alan little’s weblog

seeing in black & white

4th March 2004 permanent link

There’s a discussion at the moment on Luminous Landscape about black and white photography, and whether having a “preview in black & white” function on digital camera screens would help. Luddite that I am, my first contribution was to point out that film cameras don’t have black & white preview, despite which people have been managing to take black & white photographs quite successfully for over 150 years. Others pointed out that digital camera LCDs are so small and inaccurate that they really wouldn’t be much help. So then somebody asked “So, how would you teach someone to 'see' in B&W?”. Here are my ideas on the matter. I would do well to apply some of these to myself.

  1. Take lots and lots of black and white photos.
  2. Look at them. Work out what you like about the ones you like, what you don't like about the ones you don't like.
  3. Ask yourself how your pictures are different from how you wanted them to look. (Do you *know* how you wanted them to look?)

We've already covered the important bits. You could stop here.

  1. Look at lots of other people’s black and white photos too until you find some you really like.
  2. Find out who took those. Get hold of their books, look at lots more of their pictures.
  3. Compare your new heroes’ pictures to your own and work out what's different/better about their pictures *that matters to you*.
  4. Finally, *if* you really think you already have the compositional eye of a Cartier-Bresson and the main problems with your pictures are technical (unlikely though this may be) then you might need to look at buying  a view camera or a Leica and a big pile of Plus-X, studying books on sensitometry and the Zone System, getting a better version of Photoshop, or whatever. (Hint: it is highly unlikely that this step will help)

related entries: Photography

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