I had turned some of my coloured images into black and white at times, however that action had always been an after thought. Now my challenge was to specifically seek out black and white images. It was a challenge I relished as I have been drawn to the evocative nature of such images and wanted to learn more.
I started by looking at photos from the well-known photographers in this medium and thought about those elements which stood out for me. I know the theory; texture, form, shape, contrast and light is what is needed. How would these elements manifest themselves in what I was able to see around me?
Using the monochrome mode in my camera I was able to view potential images and test my eye. I was initially quite surprised with what seemed to work and what didn’t. I’d think I’d seen at least one of the main elements needed for black and white, only to realise it didn’t work. I had beauty all around where I live, however I was struggling to produce black and white images along the lines I had seen from the masters. I needed to clear my mind of preconceived ideas, take small steps and just go with my own instincts. It’s good to aim high, however I couldn’t expect to reach the stars with one jump!
I started with a composition which only involved black and white items; I couldn’t go wrong with this approach could I? It took time to make sure that the light was right and not throwing shadows. However, when playing around with the composition, it was the effect the light had as I moved it around which caught my attention. The penny dropped! Light was the major factor in any medium and on which other forms depended, particularly with black and white images.
Armed with my new awareness, I sought out images where light was obviously a major factor. The first photo to really please me was one of a vetch flower backlit by the early morning sun. I had taken it specifically as a black and white image and had captured the delicate beauty of nature’s creation in a way I hadn’t noticed previously. I was beginning to “see” without the pull of colour.
On another occasion I was at the coast, working with my Lee filters hoping to blur cloud movement at sunset. In the event, the cloud cover became solid with little evidence of movement and blocking out the sun. Before my assignment, I would have probably been disappointed that I wasn’t able to capture the image I had in mind and looked elsewhere for something different. Now, my thoughts turned to the possibility of using conditions in another way. A black and white composition was a perfect way to convey the moodiness of the scene I witnessed and bring interest to the image. I was also able to still use my Lee filters to blur what movement of the waves there was and ensure clarity of detail of objects.
I was learning how black and white images are able to convey emotion in a more subtle way than colour images. It felt I was in the right place as far as my photography journey was concerned, having been looking to improve skills and broaden my vision. It was clear to me that through this medium, I was adding another element to technical aspects already learnt.
Living in a mountainous area, drama often arrives through weather conditions. Capturing such drama with colour can create spectacular images. I wanted to see what my new found awareness of the power of a black and white image might bring to a scene. I wondered how the lessons I’d learnt with smaller, more intimate compositions would transfer to the larger stage. Watching a build up of cloud in the early morning, I saw the sun briefly break through and create magnificent contrasting tones. My shutter clicked and I looked to see what I had captured. Without the distraction of colour, the black and white image conveyed so much more of the drama taking place. The range of tones captures in a simple, yet effective manner, the mountain ranges and valleys. A sense of danger is conveyed by thickening cloud beginning to cover the higher mountains and spread into valleys. The absence of much detail and dark areas creates a feeling of isolation and insignificance. The tonal qualities of this image, portray the unfolding drama of this scene with a single glance in a way which for me, can take more time to understand with a colour version.
Nowadays, as I wander with my camera I continue to enjoy the beauty of colour, however I also look around me with monochrome eyes! Not all elements lend themselves to a black and white image. When they do though, the results can be absolutely amazing and the satisfaction of having had the vision to create such an image, immeasurable.
I read recently that the difference between colour and black and white images is that the former reflects reality, whilst the latter is an interpretation of reality. It is a description with which I wholeheartedly agree and which for me, is illustrated perfectly in my latest black and white image of the flower of a lily.