Free­man on…

Shoot­ing black and white is back in full force, with more cre­ative pos­si­bil­i­ties than it ever had

NPhoto - - Contents -

Ways to work with black and white, from high-and low-key to mak­ing the most of greyscale

If you grew up in the Ko­dachrome gen­er­a­tion, rich, vi­brant colour was such a re­lease. So plea­sur­able and… well, real. Some of us came to won­der what would have hap­pened if pho­tog­ra­phy had be­gun with colour. Would black and white even have been in­vented? Well, now we know, and the an­swer is yes. Colour has been pho­tog­ra­phy’s de­fault for almost two gen­er­a­tions, and now black and white is in full re­vival.

Quite apart from peo­ple lik­ing to change what’s gone be­fore – that’s the ba­sis of all fash­ion – black and white has the ad­van­tage of be­ing one step re­moved from real­ity. We might have craved the real­ity of sat­u­rated colour in the old days, but the truth is that if you want cre­ative ex­pres­sion, re­al­ism doesn’t serve you very well. I sus­pect that this is what’s driv­ing the new era of black and white: not a re­turn to the old days fu­elled by nos­tal­gia, but be­cause it of­fers a more sub­tle and am­ple breath­ing space for cre­ative im­agery.

Now dif­fers from then in two ma­jor ways. First, you have almost in­fi­nite choice over how dark or light an in­di­vid­ual colour will trans­late into greyscale. The old Wrat­ten fil­ters over the lens (Ansel Adams was a great ex­po­nent) could never do that. Sec­ond, you can choose black and white for your im­age at any time, from the time of shoot­ing to way later. This raises the im­por­tance of choice. When and why could you or should you con­vert to back and white? Here I make a few sug­ges­tions, but it’s an area that’s worth ex­per­i­ment­ing with. You could say that the uni­ver­sal avail­abil­ity of colour, and the ex­cesses it has been put to, have given black and white a sta­tus almost of re­fine­ment. And some cre­ative con­trol. As Cartier-Bres­son put it: ‘Black and white pho­tog­ra­phy ab­stracts things and I like that.’

In a Peru­vian moun­tain café, shoot­ing toward the door­way – the only light­ing – cre­ated a chiaroscuro of high­lights and dark shad­ows that black and white han­dles so well

Our glo­be­trot­ting Con­trib­u­tor at Large, renowned pho­tog­ra­pher and pro­lific au­thor Michael Free­man, presents a monthly mas­ter­class that’s ex­clu­sive toN-Photo. Michael has pub­lished dozens of books on pho­tog­ra­phy, in­clud­ing the best­selling Per­fec­tEx­po­sure.

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