JAMES NADER – TIPS FOR GREAT BLACK AND WHITE IMAGES – MONOCHROME PORTRAIT TECHNIQUES
Black and white photography and beginning to shoot in black and white takes me back to where it all began. For me, this is where I started in photography. I was a student shooting monochrome films, processing and printing all of my own work and so I have grown up with the shill to produce compelling stories in black and white photography.
I learned over the years of shooting and processing not just how to process analog films and prints, but also processing all of my own black and white photography in the digital darkroom utilising Photoshop black and white and Lightroom techniques which closely resemble the original processes. Although in this post I won’t be going in deep about my exact processing of images, I will tell you how to think in black and white photography and give you 11 tips on how to shoot black and white photography and images.
I would say whilst it is important to understand the process, people do get a little bogged down in the metrics of the processing and how to shoot it. I am a practical photographer and really don’t pay too much attention to how it all works out in advance but really just getting on with it counts the most! Online I see so many photographers producing so many blogs and videos about the top tips and to be honest photography is not always about how it’s done it’s about just doing it and finding out for yourself. You have to make mistakes to learn the correct process which suits you and your own style of workflow and production. Get stuck in is the mantra.
Black and white photography for me is a joy and I will be doing more and setting up film shoots and sharing my processing styles boh in darkroom scenarios and in Photoshop rendering of black and white. With that in mind please find below my thoughts on top tips for black and white photography for photography and for fashion photographers.
WATCH BLACK AND WHITE MOVIES – FILM
The early black and white movies were filmed in monochrome. No luxury of using color films or technicolor to capture the viewer’s attention. Instead, they relied on their understanding of light and shade and of course composition on varying lighting and shades to get their message across. A great way of understanding how black and white can be used to create drama and stories. Look at black and white photographers such as Vincent Peters who has super black and white images or to follow the film world and their classic black and white photography my go-to book from my study days until now and a super reference better than most is this Masters of Starlight
Reference as many black and white professionals as you can to really see how they work, Ansel Adams in landscapes was the true master and used something called the Zone System ( I will discuss another in another post ) Fashion photographers, directors, fine art prints will all give you an idea of capturing but reference is key to get your eye in for black and white photography.
TRY EXPERIMENTING WITH FLAT LIGHT FIRST
When setting up shots in studio or location with flat light this would be the best way to understand the tones that you can see. It can be quite a good technique to shoot raw but view your images by setting your in-camera settings to monochrome to help your eyes adjust. Once you have a basic understanding of how to see in black and white then you can scale up your lighting to more contrasty black and white lighting. For me single light and reflection is good but also the traditional 3 points set up as many films use even to this day.
Flat light doesn’t have a large range of exposure so you are forced to examine the elements of the scene and focus on one or more deep tones that will grab viewers’ attention. Low contrast lighting helps mask detail and skin imperfections which is a great help for your editing. Mostly its how you want to see the end result as to how you will set your lights. My James Nader fashion photography technique is sometimes flat light to realise a perfect image adding in the contrasts contrast at the post-processing stage where I can get more control over the final look of the image.
SETTING THE RIGHT LIGHT IN YOUR SHOT FOR BLACK AND WHITE SHOOTING
Lighting for me and my style of photography is key to a successful shot. Understanding ow the light is falling already for example on location inside a house or outside will help you decide what light to set to complement the overall mood and story if the shot. This is even more complicated if you are shooting your images for a final monochrome look. The final intended look and feel guided by your story will help you make the decision.
High contrast fashion looks created with single light are super stoppers. They get attention and already feel more like fine art images, however, if it is for an editorial feature a strong single light could be too much for the story and even in black and white needs a little less and softer light resulting in a softer more dynamic range obvious flatter print
Dramatic black and white images often have very punchy whites and strong jet blacks. This style or look benefits most landscapes but can sometimes be too overpowering. Only you will know this from your editing in post-production. It’s about creating the black and white which suits the scene and then playing around with the tones. I think for fashion work that keeping some mid-tones dynamic range is essential. Even then though you may increase your contrasts to up the drama.
