
The kit determines the result
As you are changing the colour tone of your image, lens choice and depth of field will be guided by your intended final image. For example, if you wish to achieve an interesting architectural shot, you may want to use a wide angle lens. If you are looking to photograph people, use a portrait lens around 50mm or 85mm.
Familiarise yourself with the technical operations of your camera, such as lighting setup if shooting in studio, or the colour spectrum of the scene. Knowing how to manipulate/enhance these for black and white is half the battle.
If you are shooting in a studio environment, you are spoilt for choice given the dynamic results delivered by both constant and lash lighting. Add drama and emphasise the qualities of your subject by adhering to lighting ratios and techniques like rim lighting. Use simple patterns and silhouettes such as a fan or the line detail of blinds to tell a story by simply lighting them, creating shadow. Consider harsh lighting to strip colour detail away.
Many portrait companies adopt a policy of shooting detail shots of babies such as hands, feet and faces as well as their general portraiture, in monochrome. More often than not, this is to recreate a timeless quality
Understand how colour channels behave
When editing in a program such as Photoshop, you have access to the colour channels in your image. Look at these as a means to view the impact of choosing one channel to dominate the conversion and you will see your image's potential.
The red channel lightens the reds, yellows and oranges to a soft and subtle grey tone. The green channel will lighten greens, cyans and yellows and the blue channel will lighten the blues. So if you are shooting a person on a grassy bank in the middle of summer, you will have a large degree of blue in the sky, green on the floor and a small amount of red in the person's skin tones. To keep the person's skin tones smooth and soft and keep the rest of the image a darker shade, edit your image into black and white via the red channel.
Aim for symmetry
This image uses compositional tricks and a balancing of positive and negative space to draw the viewer into the shot
Considering your subject, assess what is the main draw of the image. Take architectural photography as an example; do you want the building or the mood to be the dominant feature? This is where filters step in. Circular polariser filters ix to the lens via a screwthread attachment. They consist of two polarised sheets of glass that when twisted, create a darker skyline and enhance the colours of your image. Gradient filters will affect only half of your shot and are perfect for darkening, adding mood and toning cloudy skylines. Use a slow shutter speed on your camera as well as a stop down filter to capture movement in clouds; when used in architectural photography, this is a great technique to add drama.
Slow shutter speed
Using an ND 8 filter to block light from the lens, as well as a slow shutter speed and tripod, you can capture soft images