Shoot Black And White Images With Intention

I always find it annoying when I hear people say if the color photographs don't work, you can try to save them by converting to black and white. I personally believe black and white medium deserves a lot more respect. Instead of treating black and white as an afterthought, or plan B if the color images fail, it should be treated as the opposite. I strongly suggest shooting black and white with intention, purposefully finding black and white images and wanting to create monochromatic results from the start. Having the right intention and focus will result in stronger black and white outcome. 

In my recent street photography outing, I wanted to just focus on getting black and white images, so I ignored all colors and went full monochrome mode. I have made a POV video showing you how I composed these shots too, you can find it here (click). 

I personally think color and black and white as two different mediums and they both have their places. One is not necessarily better than the other, and one can work more effectively in some situations. I shoot a lot of color photography because where I am based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, we have vibrant colors everywhere, bright yellow cars, red painted walls and people wearing bright pink shirts strolling down the alley way. The colors are very hard to ignore, and they should be celebrated in photography. I enjoy color, and I'd like to think some of my stronger works are all in color. 

However, color can also be destructive to photography if not planned carefully. The first thing that human visions reads is color. The color gives endless amount of information feeding the brain to process. When an image is presented with colors, the attention is divided, and the brain will automatically spend a huge amount of effort and time to decipher the color information. This is where black and white photography comes in - by removing color altogether, presenting the world in monochrome, you strip away the distractions posed by colors, and this effectively allows the eye and mind to wander to more important parts of the photographs. The emotions, the idea, the main message, the moment and what the photographer is trying to say - all these can be shown more straightforwardly through absence of colors. 

In order to shoot black and white with intention, I will make black and white sessions, where I will have all my images shot in black and white. I will enable black and white profile, meaning I will only see and compose in black and white through the camera's viewfinder, or the LCD screen. Seeing only in black and white helps quiet the noise imposed by color, and makes you effectively see the subject for what it is. 

For black and white street photographs to work, they usually contain a lot of contrast. Creative play with highlight and shadow helps in creatin dramatic shots. I would care less about dynamic range, I don't mind if the highlights are burned out, or if there was clipping in the shadows. In fact, I want my blacks to be pure, deep black, which will add a lot of depth to the photograph. Also, I look for simplicity in composition, less is more. I look for interesting shapes, patterns, repetitions of lines, and interesting subjects to photograph in black and white. After all, if the image is weak in color, it will be weak in black and white too, so subject content is still the most important thing to be included in any photograph. 

In this particular session I used my Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III and Panasonic 15mm F1.7 lens. I think this combination works very well for street photography in black and white. The wider field of view allows me to fit more in my frame, which I have to be more careful to not fit things that are not supposed to be in the composition. The camera's black and white mode was good enough to allow me to compose my shots in real time, as if I already see my results before I press the shutter button. 

Any black and white lovers out there? Share your thoughts! And I hope you enjoy these monochrome images. 

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1 comment:

  1. Hi Mr. Wong. I think black and white photos have more of a story. They make me think more about photography. They become more striking.