Exploring The Simplicity of Black and White Photography

Exploring The Simplicity of Black and White Photography

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As a boudoir photographer for over seven years, I am always seeking new ways to keep the artistic appeal to my images. Sometimes we work so hard to create something so epic, that we forget about that simplicity is usually the key to greatness.

Creatively Diving Into The Past

A huge step into the world of color photography was due to the introduction of Kodachrome in 1936. Color correction took a another step in 2008 with the version of CS4 releasing the adjustment panel. Users had an advantage than those before to improve on color in a whole new workflow.

This ability to work color into so many different levels may also have lead to the current desire to jump back to the simplicity of black and white images. Color has somewhat taken away the main foundation of an image. Tone, texture, and contrast are key features that color sometimes overwhelms and takes focus from.

Less Distractions

While color boudoir photography can be sultry and beautiful in its own way, there is just something captivating about the mood of a black and white image. Kara Marie shows a perfect example on how you can take the smaller distractions in the background out of the final image without deleting them entirely. The background is blended into shades of dark but not creating a pure black. The levels of color themselves lend way to creating a few color coordinates in the light and dark areas. This creates depth yet maintaining the eye to be drawn to the subject. The shaded between light and dark in the black areas on skin tone also create excellent highlights and accent strong features.

                                                (image used with permission from Kara Marie Boudoir)


Using Light to Sculpt

Lighting with a purpose to sculpt a figure can bring dramatic results for a black and white image. The best approach to this kind of dramatic look is to light with the loss of color in mind. Lynn Clark demonstrates this by allowing the light to fill into the light spots, and keeping the darker areas where they fall. The shape of the figure will be transformed into telling us where the color would have been. It shows us definition in the muscles while still keeping the form soft.

                                                                (image used with permission from Lynn Clark)


3 Shades of Separation

When considering the wardrobe or furniture for the idea of black and white imagery, remember that shade will now be the main objective. Make sure you bring a separation to all items otherwise all darks will blend into one another. I knew with the image below I would be working it into a black and white as an option. Creating a few shades of separations between the couch and the material draped over her was important to bring in depth and texture.

Simplistic Fine Art Black and White Boudoir Photography

More Attention to Details

Focusing in on one aspect of the figure can bring the viewer into a new position. Petra Hermann exhibits this with her close up detailed shot of the client's collar bone and chest. The loss of color draws our eyes to the highlights and texture formed on the skin, rather than the tone of the skin.

                                                                (image used with permission from Petra Hermann)

Wall Art in Any Home

The conversion to black and white can also assist more clients purchasing wall art. They will they feel it can blend in any room color as well as go with most any frame. It will reduce the bold feel for those wanting to seem a little more anonymous, yet still maintaining the confidence she/he felt that day in your studio.



The Simplicity Behind It All

Creating black and white imagery has never really faded out. Many photographers have dedicated their entire portfolios just to keeping true to the black and white film look. When creating this type it is common for new photographers to simply pull down the saturation in an adjustment layer. With this method, contrast is affected and will not create the dimensions that make the image pop. Adding levels and curves layers to mark onto the image will bring a wow factor  without losing the simplicity of the image itself. Play around with black and white conversions and show me in the comments what you came up with!

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Anonymous's picture

I love black and white photos, these hints are going to come in very handy

Robert Raymer's picture

Even when knowing that the final image will be in color, after making sure that the color temperature is correct I often switch my camera's LCD display to monochrome. For many of the reasons you mention in the article, I find that it lets me really concentrate on how the light falls in the image without the distracting elements of color.

Brad Walsh's picture

Great article Jennifer, black and white imagery is an art form!

Ralph Hightower's picture

July 2011, I shot a historic landing on a runway in pre-dawn hours and I figured that using color would be a waste; I didn't have a DSLR at the time, so film was the only way to go. In finishing up the 3-pack of Kodak BW400CN film, I rediscovered the classic look of B&W. For 2012, I made the decision to shoot the year in B&W; it took about three months before I started visualizing in B&W.
Besides a DSLR, I now have another film camera; one is loaded with B&W and the other with color.

Jennifer Tallerico's picture

That sounds like an amazing year of images!

Ralph Hightower's picture

Thanks. It was a year of discovery and learning for me. Besides shooting B&W, I used B&W contrast filters: yellow, orange, red, and green (rarely). I had two year long projects of shooting the sunrise on the equinoxes and solstices and the full moons.

Cate Scaglione's picture

I often shoot in B&W to make sure my image tonality and exposure is on point. Great article including some of my favorite black and white boudoir artists

Shawn Black's picture

Great article Jen! As someone who is a color blind photographer, I have a great appreciation and understanding of just how dropping out color can dramatically change and enhance an image.