It’s now Day 3 in my 30 Day Photography Challenge, and today’s challenge is to tackle the black & white photos. This isn’t my first time that I’ve covered black and white, and you can read about it here, and here. I suggest that you should, but for the sake of this article, I’m going to give you a run down.
First thing’s first, shoot in colour.
But this is black and white, what are you talking about Josh?
I know it’s black and white, but if you shoot in colour, you have more options when it comes to editing it later. It’s really simple, when you shoot in colour, you get three colour channels, red, green, and blue. When you convert the photo to monochrome, you can adjust each channel to change how the black and white looks.
Ok, so I’m glad that’s sorted; shoot in colour.
Here’s the photo in colour, after all the post processing that I did, with the exception of the enhance section (I’ll get to that). This is before the change to black and white.
Think in Black and White
When you shoot in black and white, it’s more important to consider form, shape, and contrast than anything else. When you remove the colour details, your attention is focused onto other elements of the photos, like removing one of your senses. The black and white also helps them to stand out.
The smoothness of the model’s skin, very nicely contrasts with the texture of the background, and the form of her body encourage you to explore her shape more.
Her body is broken up into sections, at the top you have her face, which is in the tree section of the background. This is the first contrast, with only very light shadows on her face.
Next you have her upper body, where her soft skin compliments the soft bokeh blur of the blue bells in the background, while still managing to contrast.
Finally, you have her dress at the bottom of the frame. Looking at it now, it probably wasn’t the best choice, because it can seem to look a little bit lost in the frame, but this again enhances the contrast in the photo.
ISO is not so Important
The worst part about digital noise, in my opinion, is the colour of the grain. It usually comes through as some dodgy brown and blue haze on the photo, and I really hate that. But when you’re shooting in black and white, it’s really not so important anymore, because you’re not going to see it like that.
Boost that ISO until your heart’s content.
I’ve done more post processing to this photo than I would with most, and that’s because I can get away with it much easier. I’ve changed the exposure, black point, contrast, saturation, vibrancy, highlights, and added a vignette. I wouldn’t normally do this much with colour photography, but here’s the result.
When you change it to black and white though, you can barely tell what I’ve done to it, although you can probably tell that there has been some changes made to the photo.
Here’s the final image.
If you would like to keep track of the 30 Day Photography Challenge, come on over to my Facebook page, Twitter and/or Pinterest, and share your photos with me and the rest of the community. The best ones will be included in these posts. Alternatively, you can leave a comment below. (Note: if you’re linking from Facebook, be sure to ‘copy image address’).
This is my second YouTube video, and for it, I strapped a video camera to my film camera, and went out shooting a street photography video. You can watch as I take photos around my city, passing through St Patricks Day celebrations, Rugby Games, and an ‘English Defence League’ protest, surround by police officers. You can check out the full album of photos here. The video is in colour, but the photos are on black and white film, using an old(ish) camera I have.
Black and White street photography on film is an artform that still lives on today, even though technology has far surpassed it. I got some photos back fromt the lab today, which were shot on film, and used to capture some street photography. All of the photos that you will see below were taking in the space of three hours. Two hours were spent in London, and one hour was spent in Brighton, which just goes to show that it doesn’t take long to capture good photos.
PSA: Don’t take black and white photos of homeless people. It’s not artsy, it’s cliche, and a little bit demeaning.
Rule number one with street photography is to always carry a camera with you. Even if it’s just your iPhone, it’s better than nothing, because you can’t take a photo of something if you don’t have a camera on you. I was sitting on the tube in London the other day, and for anyone who’s travelled on London public transport, you’ll be familiar with the eery silence which resonates though the carriages, as if talking is socially unacceptable. I wanted to capture the separation between the passengers, while using my wide angle lens to magnify the open space. The angle is quite voyeuristic, which really gives you the feeling that you’re part of the photo. Classic London for me.
