An introduction to mono
Seeing colour in grayscale is the secret to great black & white images. here we offer some insight as to how as well as other essentials skills
Vibrant sunsets and rainbows, sparkling deep blue eyes and creamy skin tones, it isn’t a surprise that colour photography gets so much glory. but, as wonderful as colour is, it’s also familiar and realistic, making us slightly uncomfortable when those colours don't look natural. black & white, on the other hand, may not work for every image, but when it does it’s considered an art form. it strips away any distractions colour may bring, steps the image away from real life and gives you limitless creative control over its impact and atmosphere.
Our response to a black & white image is also usually much more emotive than with colour; the subject matter almost becomes irrelevant as light and shadow, texture and shape are all brought to the forefront. as long as your image has good shape, tonal range and intrigue you’ll be amazed at what works as a successful black & white photograph.
While fantastic black & white photography is easier than ever to achieve with digital technology, shooting for monochrome requires a different approach compared to capturing colour. back in the days of film photography, you’d load your camera with a carefully- selected roll of black & white film, you would carry around a set of colour filters to control contrast and, if you were really serious, you’d have a darkroom set up in which you could dodge and burn to perfection. now, it’s as simple as switching your camera’s Picture style/ Picture Controls to Monochrome ( see panel) or converting a colour image during processing, but the same principles of what makes a strong black & white image beautiful still apply.
Few situations in life are black & white; there’s a whole world of grey in- between, and it’s the same for photography. a monochrome image may contain areas of near pure white and near pure black but it also has a wide scale of grey that has to deliver contrast for the image to have visual impact. each spectrum colour has its own shade of grey when converted to grayscale, and it’s important to know what intensities of grey you’re working with by learning how to ‘ see’ tonal contrast in a colour scene. this contrast helps create shape, form and separates elements in your image for depth, such as your subject from its background, to avoid the photograph looking flat and lifeless. For instance, a lush green landscape with cloudless sky and a red barn as a focal point may look vibrant, but when turned to black & white it’ll probably look flat with very little contrast and interest between the elements. Green and red can be very similar shades, and a cloudless blue sky will have little variance in tone. switch your camera to shoot Monochrome ( see panel for how) and use Liveview to preview a scene; it’s a useful way to help you assess a composition based on a colour scene’s tonality.
Whilst there are umpteen ways to convert an image to black & white during processing, not all images suit a conversion and strong images have to begin in your mind's eye. aside from using Monochrome mode and Liveview, a way to visualise black & white is to look at the lines, shadows and shapes of a scene, this will give you an idea of the contrast and if there’s enough visual interest. Once you’ve then captured your image in colour to retain maximum information and flexibility with your raw file conversion, you can then use various software and filters to adjust the tonal range for a striking black & white conversion – turn to page 79 for a few of our recommended options.