Once you understand the role of tonality, light and shadow in a black-and-white photograph, the subject matter is really up to you. "For it is in the mind's eye that one creates a picture, and the sources of pictures therefore are as boundless as one's own creative imagination," said Ansel Adams, one of America's great black-and-white photographers. Still, there are some basic rules of composition that will help ensure you get the most out of your monochromatic snapshots.
All photography -- black-and-white or color -- can benefit from a few simple tips. First, remember the rule of thirds. Divide your frame into thirds and try to place the central focus of the photo at the intersection of two of the dividing lines instead of right in the middle. Also, look for interesting vantage points. Elements like roads, fences and trees help draw viewers into a picture and direct their eyes to the subject matter. Finally, take a lot of pictures to guarantee that you get the one you want. With digital cameras, making one picture costs the same as snapping 100.
There are also some tips more specific to black-and-white photography. When composing your frame, avoid large areas of black, as well as areas of white; viewers may perceive these as dead spaces that detract from the main subject matter. Black-and-white photography is most effective when interesting patterns and textures dominate the photo.
For more tips on photography, see the links below.
- Castleberry, Kim. "Pro Tips: Black and White." Digital Photo Magazine. June 30, 2008. (Dec. 1, 2010) http://www.dpmag.com/how-to/image-processing/pro-tips-black-and-white.html
- Hwang, Jackie. "Ansel Adams: A Life's Work." Museum of Photographic Arts Exhibition Resource. 2009. (Dec. 1, 2010) http://www.mopa.org/education/files/Curricula%202009/Ansel%20Adams/Ansel%20Adams%20Curriculum.pdf
- Olsenius, Richard. "National Geographic Photography Field Guide: Digital Black and White." Washington: National Geographic, 2005.
- Perello, Ibarionex, R. "Seeing in Black and White." Digital Photo Magazine. Jan. 30, 2007. (Dec. 1, 2010) http://www.dpmag.com/how-to/shooting/seeing-in-black-a-white.html
- Sawalich, William. "Get Great Black and White Shots Every Time." Digital Photo Magazine. Dec. 8, 2008. (Dec. 1, 2010) http://www.dpmag.com/how-to/tip-of-the-week/get-great-black-a-white-shots-every-time-12-8-08.html
- Sheppard, Rob. "Secrets of Black and White." Digital Photo Magazine. Dec. 15, 2009. (Dec. 1, 2010) http://www.dpmag.com/how-to/shooting/secrets-of-black-and-white.html
- Tal, Guy. "How To: Shooting in Earth Tones." Popular Photography Magazine. March 30, 2009. (Dec. 1, 2010)
- Willis, Dave. "Classic Black and White." Digital Photo Magazine. March 27, 2009. (Dec. 1, 2010) http://www.dpmag.com/how-to/image-processing/classic-black-a-white.html
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