Hundreds of thousands of people pass up and down these escalators every day, so it was only a matter of time before someone caught me with my camera. I purposefully waited until someone was looking at me when I took this photo, so that I could create some dynamic tension for the eyes which naturally want to look straight up the escalator, but are drawn to the eyes on the right side of the photo. Dynamic tension is a great tool for street photography, and you can read more about it here.
Try to look for a frame within a frame when you’re exploring the streets. I spotted this couple standing in the entrance way to Victoria Station, and the natural frame was obvious. I took my time taking this photo too, but they were too preoccupied to notice that I was taking a photo of them. The black and white aspect of this photo really brings you back in time, as it become much harder to put an age on the buses and buildings in the background, which is part of the appeal with the film too.
Mirrors always make for interesting subjects because you can take a photo of other people, without them really even noticing. As I was taking this photo, my train was arriving, so I had to be quick. You can see the children behind me running for the train, and my slightly longer exposure captures this, while providing me with enough light to make the exposure. That’s not all that’s in the photo though, there’s the mirror itself and the tiles and camera, which surround it. These two contrasting elements allow your eyes to explore for longer, as there are many more directions to travel in: in the photo, to the left, the right, and even backwards.
Shooting from the hip is a great way to capture unexpected photos, and shooting on film really builds up the excitement to see what you’ve captured. As I was walking, I zoomed all the way out on my camera, and brought it up to the chest. I set my exposure, and then fired. As you can see, the further out of the photo you go, the more movement there is, and this mimics your eyes. It really feels as though you’re a part of the photo, like you’re moving through the scene. The is probably my favourite photo of the whole set, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether you like it or not.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with different angles. I was walking under a train viaduct near my house, and the first photo I took was symmetrical, looking through the arch which is off to the right of this photo. On my walk back, I had come to the conclusion that this was probably a little bit boring. And it was. There are much more places for the eyes to explore in this photo, whether they’re trying to look down the road, completing the arch that is separated by the pillar, following the line of the lamppost, or simply looking through the arches.
You’ll notice that a lot of these photo have been shot at very wide angles, and I’ve actually used a 17-40mm f/4L, and the reason for this is not only because you can capture more in the photos, but because you can take photos of people without them realising that they’re the subject. This has happened time and time again in these photos, and it’s pretty clear when. Not only that, but our field of view is naturally very wide, so if you want to make it look like a point-of-view shot, it pays to have a wide angle.
If you’ve read my tutorial on horizons, then you’ll be very familiar with the advantages to placing the horizon high or low in the frame, and I’ve opted for high here. It’s not technically street photography here, but I wanted to capture where people had been, with the footsteps that have passed along the sand. Again, the black and white help provides and element of age to the photo.
You don’t have to get up close and personal with everyone to make good street photography. Step back, and embrace other aspects of your scene instead. I actually stood here waiting and fiddling with my camera, pretending to do something until the lady on the left got close enough. Her vertical shape, neatly mirrors that of the lamppost of the right, and the lines across the car park tie them both together. Your framing usually has to be very quick, but every now and then, you can take your time and capture the image just how you want it.
Be quick with your photo taking. I saw this photo as I was travelling up the escalator on the London Underground, but this wasn’t actually how I wanted to capture it. I wanted to see people spread out across the photo, with posters in between, going from edge to edge. This provides a feeling of repetition and allows the brain to assume that it carries on indefinitely. I came into two problems when taking this photo. Firstly, and rather classically, I had left the lens cap on, and secondly, I had the camera on lock, which meant it was effectively off. Be ready.
Keep your eyes pealed for what’s going on around you, and capture the moments of other people. It’s not often that people take photos of other people taking photos, and that’s exactly what I chose to do here. London Victoria Station, a popular spot for most tourists to pass through, there is always going to be people around who are preoccupied, and won’t notice when you take their photo. Busy locations such as this make for a great place to capture plenty of street photography.
