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“There’s another horizon out there, one more horizon that you have to make for yourself and let other people discover it, and someone else will take it further on, you know”- Gordon Parks

September 1, 2010

I’ve briefly mentioned my love affair with photography, and today I will focus on basic principles when shooting in Black and White.  B&W photography,  is one of the most inspiring and involved aspects of art. It requires you to slow down. A lot. And you know what, sometimes that is nice in our fast paced world. We’re always go go going. Sometimes we need to not take such long strides and just slow down. Take your time. The process is raw,  natural, unusual, and demands a keen eye to detail, structure, and processes. You must pay attention to composition. The mystic around the art of photography is emotional, complex, subtle, bold, and invokes a connection between the eye, and the object. The creation of a monochromatic image is greater than its process of production, as it ultimately turns into something much deeper.

I must share one of my most recent modern inspirations. I found the artist Kwesi Abbensetts through online browsing, and I am so enamored with his work. The richness, contrast, and gradations of black in his photographs look so effortlessly done. What stands out the most to me is his ability to produce true whites and true blackness in photographs. He has executed capturing the essence of these two colors and I appreciate this endeavour.

Now I do not know whether he shoots with film or a DSLR. I mainly shoot with film as I haven’t purchased a fancy digital camera, but when shooting with film there are many aspects to consider when seeking to define ‘color’ (think scales of black, white and gray) in your photographs. You must consider:

1. Light

Lighting is the most critical aspect of producing an image because it affects the following four principles. Good lighting will ensure there is definition, texture, and dept in your photographs. To use light effectively, think about your light source. Are you using raw sunlight or are you shooting in doors? Also think about the time of day you shoot. When shooting in B&W, light must be use as effectively as possible. The way to know what lighting works for you is to practice and keep a journal! For instance, try taking pictures of a scene at various times of the day (morning, noon, and at dusk) and you will notice how light and shadow can affect the mood of your photo.

2. Contrast

B&W photography is about capturing true blacks, whites, and all tones in between this range. Contrasting helps give the eye a spectrum of debt to consider. Because there is no color in the photographs your eye will automatically focus on levels of intensity to distinguish one thing from another. Contrasting will bring tonal differences in your photographs. Try to contrast these colors in your images by focusing on what is important. Play around with lightness and darkness when composing to highlight what is important. When looking at your shot, try to disregard the colors you see and instead arrange your subjects in a way that emphasises the most interesting aspect of the shape, or creates an intriguing composition of different shapes.

3. Texture

Texture will add definition to your photographs, yet is a similar form to contrasting. Using texture adds another layer of complexity to your image. Texture, what something is made of, can define parts of your image making it more pleasing to the eye.

4. Composition (Position of Subject)

In composing or framing your shot, consider shapes, tones, and textures in your frame as points of interest. Pay attention to where  shadows might fall. Think of using debt of fields to create contrast in your image. It can isolate a subject from its background and foreground (when using a shallow depth of field) or it can put the same subject in context by revealing it’s surrounds with a larger depth of field.

5. ‘Cleanness’ of the Image

Lastly, be intentional about the placement of everything in the frame of your image. Since there is no color, it is very important to keep the space of your image clean and to only include what you feel is necessary. To do this, scan your subject area before you press the shutter. Pay particular attention to the frame of your subject area to make sure nothing is slightly outside it, or else it will look awkward when printed. Make sure the subject does not get lost in the background. Often, just by shifting your subject a little to the left or right can help in eliminating unwanted elements in your photograph. One last tip to keep your image clean is to play around with angels. Think of where your eye level is. Try standing on a box, or dipping low for different points of view.

As with all things practicing is the most important thing to do to figure out what is working and what is not working. So dig threw some of your old belongings, dust of that old film camera of yours, and get to taking pictures!

Photo Credit: Kwesi Abbensetts

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