Photography has moved on considerably since the “early days”. Nowadays, we can shoot in full HDR colour whereas once upon a time, the only option open to photographers was that of black and white.
However with the advent of colour film, the world embraced the fun of photography and the black and white image was forgotten about and consigned to the rubbish bin – for a while!
After a few years of shooting colour landscapes, I grew tired of the race to get the reddest sunset, the greenest field and the bluest sky. The soul of the photograph had become lost in a mad quest for colour saturation and technical perfection.
It was time for me to return to the roots of photography and try to connect with the image once more.
I find that with a black and white photograph, there is a sense of stillness, of being lost in the moment. It encourages us to linger on the image and gives us a feeling of the place we come from.
Because we are so used to seeing the world in colour, it can be difficult to visualise it in black and white. Good black and white images tend to be simple, with their main elements easy to identify. With the distraction of colour gone, only shapes remain and it is these that will draw the eye into the photograph. However, black and white is not just the absence of colour. Contrast is important and it is vital to ensure that your monotone images have a variety of grey tones in order to maintain interest throughout the scene.
While there aren’t any hard and fast rules about what to shoot, I find that there are certain subjects that work well. One of these is the landscape that surrounds me, here in the west of Ireland. On those days, when the weather is inclement and many photographers have left their camera packed away, I will to be out and about, be it at the coast or strolling though fields overshadowed by the rugged Mayo mountains.
For me, black and white is all about capturing a sense of the dramatic, and especially dramatic skies. The skies along the west coast of Ireland are constantly changing, with wonderful cloud formations and rainstorms about to break. These add mood, and a really dynamic look and feel to images. Black and white landscape shots rely on strong composition, often with foreground interest. Without the distraction of colour, lines and shapes within the shot will be highlighted.
I use the light to ensure there are some bright focal points to draw in the eye. The sun shining on a dark, tarmac road after a rain shower will show as a white path winding its way thought the scene. Even in dull light, a well-chosen subject will offer a striking contradiction. See this image of the white sheep among an overcast and dark mountainside.
Black and white photography is challenging. Add in the changeable weather we get along the west coast and it is even more so, but ultimately it is also very rewarding. I find that even people who have no interest in photography are drawn to my black and white photographs.
It’s easy to switch on the black and white mode on your camera but in my opinion, there is more to it than that. To take a black and white photograph, you don’t need to change the way you use your camera. Instead, you need to change the way you see. Think about how you can use light, shadow and shape to capture the essence of what it is you are looking at.
Remember that black and white photography is about mood and soul.