A lot of people think that they can’t take good portraits because they’ve not got the right lens, or the right lighting, but that’s simply not true at all. Learning how to take great photos takes time, but these 10 tips should make a big difference if you start to follow them all.
Experiment with Focal Lengths
You’ve probably heard the term ‘portrait lens’ before, and that’s because portraits typically look best at slightly longer focal lengths of around 70-115mm, but that doesn’t mean that they’re the only lenses that you should use. I like to shoot with a wide angle quite often, and they can make for some really interesting portrait photos, as you can include more in the frame than you would have been able to at a longer focal length.
In the photo below, I was able to provide context to the shot, along the dark shadows, and details to the large rocks, that would have been cropped out to a simple blue sky if I’d used a longer length.
Experiment with the Background
It always amazes me that someone would shoot with a white background, when with just a little bit more effort, they could have found a much more interesting location. The background is part of the photo too, and it can help to provide the viewer with more information about the photo. I like to take models out to interesting locations that I scout out beforehand, because the results are much more natural, and if I find somewhere outside, the lighting can produce a wider range of results.
Even when you have to have a fairly plain background like in the photo below, It’s easy enough to find a location just slightly more interesting, which will produce a much better photo. When you compare the paleness of the wall, to the texture of the wooden door, there’s no question about which is better.
Break the ‘Rules’ of Composition
I like to go on about how important composition is to taking good photos, and that’s because it is, but equally important is knowing how to use this new knowledge properly, and knowing when to forget it. The ‘rules’ of photography are made to be broken, and often you can produce the best results when you forget about what you’re ‘supposed’ to be doing, and go ahead and shoot whatever feels right. I find this often comes about when I’m experimenting, or taking test shot, and more often than not, when I’m not even looking through the viewfinder.
The most common rule for taking photos of people is the rule of thirds, and it works tremendously well, but when it comes to portraits, forgetting about this rule can be much more dramatic. Have a look at the photo below as an example.
Play with Eye Contact
If you’ve read my tutorial on visual weight, or eye-lines, then you’ll know all about the power that eyes have in a photo. They contain some of the strongest visual weight in any photo as we’re naturally used to looking at them, so you should use this knowledge to your advantage. When the eyes are looking straight down the lens, we look at them first, and then look at the rest of the photo in order of interest. When the eyes are looking away from the camera, then they can be much more powerful at times, as we become naturally interested in where the subject is looking.
Have a look at the comparison I’ve set up below, and see which one strikes you as being the most interesting. Portraits typically have the subject looking down the lens, but that doesn’t mean you have to.
Try Candid Photography
I love candid photography so much that I actually wrote a whole post on the topic, because it’s not often that you capture people in their natural state in any other way. As soon as you point a camera at someone, especially if you shout ‘say cheese!’, people become self conscious, tense up and you lose any natural feeling to the photo. There is a way around this, which I cover in my final point, but overall, these photos tend to lose their spark.
When people aren’t aware that you’re looking at them, you can wait patiently for the right moment to capture an image and end up getting much better results. You can also provide much more interesting foreground and background details as where you’re shooting from will also be captured in the shot.
Play with Light
An exposure is really just a capture of light for a certain amount of time, so to make an exposure more interesting, it makes sense that you would want to play with this light. You can mess around with flashes, longer exposures, light painting, slow sync flash, rear curtain flash; the posibilites go on. I personally enjoy slow sync flash because you capture more than just the subject and the light, you capture the movement too. Lighting is a really easy and fun way to blow a load of money, but it’s doesn’t have to be if you don’t want to, you can get some really cool results with just a $3 flashlight. The key is to experiment.
Frame within a Frame
As you can probably tell from this post alone, I’m a big fan of including context in a photo, to give the viewers an idea of the mood of the image, as well as the location. Frames are a great way of using a photographic elements to lead the viewers eyes into the frame to focus them on a particular point, and the sense of repetition that they can provide produce depth and a path for the eyes to explore.
