EXERCISE: Black-and-white

For this exercise, choose a subject, lighting condition or picture situation that you think may look better (to you) in black-and-white than in regular colour.  Your starting point will probably be colour, and the black-and-white version will be created during your processing, but in shooting, you should try to ignore the colour element.  If your camera allows a monochrome display on its LCD screen, you may find this a help.

Compose and expose for the black-and-white version that you will later process.  You should find that you need to deal with rather different concerns, paying attention to shape and volume, for instance.

Process the image for black-and-white, and write down what effect shooting in black-and-white had on your choices of subject, framing, the details of composition and exposure.  Note the results in your learning log.

Having done lots of reading and research on black-and-white imagery, I thought this exercise was going to be a breeze, but as with everything new I try, my experience was a little tougher than I originally thought it would be.

Picking one of the hottest days of the year to try my hand at taking black-and-white photos, I thought it prudent to add another first to my photo shoot and included a polarising filter to my lens; the sky was clear and a brilliant blue, which I also wanted to capture in any colour photos I decided to take.  This turned out to be a wise choice on my part as it helped to bring depth into my photos, and also helped to add more tone to the converted images.

My location was the local beach, but not a clean, pristine seaside resort, moreover a pebbled shore along the banks of the river Thames, known locally for its industry as well as its untidy appearance.  This I thought would be a good place to start, as there is little colour by the waters edge, and I hoped to capture some edgy images of the factories and perhaps some old wooden structures or abandoned goods.

Taking on board the advice of the coursework; “… If your camera allows a monochrome display on its LCD screen, you may find this a help …” I chose to shoot in monochrome.  By doing this, I was able to capture my JPEG images black-and-white, while my LCD displayed the same, but my RAW data was captured as seen by the scene – the best of both worlds.  Making this change in camera really did help, as I was able to get an idea of how the black-and-white images would work and make any adjustments needed as I worked; this is part of my usual workflow when dealing with colour.

The last, and probably the most important factor for the day was my composition.  As I was not able to rely on colour in my images, I had to look for other ideas to make my images work, so I had to go back to the very beginning of my learning’s and think about lines, points, texture and all of those great design elements we looked at during TAOP.  This on its own was a good exercise to conduct as it made me think about what to include in my image and not how to colour it!

Of the photos I took, I have included two in this exercise and have included the original colour image along with the black and white conversion.

Pylons - Colour

Pylons – Colour

When I went down to the waters edge, I could see these old wooden pylons sticking out of the riverbed; probably left over from an old jetty or some other structure long since washed away.  Three things drew me to this scene, all of which I had read about in various black-and-white articles; a) the high summer sun is casting hard shadows, b) the texture found in the old wood and c) the contrasting texture of the pebbles and seaweed.

The conversion to black-and-white produced the following image

Pylons - Black & White

Pylons – Black & White

For a first attempt, I really like this shot, although there are a few things I need to work on; although I played around with my exposure in camera, the sky is still a little too washed out.  I think the polarising filter as helped here, as in the colour image there is detail in the sky, but it is still a little too bright.  I have had to under expose this shot quiet a bit (again, I think due to the filter) so some of the detail in the wood is lost to darkness, personally, I think this is the best part of the image, but it could have been 1-stop brighter, bringing in a smaller amount of detail.

The only post-processing I have done to this shot is a small crop and the straight black-and-white conversion, so in the future, as I learn more; I will be able to make better improvements to these kinds of photos.

I was surprised by the results of the next conversion, so wanted to include it in this post.

Summer Flowers - Colour

Summer Flowers – Colour

This is a classic image of summer flowers and one I often take as I like the way the subtle colours of the flowers are highlighted against a dark background (in this case the sea wall).  To add to this image, I have used the sun as a sidelight, which has exenterated the form of the foliage and highlighted the finer details of the petals, leaves and even hairs on the steams.  This image tends towards under exposure, although there are tones present across the whole of the histogram’s graph, but due to the nature of the shot and the lack of a high dynamic range, I was pleasantly surprised with the conversion.

Summer Flowers - Black & White

Summer Flowers – Black & White

Not as punchy as the first image, this shot has a very lazy feel to it.  I think the reason this image works is the fact that there is little colour in the original image, but lots of texture and form to structure of the plant and the very dark background has helped to highlight the foliage further.


Initially, I did find it difficult to find images that I wanted to use for this exercise, but by changing my camera’s settings so that I could view the black-and-white image at the time of shooting, really helped me to find my feet.  Moreover, once I started to eliminate colour from the frame and looked for angles, lines and texture to photograph, things became much easier.  I am not saying that my work here is perfect, far from it, but it is a good start and once I get to grips with thinking in monochrome, it should get simpler over time.  I am interested in seeing what Photoshop can do with black-and-white work as some of the shots I took needed a little extra help and at this time I am not sure what the best steps to take would be, but I am sure that over the next few exercises I will continue to learn and improve.

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