NO. 1 – REMEMBER THE DAYS OF FILM
This might seem like strange advice, but it’s crucial for the best black and white
In the days before digital, you didn’t shoot colour and then chance upon a black and white version later on. You knew you were shooting black and white, and only black and white, if you had a roll of Kodak Tri-X 400 loaded into your camera. What might seem restrictive from the perspective of 21st century digital freedom was in fact the first crucial step towards shooting successfully in mono. You had to make your images work in the parameters in which you were working; in other words, you had to pre-visualise in black and white. If you didn’t feel that the shot would work in black and white, you generally wouldn’t shoot it. You would alter the composition, change the light (if possible) or make some other adjustment in order to ensure that the final image would actually work in mono.
This is very different to how many people interact with black and white in the digital age, cherry-picking suitable candidates from their Lightroom catalog and then making a quick black and white conversion to see if their instincts were sound. But setting out to shoot in black and white enables you to look for subjects, scenes, lighting and framing options that actually truly lend themselves to the medium, and if you want to capture black and white images that stand out, this really is the best way forward.
However, there is one thing that the days of black and white film have in common with the digital age, and that’s the concept of post-production, and image manipulation in the form of dodging and burning. With black and white photography, always remember that adding more contrast post-capture (as is done in the traditional darkroom through the use of a harder grade of paper), or the selective lighting and darkening of key areas of the image, is an important element that is best considered in some way at the point of capture, as far as possible. With practice, you will develop an instinctive sense of where your images can be taken in the post-capture stages and shoot with this in mind. More on this later in the feature.
Below INTEND TO SHOOT MONO having the clear intention to shoot in black and white from the beginning will help to inform the composition, lighting, pose and clothing choices