A photo of a scene with a foreground feature makes for much more interesting build up to the main part of a photo, which in this case is a subject. They’re often underused in photography, as they can be hard to find at times, but when you successfully pull it off, it can produce some really good results.
It’s natural to want to take a photo of someone head on, but that can make for a boring photo because it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. Why not try making it more interesting by changing your angle of view and tackling the subject from a new perspective. When you stop thinking about taking the photo on the same plane as the subject, you can start to get much more creative, as you suddenly have way more options.
You can take the photo from above, below, to the side and slightly down; you have 360 degrees of posibilites. Often these photos come about a result of the location that you’re shooting in, such as my photo below. We were on some rocks on the beach, and they were constantly varying in height, so I climbed on top of one and shot down. I was very happy with the result.
Shoot in Black and White
Although I love black and white photography, I don’t shoot in it nearly as much as I probably ought to, but one of the places that black and white photography works really well is in portraits. I always recommend that you shoot in colour and RAW when you’re trying to take black andwhite photos as it leaves you with more possibilites in post.
Black and white photography is more about shape, form and contrast, which comes in very useful for portraits. For black and white post production, you can afford to get a little bit more creative as it’s easier to hide your techniques, such as boosting the contrast like I’ve done below. I also boosted the green channel when I converted the photo to black and white, but other then that, I’ve not really done anything to the photo.
This sounds so soppy, but it really is one of the keys to taking good photos. When someone is naturally smiling or laughing, it makes a really big difference. You can always tell when someone is forcing a smile, whether it’s in a photo or in real life, and it’s such a shame to force a smile when the subject is happy anyway.
I talk a lot to people when I’m taking photos of them, and although this often results in a lot of dud photos where their mouths are moving, I usually get a lot of people laughing at the same time. A natural laugh produces the best type of smile, as it can be in the whole face, head and body, rather than in just the mouth and cheeks. You can clearly tell that the model in the photo below is enjoying herself and laughing away as I was taking this photo.
Nightclub photography is becoming increasingly popular, with a lot of young photographers using it as their way into finding their first paid photography work, while enjoying themselves at the same time. I often walk straight into clubs with no photo pass or anything, just a camera slung round my neck, and nobody ever asks any questions – it’s a great way to start getting more experience.
Step 1 – Technique and Equipment
You’ll find that you’ll start to employ a lot of techniques from low light photography, night photography, light painting and slow sync flash, as you’re often left to make do in low light. As far as gear goes, if you want to actually come out with some good photos, you really need to have an external flash, but you can get away without one if you’re doing basic slow sync flash.
Here’s the kit that I use:
A camera body, preferably a newer one as they deal with high ISO a lot better.
Wide aperture lens, preferably f/2.8 and below, with the lens hood on (we’ll get to that).
A wide angle lens, so that you capture a lot is cramped conditions.
An off camera flash with a diffuser if you’ve got one.
A transmitter for you flash would be ideal if you want to up your game.
Step 2 – Setting Up Your Camera
When I walk into a club, the first thing I do is go to the places that I’m going to be spending the majority of my time shooting and find out what settings I’m going to use. Because the lighting is fairly controlled, I can set my camera to manual and set up different exposures for different situations and then save them to my custom dials.
A great way to ensure that you include enough ambient light is to set your camera to aperture priority with your ISO set and your aperture wide open and see what it tells you. I did this about half way though the night as it just confirmed my beliefs that it would be around 1/13. If you’ve got custom dials, I strongly suggest you look up how to set them on your camera as they can come in very handy (it’s easy to do), but if you don’t, then don’t worry, just keep your camera on manual. The two different places I might find myself shooting are in the crowd and at the DJ booth, so I adjust my camera for those.
For the majority of my shots, my ISO is set to somewhere around 1000-1600, my aperture is almost always completely open (which will be f/2.8 for most of these photos), and my shutter speed ranges anywhere between 1/8 to 1/50 of a second. The ISO and aperture deal with all the ambient light whereas the shutter speed is used to freeze the motion, with the help of an off camera flash.
