Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Notes to myself: Insights into black-and-white photography

The talk at the camera club tonight taught me what a novice I am at black-and-white photography. I realize that up until now all I know about making black and white images are just the methods and not the skill. (It is like learning to drive a car. You can learnt to operate a car in a few minutes. But it takes years of practice before you become good at it).

The speakers tonight are from the Ringwood Black-and-White Camera Club. They have been doing it since the film and darkroom days. Here are some useful tips I have picked up tonight. They are not all new or astounding, but I have gained a clearer insight.

1. We "see" images with our brain and not our eyes. The brain has an uncanny ability to just focus in on any subject and filter out everything else. B&W simply helps us to focus better than colour images on the artwork in an image. Colour distracts.

2, The eye has more green receptors than red or blue receptors. Also, in dim light, the black-and-white receptors are more effective than the colour receptors. Therefore in dim light we see things more or less in B&W. When an image is presented in B&W, our perception is heightened, just like when the light is dim, all our senses are in high alert. I don't know how true this is scientifically, but it makes sense.

3. Not all subjects lend themselves well to B&W. Rainbow, colourful flowers, and sunset are examples of what won't do well in B&W. As in colour images, a B&W photographer knows what type of shots to go after.

4. In B&W conversion, it is necessary to control the R, G, and B channels separately to bring out the contrast successfully. (Not sure if this is due to the fact our eyes have more green receptors than red or blue receptors). Just moving the contrast slider is not good enough. Also, make use of colour filters and dodge and burn tools to do selective toning.

5. A B&W image is better at evoking an emotion in the viewer. Therefore a successful B&W image is one that can evoke an emotion.

In summary, the beauty of B&W, done properly on a suitably chosen subject, can turn an ordinary image into a piece of art, just like some of the portrait images I saw tonight.

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