Get great mono results every time you shoot.
AS WE HAVE ALREADY SEEN, there is much more to black & white photography than a simple lack of colour, and equally there is much more to taking a great mono shot than simply desaturating an image you shot in colour.
In the days of film, most students of photography would spend at least a year shooting nothing but black & white before being let loose on colour emulsion, and there’s nothing like mono for honing your skills in the understanding of light, contrast, shape and texture.
See in monochrome
Stripped of a rainbow palette, the black & white image lacks the power of complementary and opposing colours to bring a scene to life. Instead, it is necessary to look for tonal contrast in order to make your mono shots stand out. Where, in a colour photo, the viewer’s eye might be drawn to a red object set against a sea of green, those two elements might have very similar tonal qualities in black & white. The monochrome shooter must look for shades of light and dark within a scene in order to present an image with a strong tonal range. This can be achieved either by looking for areas of natural brightness – for instance, the bark of silver birch trees will contrast sharply with a dark
forest scene, or through the way that the light hitting a scene creates areas of brightness and shadow.
It is possible to train your eye to ‘see’ a scene in black & white, but until it becomes second-nature a good tip is to set your camera to output both RAW and JPEG, with the in-camera processing set to monochrome so you can review the image in the way it will ultimately appear. Some cameras can give a black & white output in Live View, which will be a huge help when shooting for mono.
Embrace light & texture
Every great shot is dependant upon light, and in mono photography it’s even more critical. Bright, sunlit days will produce a black & white image that’s full of contrast, but it can be very easy to have your highlights blow out on you. In these conditions it is best practice to expose for the highlights as you can generally tease out detail in the shadows, while the contrast with the dark areas will add to the tonal quality of the shot.
When conditions are overcast there’s the danger of your mono shots coming out in flat shades of grey with little contrast. This is the time to make use of black & white photography’s ability to bring out the best in textured subjects.
Left Textures can be teased out of the shadows in a RAW file to make mono landscapes really stand out.
Above When shot in high contrast conditions, black & white images can produce wonderfully stark and graphic results.