Step 3 – Different Photos To Take
There are five main shots that I like to take:
Starting with the obvious, you’re going to want to take photos of the DJ, especially if they’re a big name act and not just the house DJ. The way this differs to the rest of the club is that there is usually more lighting so that the DJ can see what they’re doing, which can often ruin the shot. For the photo below, I set my camera to f/2.8, ISO1000, at 1/25 of a second and pointed my flash upwards at quarter power without a diffuser cap, but the little white reflector sticking out. This shone enough light onto the subject while giving them the dark eyes I was looking for. The slow speed and wide aperture allowed some ambient light onto the DJ’s shirt which helped to make it more interesting.
When you compare that you a higher budjet production of a dance music festival, you have a lot more light to play with and you’re not bothered by the small table lamps which are lighting up the equipment. I had so much more light to play with, my ISO was on 1250, aperture was set to f/2.8, but my shutter speed was set to 1/1000 as this DJ was prone to faster movement than this. I’ll move on to more creative photography for DJ’s in a bit.
Crowd shots is something the promoter is going to be looking for as it helps them to promote their night, so you’ll want to make sure that you get as many of these as possible, particularly during the headline act. If you’ve got a flash then it’ll likely come in quite handy if you’re taking photos of small groups of people like in the club that these photos were shot. The light would be lost in larger clubs, but there would be a lot more lighting to help make up for that. Have a look at the photo taken below which used a flash, and then move on to the photo I took without to see the difference. This photo was shot at 1/13 of a second to allow the light and smoke from behind to creep through.
When you’ve not got a flash, you can rely on the club’s lighting a lot of the time, but you will want to turn up your shutter speed as movement will be detected a lot easier without a flash. The photo was shot the same as the one above, only I turned up the shutter speed to 1/50 to freeze the motion. The photo below is one of the reasons I enjoy taking photos at live music events – the lighting allows you to get a lot more creative.
Venue shots are important because they’re used to promote nights over Facebook so try to include a few of them. I’ll go into more detail about how to take these photos so that they’re a little bit more interesting, but for now we’ll focus on exposure. This photo used a flash, but it was diffused and bounced off a wall so it’s well hidden. Again, the photo was shot at f/2.8, ISO1000 at 1/40 of a second.
Photos of people are fairly important as promoters often use this to promote their night again, by watermarking the images and tagging the photos so that people can see them. I don’t have an ultra-wide angle lens but these are typically used to capture as many people in the photo as possible while providing a cool fisheye effect. I personally think that this is a little bit over used and doesn’t look very original anymore. Again, ambient light is key here so keep the settings much the same, and if you don’t want the photos to look flat, point your camera upwards and use a diffuser on it to act as a light box.
Lastly, if I know the staff want photos, or it’s a particularly special occasion, I’ll try to take photos of them too. This is good for when someone wants to become the face of the night and not a name, and you’ll often find this happens with much smaller nights. The settings you might use are much the same as the other photos, depending on the location, but you have much more freedom to play around as you can take them pretty much wherever you want.
Step 4 – What to Watch Out for
This is a small list on how to look after your gear in a nightclub environment:
Drinks. They get spilt by drunk people all the time so watch out for anyone who’s had too much to drink, and keep the lens hood on your camera to protect from any splashes.
Thieves. Nightclubs are probably a bit worse for people stealing stuff so either keep everything on you where you can look after it, or keep it somewhere that you know is safe, like in the DJ booth or with the promoter.
Loud music. Pick up some earplugs at the beginning of the night as you’ll likely be subjected to a lot of bad/loud music which will damage your hearing before long.
Step 5 – Ideas For Different Styles
Context is important in anything you take a photo of, and this can be done pretty simply by following the rule of thirds and including some background detail to a photo. Again, I know I’ve been banging on about this, but if you want it to work, you’ve got to include some ambient light. Contrast that with a flash like I’ve done below and you’re onto a pretty good thing.
