Like many people in this modern age of digital photography, I shoot colour first and then convert to black & white on the rare occasion. Recently, I got some top tips from fashion photographer and Olympus ambassador Jay McLaughlin on how to do it right…
1. Shoot in black and white, not colour – Jay shoots in RAW so has all the colour data if he wants it. Back in the days of film, photography students had to master black and white film before colour. This was quite an eye-opener for me, because, although I occasionally switch to black and white to shoot, the majority of the time I shoot in colour and then wait for a picture that I think will look good in black and white, which is a bit topsy turvy I guess!
2. Learn to see in light and dark. There are so many tones of grey, think about them and how they figure in your composition. Play around with the highlight and shadow settings on your camera to see how this affects the image. A good exercise is to ask yourself whether a tone is lighter or darker than a photographic grey card (a middle grey reference used in photography to determine exposure). Also google Ansel Adams’s Zone System; originally developed in 1939-40 to help determine exposure when developing film, the system defines ten tones between white and black.
3. Focus on texture and shape. Removing colour can bring out textures you wouldn’t normally see – like in the dress shot below. Jay says “This Peter Pilotto dress was really bright; no one would shoot it in black and white. But I did, and there’s texture in the fabric you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.”
4. The subject is key. Shooting in black and white allows for more emotion in your subjects to come through as distracting elements, like background, are removed.
5. Some things don’t work in black and white – like food and sunsets!
6. When post processing, use Tone Curve in Lightroom to play around with the shades; Jay likes his whites white but his blacks are often are a very dark shade of grey. To strengthen the emotion of a portrait don’t be afraid to lose detailing, eg. on fabrics or in backgrounds.
The top images, of model Rebecca Pearson (check out her blog Model Typeface), are ones I took on Jay’s camera (on this occasion he was using the new Olympus Pen E-PL7 with 45mm 1.8 lens) after he had set up the scene for a strong black and white image – stripes, white tablecloth, perfectly laid cafe table. He shot from a low position to catch the blurry glow of the fairy lights in the background (believe it or not, we were in a John Lewis top floor cafe!). The rest of the images are all Jay’s – see more of his work at www.jaymclaughlin.co.uk and follow on Twitter @JayMcLaughlin.
I hope this post was of interest and let do me know if you have any tips for shooting black and white, I would love to hear them!