Why are we so drawn to the monochrome image? Color is dynamic; it stimulates the senses. There’s a reason the term “eye candy” is so popular when describing color photography. But there are scenes that demand the absence of color. The challenge is in knowing when to shoot black and white.
What are those things that draw us into a good color photograph? Tastes vary. The current trend is toward lighter, more pastel colors with even skin tones and clean backgrounds. The photographers at the other end of the spectrum favor a heavily saturated color palate dominated by reds and oranges: “hot” colors that sometimes butt up against each other to cause a dynamism akin to a lively political debate. My aesthetic falls in this area, though I do like to represent the colors as I perceive them, and hold back on pushing them too much.
When I’m shooting black and white I am leaning toward a similar visual language. I prefer deep shadows, and whites that maintain detail but pop against a background. Pale yellow will translate to a creamy white, and red will lend a rich late-to-midtone accent or anchor point to the composition. In the digital darkroom, I try to follow the same rules as in the chemical darkroom. Start with a good exposure, pay attention to the light and every image will have a conversation between a solid black tone and rich white highlights, and all the midtone grays fall into place.
I have spent a lot of time with the beautiful images of my students in the darkroom class, and I’ve been fortunate to accompany them through their creative process. It’s been several years since I have set out to shoot a personal project in black and white, and I welcome your feedback.