At the weekend, a good friend of mine tagged me in the ‘7 day Black and White Photo Challenge’ and I have to admit, I’ve been dreading anyone tagging me! Which made me stop and think. I’m a photographer; I LOVE taking photos and people often stop and tell me that they love the images that I take. So why had I been so keen to avoid ‘The Black and White Challenge’?
After a bit of musing, I realised that it wasn’t just the fact that I tend to be the last to jump on a social media ‘bandwagon’, or that I would forget to post an image every day for a week. It was more than that; it was about Black and White photography itself.
I thought I’d write a post with a few tips and thoughts about the power of Black and White photography and how it should be used. I’m also going to show how I work through the challenge and how I use a free smartphone app to convert my colour images into Black and White.
The ‘art’ of Black and White Photography
“My personal style of photography is very bright and vibrant. I like to shoot images that jump off the screen. I chase down skies that are bold and beautiful, and landscapes that are vibrant and punchy. When I edit my photos, I tweak things as far as I can go so that scenes become almost ‘hyperreal.”
But that’s not to say that I don’t like Black and White photography, instead, I see it as a particular art form. I’m of a generation of photographers who learned their craft with a film camera. I spent hours developing my own film, printing images by hand in the school darkroom. Back then you had to choose between colour or Black and White film which would have 24 or 36 exposures. You could also choose the ISO (speed) of your film which would affect the level of grain in your image. So if you wanted to be creative and shoot some atmospheric, grainy black and white images, you would choose an ISO 1600 film.
On top of that, you could choose filters that you could put onto your camera lens to enhance certain tones in the image – a red filter would deliver a different ‘Black and White’ to a yellow filter. It seems funny looking back at all of the decisions that had to be made before you even took a shot. On top of that, you couldn’t even see what you’d taken until you had the film developed days or weeks later! As a photographer, this would condition you to ‘think in Black and White’ because you could only shoot with these settings for the whole of the film, not just for the images that you had in mind. You couldn’t be flippant about which images were colour and which were Black and White – you had to plan before taking the shot.
This all seems a little crazy in a digital photographic world, when you can flip between settings easily. These days you have to shoot in colour and then convert into Black and White. The old photography masters would shudder at the thought!
When is Black and White better than Colour?
For my Maidenhead photos, I’ve always preferred to shoot in colour. But there are a few types of image that I reserve for Black and White, usually when I want to convey a bit more emotion or really draw attention to something. I worked as a portrait photographer for many years, and Black and White was always fabulous for images that were ‘all about the eyes.’ Even now I still find that I do this when I’m editing images of my family or portrait sessions for clients. Children live in such a bright, vibrant and busy world, often full of clashing colours.
“I find that converting an image into Black and White helps calm the moment, strip away the distractions and allow the viewer to focus on the eyes and the expression.”
Sometimes images can look good in colour and black & white: there isnt always a right and wrong:
The Black and White Facebook Challenge
The current photo challenge doing the rounds on Facebook prompts us to take 7 Black and White photos – without using images of people, or pets, without explanation. Challenges on Facebook are often linked to an organisation or charity (remember the ice bucket challenge?), but this one doesn’t seem to be linked to anything. If you are worried about internet security and joining in with things on Facebook then you’ll be pleased to know that this looks pretty safe to join in with. Unlike the ‘quizzes’ that you see in your feed (‘Which breakfast cereal are you?!’), you don’t have to give away any personal information to another company and you don’t need to give any extra access to your personal details and preferences. You might just want to check that your profile is set to ‘private’ if you don’t want the whole world seeing your photos.
Accepting the Challenge
As I usually reserve Black and White photos for images of people, this becomes quite a personal challenge! Aside from liking colour images, I’m also a strong advocate of using a caption with my photos. They help people understand a bit more about what they are looking at and what you would like them to see.
“In every sense, this challenge puts me out of my comfort zone. But that’s the great thing about photography: sometimes a challenge can help you review the way you usually do things, with surprising results.
I’ve decided to choose 7 of my Maidenhead images at random. I’m going to convert them to Black and White. I’m choosing them at random as I’m trying not to overthink which images I think will work better in Black and White instead of in colour. As most people will be doing this challenge on their phone, instead of using fancy software on my computer, I’m going to use a free app to convert my images to Black and White. Seeing as it’s a learning curve for me, I decided I would share what I’ve learned here on the blog, too.
Converting photos to black and white on your smartphone
The first thing you need to realise is that Black and White isn’t just about two colours. I believe that a great Black and White image has a range of all of the tones from bright white to mid-grey to jet black. It’s not just a case of taking away the colour or ‘desaturating’ the image. It should have a range of tones, contrast, and texture.
Thankfully you don’t have to spend hours in the darkroom or at your computer to do this: I was pleased to see that Snapseed has some pretty nifty effects at the swipe of a finger and is available on iOS and Android.
Here are some screenshots to guide you through using Snapseed to make your Black and White images really ‘pop’. I’ve added captions underneath the images to explain what to tap on screen:
In case you were wondering, here’s the colour version of that image. Using the coloured filters in Snapseed really helped me find a version that I liked. The yellow one helped the colours in the sky really stand out.
My Black and White Facebook Challenge: Maidenhead
Here are my 7 Black and White images I converted on my phone. As per the Facebook Black and White photo challenge, there are no people, places, or explanations:
What did I learn?
I was really impressed with using Snapseed, especially using the different coloured filter options. This helped me get a lot of control over the images and ensure that I still had contrast in the image, even when strong colours were there originally. At the beginning of the challenge I didn’t think I would like any of my Black and White Maidenhead images but I actually think some of them are quite striking. It also made me discover a whole new part of Snapseed, an app that I use all of the time, but never in this way! I loved playing around with the different coloured circles in the black and white menu to see how they affected my images. These behave in a similar way to the filters I would have put onto my film camera all those years ago.
A word of warning though. The app can only go so far. If you look at the sky in some of the images you can see that its has started to pixelate. I would have liked a way to scale back the colour filters a little, but it was ‘all or nothing’. Make sure that you have a look at your image before you save it and publish it.
Perhaps I am guilty of not entering into the spirit of the challenge as I haven’t taken a different photo each day. I’ve actully been stuck inside for the last few days as I’ve not been well, although perhaps an ‘inside only’ challenge could be good to get me being creative! I’m pleased that it taught me a new skill, and made me look at things a little differently. Two things that we can all benefit from. So if a friend tags you in the challenge on Facebook, I hope you’ll now be fully prepared to give it a go!
If you’ve found this post useful you might like to pin it to one of your Pinterest boards:
About this post
I write this ‘Maidenhead Mum’ blog to share my experiences of life here in Berkshire and beyond. I fit blogging into my ‘spare time’ around my day job and family life, but I love to share the beautiful things that I find to see and do. For more posts like this, you might like to follow my Maidenhead Mum page on Facebook or on Instagram as they are the most frequently updated. If you subscribe using the box below you’ll get my blog posts delivered straight to your inbox along with some behind the scenes photography tips on each email.