Digital Black And White Photography

Forget Colour, try Digital Black And White Photography!

Digital black and white photography can be incredibly creative, but it takes a different way of thinking. This is because what looks good in colour doesn't always look good in monochrome, which is what digital black and white photography is all about. Almost all digital cameras have at least one or two monochrome settings in the menu that will get you started with digital black and white photography.

So what exactly is monochrome? Funnily enough for something to be monochromatic, it doesn't necessarily need to be black and white. Monochrome means that the camera uses only one range of tones to create an image. So everything in the picture will be shown as shades of just one colour.

The two most popular monochromatic modes that we use are straight forward black and white, and sepia tone. Sepia is a reddish-brown pigment, and sepia tone pictures look wonderfully faded and old. The camera uses typical brown tones to create pictures that have this lovely antiquey feel to them. They should look almost as if they've been soaked in tea.

Some cameras also have a monochromatic document mode, which we can use when we want to shoot documents with writing. This mode ensures that the letters are crisp and clear and there is lots of contrast between the background and the writing.

The best subject matter for monochromatic pictures is that which looks graphic or has great texture, obvious form and interesting shapes. Try looking at leafless trees in winter, stark rocky mountains, round river stones, shapes etched into sand, or the outlines of several buildings or even the elements within a building (windows or a chimney for example). The possibilities are endless. But look for interesting angles and play with shapes that you can shoot close-up. One technique that works particularly well is to exaggerate lines and shapes.

You can also shoot people in black and white, especially if you find characterful people with craggy faces, or you can create a silhouette effect using the whole body. Play with shadows and aim for a dramatic effect.

If you aren't sure whether your photograph will look better in colour or as a monochrome, then you have another option. That is to shoot in colour and then convert it to a monochrome on your computer screen. You could also check the different effects on your camera screen, switching between the different modes to see which works best. If you are photographing buildings or landscapes this is a serious option, but unfortunately if you are photographing people it doesn't always work, because unless you are working with a model, you can easily miss that one really good shot.

Remember that whenever you try something new, it pays to experiment. The wonderful thing about digital cameras is that you don't waste film experimenting. So get out there and see what you can achieve with digital black and white photography.

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