I read a quote last week that really got my mind going about black and white photography, and what it means for those who shoot in monochromatic colors.
When I shoot for clients, I always include two sets: one in color, one in black and white. But I’d never given really much thought into what message the black and white set gave in contrast with the color set.
“When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in Black and white, you photograph their souls!” ― Ted Grant
This thought struck me—to photography someone’s soul sounded almost mystifying. How could this be possible? How could I see more deeply when I’m normally so taken a back by bright green eyes, or the red belly of a Robin?
Normally I rely on color blocking, or pops of vivid hues to really elevate the richness of the rainbows within people, animals, trees, and just about everything the eye can see. Color is a huge part of why I perform photography: I see in color, I love color, and I want to share color with others in a way that tantalizes them.
Color is my comfort zone. So for one week, I stepped outside of that zone and set my camera to black and white, and started shooting.
I read up on the practice, surveyed the web for photography on the subject, and even discovered a few black and white photographer on twitter to follow. I gave myself seven whole days to really dig my toes into the proverbial monochromatic sand, and this is what I learned:
Black and white photography is all about how light and dark play with each other. It’s how shade and sun converge to create deep blacks, and true whites. It’s about seeing something, and then really seeing something. But what does that mean, exactly?
It’s difficult to describe, but after only a week I’ve developed and innate sense of how something will look in black and white. It’s much like geometry: looking for shapes and guiding lines, values and dimensions. My eye became trained to the shapes of nature, and how they would translate into my photography. I learned to embrace darkness, and at the same time embrace light.
While editing my photos, I found myself transfixed in the deep moods that were drawn from my subject. There was a sense of history, of poignancy, of richness in quality that, frankly, I’d had a hard time finding in color before.
Ted Grant may have really been on to something when he so frankly described what it is to photograph with a lack of color. I fully agree that the essence of the photo is somehow changed, your mind is left to wander within the various shades of grey—filling in what is lacking with our own imagination.
I will be spending a lot more time in black and white from here on out–it’s given me a new tool in the way that I survey my photographs, and taught me that color is not always what makes a photograph special.