Slow sync flash allows you to capture the movement of a subject without producing a blur which takes away all the detail. I’ve written a whole blog post on it which can be found here, but it’s pretty simple to get your head around. Play around with the shutter speed to match the speed of movement of your subject and you’ll soon come up with some cool photos. Again, this works better in more exciting lighting as it produces a more interesting effect, but if the lighting is particularly dull, try and use the lights from the DJ mixer to produce some light trails.
Black and white photos are really good at producing a certain mood and they’re very useful if the lighting isn’t very good. The style of music which was being playing the the photo below was very bass heavy and minimal, so using black and white worked really well.
I’ve written about film photography and I’ve written about black and white photography, so you’re probably wondering why I’m writing about black and white film photography. The answer is simple – there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. The effects produced and the parameters you have to work within is very different to that of any other type of photography and these produce some very interesting results – results that you may associate with a much older style of photography.
How you Shoot Differently on Black & White
In my post on film photography, I talk in detail about how shooting on film helps to hone your skill as you think a lot more about what you’re doing before you take a photo and waste a piece of 35mm film. This added pressure of not wanting to waste money on film and developing means that you become a much more careful photographer and you consider how else you might take the photo before you actually take it. Think twice, shoot once. Mistakes can get pretty expensive if you’re not sure what you’re doing with your film camera so this forces you to learn quickly about what you’re doing wrong.
Black and white film photography is all this and more. When I normally take black and white photos, I always shoot in colour first and convert it afterwards because it allows me more options in post production. You don’t have this option when you’re shooting on film so you really have to pay attention to what it is that you want to capture and how it’s going to look in black and white. You rely much more on composition, texture, shape and form to create a good photo, so you have to look for this before you shoot and not after. That is my favourite reason for shooting on black and white film; you’re forced to hone in on your skill much faster.
The Dynamic Range
The first thing you’ll notice when you get a roll of black and white film developed (particularly with the brand of film that I use which is Ilford HP5 Plus) is that the dynamic range is a lot worse to what you’ll be used to with digital and far worse than on colour film. You need to be really careful about this as you’ll find that even landcape shots don’t come out properly, let alone photos of people indoors. This really bothered me the first time I got my film back because I didn’t know about it before I shot so I hadn’t adjusted my shooting style to match it, but now I know better, I can use it to my advantage.
Advantages of the Dynamic Range
When you know how the film reacts to the light, you can use it as a creative tool in your photography. The light is harder to control, but when you expose the photo correctly, with the light in the right places, then the results can be much more dramatic. I would have shot the photo above on colour film and seen the subject with no problems, but when I shoot on film, I need to look where the light had illuminated the subject and work around that. Take the photo below for example, I knew at the time that I shot it, that the lefthand side of the photo was going to be underexposed and the right was going to be overexposed, but it actually worked out really well. I particularly like the back of the subject’s head and the light that’s shining on it.
One of my favourite parts about shooting on film is how good the skin looks, and black and white film in particular makes the skin look great. The natural grain adds a texture and detail, while the lack of colour emphasises the tone of the skin. That’s also one of the advantages of the poor dynamic range – the contrast on neutral colours in boosted.
35mm film and development is becoming increasingly scarse as some major labs are getting rid of their wet labs and only doing digital printing. That being said, there’s still places around that do it at a reasonable price and standard, but black and white is a lot harder to get done. My nearest lab that will actually develop it in house is about 25 miles away which isn’t really a lot of use as it takes a while to get done, so I take mine to my nearest major lab and they send off for it. This still takes about 2 weeks or longer, but I’m there on a regular occasion for printing anyway so it’s not too much of a problem for me.
I have noticed over the past 2 years that development is getting more expensive, longer to do and film is becoming harder to find, so if we take that as a sign of things to come, then it doesn’t look too good. I urge everyone to start shooting on film again as soon as possible, because there’s a good chance you won’t be able to experience it’s many advantages in the future.
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