We Should Still Shoot (Digitally) Black & White – A Few Thoughts
As an observer of my photography, you’ll probably have noticed that I shoot women more often in colored versions than in Black & White, and this is completely intentional. Not really because I prefer the aesthetics of one over the other. It simply depends on what I want (and sometimes must) achieve in terms of style and looks.
Color is the key in shooting expressive modern glamour (boudoir/pin-up). But here’s my take (and past) on B&W:
B&W Photography Appeals to Excellence
Helmut Newton, Richard Avedon, Herb Ritts, Edward Weston, Harry Callahan, Robert Mapplethorpe, Man Ray and others.
Aside from being renowned masters of photography, they all shot excellent work of art in Black & White. Their outstanding masterpieces created a genre with finesse, class and style.
Black & White series always have been and still are linked to a specific kind of magnificence, a class of its own. Certainly the way we capture and process these photos has changed over time. But the emotion, love and allure of your B&W artwork will keep inspiring, and always be its heart.
Discover Impact, Class & Emotion
Conceptually opting for digital B&W is an exceptionally potent tool (and strategy) in the hand of every photographer, yet it should be utilized purposeful and with a clear commitment of intent.
The following list contains some of the key reasons for the change in my own (and your future) work:
1. We Gain Purity!
Outfits, props, sceneries, strangely colored hair (this happens with models sometimes), color temperature differences in mixed lighting situations, and colorful setting disturbances aren’t an issue anymore. Leaving out colors gives you more room to extensively think about key elements like composition, lighting and components in and around the frame.
2. Explore Light + Shadows Differently
You’ll be able to concentrate on the light ratios, shadow patterns, direction and quality in a more precise manner.
3. It Helps Focus On Composition, Lines & Forms
Compositional elements in the frame are more intense than usual, both in relation to their outline and appearance, but also in terms of their visual relation to one another.
Of course, composition by itself is not color-reliant. It’s about focusing and implementing lines, curves, space, light/shadow purposefully and about how to emphasize the key subject (mostly the model) on the image. But missing colors allows us to immerse into these elements very directly.
4. Weight Different Image Parts More Bold
In B&W you are inclined to concentrate on light and dark regions of the composition and their inter-connection. Playing with negative space is likewise valuable in properly extricating your subject from the setting and definitely adds an extra intensity to the image.
5. Add Class & Timelessness
It immediately adds a definite timeless quality to the pictures. Fading away the colors, meaning converting to B&W by applying a specific film-look , simply tells a completely different story.
6. Feature Emotions & Expressions
Body curves, a visible neckline, hair cascading over shoulders and looking at the model’s face or deep into her eyes without any color distractions, creates a stronger emotional affinity to her – everything fully concentrates on the emotive connection between the observer and the women.
7. Emphasize Beauty, Not Beautification
In opposition to shooting glamour, flashy, rich-colored makeup is neither appealing nor needed. The same goes for outfits and props: colors will not help you to create a message. Therefore, most series designed for B&W results are not relying on the looks of glam and pin-up. We focus our attention on the model in a much stronger way.
8. We Add A (Felt) Artistic Look
By creating something new and exclusively unique, we follow all these well-known B&W motifs that have been published over and over around the world for ages and are now part of mankind’s history.
If we craftsmanship-like deliberately design and concentrate on lighting, compositional elements, and a meaningful (stringent) message – and additionally amplify with grain, film emulation and tonal range work – then we are influencing the cognition towards an artful aspect in a very conscious way.
Stand Out In A Crowded Image World!
So now what’s in for you, what’s the benefit of B&W imagery? Why should you bother with this style at all, today, in a fast moving digital world where great atmospheric shots can be done with any smartphone?
Well, it’s not only about deviation and fun but also (business) value, vital diversification, distinction and opening up your mind.
Composition: Back to the visual roots = Grayscale helps you to get your view back on the essentials of composition, aesthetics, principles of forms and – leeway, contours, lines, shapes, areas and finally the (re)framing (in post).Limiting yourself to the essence of forms will help you to develop and train your eyes, compositional skills and expand your mental and visual warehouse.
Serving emotions: You will automatically work with the feel of class, timelessness, and an artful approach. You even are able to specifically strengthen these attributes when musing about genuine grayscale concepts, taking certain looks, styles, settings, lighting characteristics and composition into account.
By creating B&W, your work will automatically (although mostly unconsciously) adhere to the known working cycle and output of the well-known photographers out there.
Diversification: Create impact more than ever.
In today’s crowded, fanciful colored (social) digitized media world, B&W imagery is gaining all the more attention and reflects a personal style. But caution: Imagery should not be styled in B&W simply to spark some meaningless attention!
No, use this nichey, effective and inspirational style to spread your dedication in a different way – formal as well as content-related. Use the concept of grayscale in your portfolio calculatedly in order to illustrate an additional body of work. This will automatically arouse interest among viewers, models and (potential) clients.
Utilize classy, modern driven B&W portraiture thought out for your photographic service offering (studio). Or – plain and simple – indulge in easier sets (less styling, less make-up work, less complicate settings) by exploring/implementing a classic nude art shoot instead of a complex glam/pin-up theme.
The possibilities for diversification are endless…
And, who knows, you probably already shot B&W in the “good old days”, and now you “just” want to challenge yourself and recreate the newly awakened feel in the digital era.
“All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.”– Richard Avedon
Is B&W Portrait Photography Cheating?
In essence, is finishing your photographs in Black & White comparable to cheating? Is it a short cut? Is it harder to take excellent color images? Are we trying to make waves with something basic and common by doing away with color?
If your shoot is based on an idea built on clear forms, reduction, or you are striving for pure emotions and an approach to work on your creative view’s diversity: NO! It’s not cheating!
It’s consciously forcing, creating or intensifying a very particular technique and imagery you are looking for (and probably are in need of).
According to my looks-breakdown (see box below), the B&W method clearly works best for art nudes, classic nudes (figurative), and classy portraiture.
4 Points To Develop Your Own Style & Vision!
The part of work that differentiates you from other photographers is the one that you can’t explain: It is the expression of your personal creativity & vision. You have to develop this part yourself, nobody can tell you what this vision (ideas) should look like – it is the way how you see things, how you experience them, how you live them.
- Try to work on your personal ideas, derive your vision from them.
- Try to understand why you like some pictures and other not.
- Develop your creative powers and concepts and create your photographs with all your passion. Even if that means that others might not like your work. That’s totally ok as long as you like it yourself.
- Be yourself and set your work apart from the same old media mainstream!
MASTERING B&W NUDES TODAY – Complete Digital Workflow
B&W Blueprint. Shoot Color. Showcase B&W. Essentials, full planning-/shooting process, camera settings & hacks. Most comprehensive conversion processes & strategies for Photoshop, Lightroom, Plugins etc. 4 extensive case studies. 260 pages strong! + 6 videos.