Seeing without Colour

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Words and pictures by James Gifford.

Black and white photography.

It’s a familiar scenario for every aspiring photographer: you’re sitting in front of the monitor, wading through the thousand-odd images you took on your last trip and trying to cull them to a more manageable number. You know that the image in front of you shouldn’t make the cut, but instead of deleting it, you think, ‘Maybe I can rescue it by converting it into black and white.’ Don’t fall into the trap! Although a quality monochrome image will look better in black and white than it would in colour, a black and white conversion will never save a below-par image.

Think in Tones
So, what makes for a good black and white photograph? It would normally contain a wide range of tones (from 100% black to 100% white), so you need to look at the scene from a tonal perspective, ignoring the actual colours. Try to imagine how the picture will look in black and white before you press the shutter. With practice, you will recognise that dark blues and reds will convert to a similar shade of dark grey, while light pinks and yellows have a much lighter tone.

Keep it Simple
As with all photography, often the most striking image is the one with the simplest composition. A lone tree, casting a dark shadow over a light pan, will be more effective than cramming your viewfinder with unnecessary clutter; so, before you take the picture, consider whether each element adds to the photograph. If not, then zoom in or change your position accordingly…

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