Now that we all shoot digital cameras, I think many have forgotten that black and white is even an option. We are shooting color because that is what the camera does. We shoot color for colors sake, and often forget about light quality and tonal range of the image that we are creating. Often, I see images where the color actually gets in the way of the photograph. Toss out the color and the image improves. The photograph above is just such an example, in color, it was very busy. Yellows and reds on the beach, pink and blue in the sky, greens and blues in the water. The placement of the colors just didn’t work, but the tones of the scene were very nice. Learning to see the tones instead of the color is what will make a great black and white photographer.
Shooting for black and white is an art in and of itself that when mastered will dramatically improve your color photography as well. In order for an image to be good in black and white we must look at the tones of the scene. How light is the lightest area and how dark is the darkest area. Morning and evening light, often referred to as the sweet light or the golden hour, give us a reduced contrast and softer light so that detail can be maintained in both highlight and shadow. These are the times of day when I do most of my serious photographing. The light is exciting and most anything will look good.
This image was shot just prior to sunset on the beach in Kauai. The light skimmed across the waves so as to create very nice highlights in the moving water, yet allowed the shadow areas to go dark and rich while still maintaining some detail. Also, as I discussed yesterday, the rule of thirds is used here. I was not consciously thinking about it, but having developed an eye for composition, it just happens. Notice when a grid is placed over the photograph, where the intersecting points fall. On the rocks to the left, the reef on the right and also the horizon line is on the top horizontal grid line.
Practice shooting black and white and apply the principles of composition and watch your photographs improve!