The Art of Black & White Photography for the
(or 256 Shades of Gray)
A 7 week course via email
Black and White photography is perhaps one of the least understand forms of photography. Yet for over 125 years it was the most common type of photography and considered the true art form for serious photographers. This course breaks down the mystery into easily understood weekly chapters.
Each week you'll peel back the shroud and learn step by step how to produce stunning black and white images. The fifth week delves into the conversion and processing of color digital images into black and white. Simple, yet highly effective techniques will be taught using Photoshop, Photoshop Elements and Lightroom.
This 7 week course will come to your email in one part. Every Friday you'll receive reading material requiring no more than 30 to 60 minutes. You'll also receive an optional assignment to photograph. When the assignment is completed, you will be encouraged to share your images with fellow students and receive additional feedback.
A sample of a small portion of the first week's reading is below. If you would like to receive the entire first week's reading at no charge, please email us at [masked] The assignment will not be emailed, just the reading. Thanks for your understanding.
Here is a list of the weekly chapters:
Week One - Introduction to Black & White
Week Two - The Equipment
Week Three - Understanding Exposure
Week Four - Composition for Black & White
Week Five - Color to Black & White
Week Six - Special Effects
Week Seven - Special Projects
Introduction to Black & White
In 1826, the first ever photograph was created. It was in black & white. The idea of creating a color photograph wasn’t too far behind, but for most of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, photography was essentially a monochromatic art form.
Black & white photography requires you to interpret the world in a different manner to the way you do when shooting color. A black & white photograph is a less literal representation of the captured scene. Because there are no color cues, tone and contrast become more important as a means of defining the relationship between the various elements of your photograph.
Learning how to see ‘beyond’ color takes practice, but becomes second nature surprisingly quickly. However, creating a photo is just the start of a creative journey. Black & white photography is a wonderful medium for self-expression. The history of black & white photography since 1826 has been a rich stew of experimentation in style and techniques. In this course we’ll explore some of these possibilities. The only problem is that once you start you may find it difficult to stop!
Visible light is just one small part of the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation that extends from gamma rays at one end to radio waves at the other. Light comprises discrete ‘packets’ of energy known as photons. It is the release of energy as photons strike your camera’s digital sensor that causes a photo to form. Visible light also acts as a wave, with a range of wavelengths between 400 nanometers and 700 nanometers (a nanometer is one millionth of a millimeter).
At a wavelength of approximately 400 nanometers, light is perceived as a dark, purple violet. At 450 to 500 nanometers, this violet shades to blue; then as the wavelength increases, the color of perceived light continues through green, yellow, orange, and, at approximately 700 nanometers, reaches red. When relatively even amounts of all the wavelengths of visible light are mixed, light looks white.
We see color by the way that light reacts when it strikes an object. A red apple is red because all of the visible wavelength of light is absorbed by the apple except for the red part of the spectrum. These red wavelengths bounce off the surface of the apple and stimulate the red sensitive part of our vision.
When a black & white photo is created, the various colors of the subject are transformed into tones of gray. The art of black & photography is controlling what tonal value each color is converted to.
To take the example of a red apple again, when converted to black & white the red will be altered to a mid-gray tone. Green grass will also be converted to a mid-gray tone. If we create a black & white photo of an apple sitting on grass, the two subjects will have similar tonal values. In color, the two subjects are distinctively different. In black & white, it will be hard to distinguish one from the other.
Traditionally, colored filters were used to help change the tonal values of the subjects in a photo. A colored filter lets through the wavelengths of light similar in color to itself and reduces the strength of those that are dissimilar. If a red filter is used in the example quoted, the apple will lighten in appearance and the grass will darken. The tonal values of both will have diverged, creating a far more interesting photo.
The Black & White conversion tool in Adobe Photoshop can now be used instead of colored filters, though the principle is still the same. A black & white photo is about tones and how they can be adjusted to create the most striking image.
Your camera is a wonderful device but, no matter how sophisticated the technology inside, it does not know how to create a pleasing photograph. That decision rests with you alone! Before you press the shutter-release button to create a photo, you need to work out what you want the final photo to look like.
In order to do this you need to ask yourself a few questions. How you answer these questions will help you in this pre-visualization process. Given below are a few such questions, though it is not an exclusive list. As you gain in experience you will find you add questions of your own.
What mood or atmosphere do I wish to create? Do I have a simple message that I want convey or will the meaning be more ambiguous? Is the light right at this moment or do I need to return at a different time?
What should and shouldn’t be included in the photo? What lens do I need to use? Will a different viewpoint work better? Should the camera be held vertical or horizontal?
I have my composition, now how do I technically achieve my aims? Can it be achieved ‘in-camera’ or will it require editing later? If so, how do I ensure I capture a sufficient tonal range to make the editing process easier? Do I need to use filters?
Do you want the entire first weeks course for free? Email the Center requesting the entire first week reading material if you want the entire first chapter.