Black and white was once the only means we had to communicate, photographically. That was long before most of us got involved with it. But for some of us, B&W is how we started off in photography, and how we saw our images in print. But since the beginning of photography, black and white has been a very romantic medium. That romance continues to this day, with black and white easier and simpler to do than ever. And yet, for some, it’s just as complicated and difficult as ever. Perhaps this will give you some ideas to advance your black and white photography.
Watch B&W Movies like Casa Blanca
I’m a huge fan of B&W movies from the 40s and 50s! I watch the plot, but even more so, I watch the lighting! They couldn’t use color to pull our attention around; they had to light to do that, using shades to tell their story. Mystery, death, love, hate, jealousy—they said them all with light! You can watch and learn a lot about B&W photography from these old movies. Keep in mind that everyone watches them. The public has certain preconceived visual concepts because of them. Learn them, explore them, and exploit them, and you can vastly improve your B&W photography!
Contrast is Your Friend!
Traditionally, black and white photography has been a contrasty medium. In color photography, big contrast is often discouraged. In the days of film, we often would attach a red filter when shooting black and white, just to increase the contrast. In this example, because of the large boulder, the bald skies of Alabama Hills go very dark, thus making the boulder visibly pop. Looking under the boulder, you can see the heavy shadow, telling you it’s a contrasty condition.