I am often asked….. “How do you take your black and white photo’s?”
(I like to call them monochrome since that is what they are.
You’ll never hear me say let’s blow this image up either……)
I looked back through my archives of photo examples I use when leading my photography workshops. I found a couple images to illustrate this easy approach to generate some pretty good looking monochrome images. (b/w)
Anytime I want to generate a specific photograph, I make sure to know the end result and start working backwards. Since I print and frame the majority of my work, this always includes a certain size of a print, matting or moulding choices.
If I’m planning on creating a color photograph, I will load color film.
Depending on the end image, I may use a specific type of color film, “speed”, camera and certainly lenses. 95% of my lenses are prime.
When it comes to generating a “black and white” photograph, I will always begin by loading my film holders with b/w film.
Even with digital camera’s, I always change as much as I can within the camera and rely on what I know rather than having the attitude or approach of “Ahhh. Photoshop can fix that….”
On the recent workshop I co-led with Art Wolfe, the light was amazing. Not only that, we had clouds that were hanging very low which meant they would move faster since we were closer to them. It was one of those days where it felt like you could just jump and touch the clouds!
To demonstrate how quickly one must act or pay attention to minute details, I took about 25 different images in a matter of about 15 minutes.
In that time frame, I also changed my “Picture Mode” setting from color to monochrome.
In fact, here’s a screen shot of a few images from files 422 to 453. (There are other images I didn’t grab but you’ll get what I mean by knowing the end result and working backwards….)
Since I wanted to demonstrate how fast clouds can move and how to look for different exposure values, I changed ‘in camera’ from b/w to color and back to b/w again.
Whenever I approach b/w images, I immediately change my mindset to read and gauge exposure values…..not color values. Some colors will play a lot more of a role in b/w work and some won’t.
For example, a black and white image inside a slot canyon isn’t going to be as luminescent or have that “ka-pow” that a color image would produce.
I ulimately enjoy photographing to generate a black and white image. Most times, I’m in the field during the high afternoon hours! When everyone else tells you the light “sucks” or that it may not be that great, or any other excuse to go home, take a nap or do something else besides photograph….
The afternoon is one of the best time TO CREATE b/w images! This is the time of day when the quality of light is the best. There is a difference between quality of light and it’s effect to the images and there is also the kind of light that has it’s effect on the image.
The example below is from a trip I took with my son Denali back in March of this year. We went to New Mexico, Arizona, back to New Mexico, Colorado then home to Utah.
(Quite frankly, if you look at the example images, I’m by a fence line RIGHT NEXT TO A HIGHWAY about 45 minutes or so South of Moab, Utah.)
Here’s how it all started….Denali needed some food and some juice and certainly a diaper change. We pulled into an ol’ pull out next to the highway.
While there, I noticed the difference in exposure values and immediately knew to use my 2 stop Red Filter I bought for about 5 bucks from Pictureline in Salt Lake City. They had a sale going on a few years ago and I’ll tell you what! I nailed a suh-weet deal!
I don’t know what kind of filter it is besides it being a 2 stop red, so don’t ask for the brand. I forgot. They had a sale because “no one” was buying them. Bad for them. Good for me!
But one thing I do know about filters is what they do to a photograph. A red filter will allow more red colors to enter the digital sensor or hit the film but block out most of the green and blue colors.
Again, approaching the exposure and staring off right and doing most of the adjustments necessary in camera has always helped me see things differently than relying on “Ahhh. Photoshop can fix that”.
So while pulled over, I snapped 3 photographs for this ‘easy way to approach b/w photography‘ post. All 3 example images were taken from my Nikon D800.
One in color mode.
Another in color mode plus the 2 stop Red Filter.
The 3rd image I changed the “Picture Mode” to “monochrome” on my Nikon D800 and used the 2 stop Red Filter.
All images were exposed handheld for demonstration purposes. IF I was serious about the photograph, I wouldn’t have used JPEG’s and certainly, would have excluded the lovely fence and power lines. More importantly, I needed to change Denali’s diaper and get the kid some more jay-you-eye-see-eee. JUICE! (You say JUICE in front of Denali, he lights up like he just won the lottery!)
IF you want to (and I highly recommend it!) click on any of the following photo’s and a larger image will appear. IF anything, at least click on the 3rd image that is in monochrome. Here are the results:
Color Mode with no filter but a UV filter on the 24mm Prime Nikkor Lens. No editing.
Color Mode plus the 2 stop Red Filter and UV Filter on the 24mm Prime Nikkor Lens. No Editing.
I changed “Picture Mode’ from color to Monochrome plus the five dollar 2 stop Red Filter and UV Filter on the 24mm Prime Nikkor lens. (Very little post processing. Mainly slapped the watermark on the image and bumped the whites up by 5 and decreased the blacks by 15 in Lightroom et voila! Click on the black and white image to see it full screen. It’s crazy how different the color version is compared to the b/w exposure.)
That’s how I turned a cruddy tan image from the afternoon time into something a heck of a lot better with a $5 filter. Again, by a sweet deal from Pictureline. I also want to reiterate the fact that I didn’t spend hours and much time in post processing.
Other great filters to consider for wonderful b/w images are green and blue filters. I recommend these because when you are out photographing the landscape, forget going home or back to the camp site after sunrise is done with.
This will extend your photography time and you will get more value from a trip that you are on. One other great thing to remember is to try this approach and compare your own results to see the differences.
Don’t be just one of those sunrise and sunset photographers.
IF you are not a post processing software wizard, these simple and easy to use color filters will do the the majority of the leg work for great b/w images. Now with the advancements of technology, there a many plug-ins and “How to” photo tutorials online and many video’s all over the internet.
Keep it simple and slow down.
Read the light and become better at understanding the exposure values.
THAT is one of the biggest reasons why I am grateful to primarily use film. I don’t have gig’s worth of image space. It is always about one exposure at a time….
Fortunately, some filters are insanely worth it for black and white images. To see some of these other results, click here.
IF you can, grabbing a red, green or blue filter will do a lot of awesome leg work for you when considering black and white images. You’ll have fun with it and most importantly, spend more time photographing other great landscapes than just the sweet light of sunrise or sunset.
Here’s an example of what I mean by reading the exposure values and simply waiting for a few moments with a red filter in hand….. Boom!
To see a clearer version of this b/w image, simply click on it.
Let me know what you think in the comments below.
To more monochrome images…..
May You Walk in Beauty with a camera,
PS: If you are interested in other places to photograph throughout the Southwest, click here to view my photography workshops throughout Navajoland. I’ve guided thousands of photographers and hosted many workshops for over the past decade in my home area. A land I know very well. As I typically say, there is more to Navajoland than the Sweet Light.
You will be surrounded by heritage, culture and the Ol’ Navajo ways and ready to capture these moments with a great approach in hand. It’s beyond just being at the right place at the right time….
I also recently wrote a 17 page blueprint about the Top 7 Elements in Photography. To get the 17 page PDF, click here. The great part is, it’s free too! In the 17 pages, I highlight this blog post and a few other critical components.
Remember “One Exposure At A Time” when reading….
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