Tonal contrast is the difference in brightness between the different areas of the photo. Low lights, mid-tones, high contrasts. Ignore colors and see the scene in terms of highlights and shadows and mid-tones. Working in tonal ranges you need to think about the following
BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOGRAPHY – SHOOT IN RAW
If you shoot RAW but have your camera settings set to monochrome in the camera menu, this will help you visualise, however always make sure you shoot raw which will retain your full dynamic range and information. If not when processing and converting you will find that your high and low lights will be gone and not recoverable.
UNDER EXPOSE OR OVER EXPOSE?
A correctly exposed image is always preferred but it’s important to know that you may have to compensate or make your own adjustments to the way the camera captures the scene.
When I shoot on location outside in good weather or bad weather with added lighting than for me I always try to under-expose the shot but up to 1 stop! This is just my own technique from film shooting days. If you missed the mark with film there was no dynamic range to pull back and only a limited pull process may f helped, however pulling the exposure helps saturate the dynamic range with more information and tones. When the processing happens you have the dynamic range to play around with and create a more mono-saturated image.
Going over the top is too much od a problem so be careful and experiment. You have the luxury these days to ply around and delete any bad work. In film days you had to get it right on the spot. Enjoy this luxury!!
CONTRASTS BETWEEN TONES IN YOUR BLACK AND WHITE IMAGE
Using Photoshop does allow for creating a standout image especially utilising sharpening, high-pass or HDR filters to add contrast between your tones for added drama. These are greater for Landscapes and not always good for portraits or fashion work
You can use sharpening, high-pass or HDR filters to add contrast between your tones for added drama. These kinds of digital filters make the areas where light and dark tones meet even more contrasty — but without adjusting the contrast of the entire image. This kind of contrast can make your images pop without losing the detail in your mid-tones.
BLACK AND WHITE PLUGIN – STAND ALONE SILVER EFEX PRO
All of my images are edited and graded in Lightroom and then processed on an individual basis never batch processed in Photoshop and yes this can be daunting but you have full control over your own workflow and style.
If you are not great at the post-production or the digital darkroom then you can use various Monochrome plugins for photoshop or standalone software and my favourite is Silver Efex Pro
Silver Efex Pro is a free plug-in available from the Google Nik Collection. This easy-to-use program offers photographers the opportunity to mimic dark room treatments digitally. It’s another great plug-in you can use with Corel PaintShop Pro.
Silver Efex Pro allows the user to make adjustments to a wide variety of factors. The control panels are arranged similarly to Colour Efex Pro but with some slight differences. Silver Efex focuses solely on creating monochromatic and black and white images. On the left-hand side, users will find a variety of presets that include pinhole camera effects and simple modern black and white treatments.
CHOOSING A SUITABLE SUBJECT
Black and white images more than likely suit most subjects but its always better to think if the shoot you are planning really is all black and white or if you can select one or two images to convert to black and white. If you specialise in black and white then this will not be a problem, however, if you don’t then be selective as too much of one thing can be monotonous and use the sprinkle to enhance your book. Fashion Photography is a great user of monochrome images and the better the styling the stronger the look. Great portraits are often used in black and white and many great portrait photographers use monochrome to separate their subjects from background and stip away the interference of color. This
MONOCHROME – SHAPE & FORM
When you get rid of color from an image, you can no longer use it to provide emphasis or make a certain scene the center of attention. Removing color eliminates one of the more distracting aspects of a photograph. When looking for a great black and white shot, ignore the colors and set your sights on the shapes.
Where appropriate, arrange the objects in a way that brings out the most outstanding attribute of the different subjects. Patterns are particularly interesting because of their orderly repetition. You can see patterns in a wide range of everyday scenes including parking lots and rows of bushes.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE AND THEN PRACTICE
As a black and white photographer in fashion and portraiture, It’s always good to have your own style of photography and how you represent and present this to everyone. Learn to think in monochrome and although this sounds difficult it really isn’t. I will be talking and showing in online videos the full process of how to do this so pop over to YOUTUBE to keep updated by subscribing to my channel or register on this blog with your email and we will keep you posted.