Episode 123: The Beauty of Black & White Photography

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In this episode I talk about Black & White photography and why I love it especially for my street photography and environmental portraits.

I also talk about my love of Ansel Adams work in black & white landscapes.

I have had questions from students about the best way to do B&W photography. Is it better to do it in camera or using post processing software such as Photoshop, Lightroom or another similar program?

Different people will give different answers to this question, and there is no “right” answer to this question, but anytime you can do things in camera, it is considered the “ideal” way to do it. 

Your camera can make fantastic B&W images but there is a catch, you have to shoot in JPEG only, because if you shoot RAW, the images will appear B&W when viewing them in the camera but once downloaded to your computer they will revert back to full color because RAW format records ALL details and pixels. I’ve had students ask, “what if I don’t have or cannot afford editing software?” Well, first of all, if you are a photography student, you should have editing software as part of your degree program.

Shooting B&W in camera will give you beautiful B&W images but since you are shooting JPEG, ALL extra data for your image will be discarded and gone forever, you cannot get that back. I, and most professional photographers will tell you it’s best to ALWAYS shoot in RAW for the very best image quality and then convert them to B&W. This gives you the most creativity and best detail in your final image. By editing to B&W in say Lightroom, there are a couple ways you can do it. You can use the Black & White option under the development module, or I prefer to use the Saturation tool and de-saturate the colors from the image, then tweak the contrast to create a more dramatic effect.

Now one of the things I love about my Fujifilm GFX 50R is that Fuji cameras have “Film Simulations” built into their software and they include some black & white options that mimic their old 35mm film stock. There is even a rumor that they are announcing a new black & white simulation Jan 27th, 2021 and I am excited!

For your viewing pleasure I am including six of my black & white images. The first one is an environmental portrait of a man named Mike who owns a small diner in downtown Atlanta just down the street from the Centennial Towers where I used to work for PEER1. I decided to make the image in B&W as I felt the bright colors of the fountain sofa machine behind him was too distracting from the subject.

The second image I have is of a small abandoned business building I captured in Floyd County, GA for my project. I like this image in B&W because I love the contrast and how the trees in the background “pop”.

My third image is of a man in downtown Atlanta repainting a parking deck. The deck he was painting was the one at the Centennial Towers where I used to work. For street photography I have always preferred B&W as I feel it makes the images look better and more documentary style.

Fourth is another abandoned building from my new Forgotten Pieces of Pennsylvania project that I started over the holidays. This is the old Canton Steam Mills building in Canton, PA. I actually used one of the Fujifilm film simulations from my camera.

The fifth image is another building in Pennsylvania, on the outskirts of Athens, PA. This was a bar my aunt and uncle and I used to all go to when we were considerably younger. I love how the B&W make the clouds and sky stand out more.

The final image is one of a co-worker from my time at PEER1 in Atlanta. Scott Billups is a great guy and I really enjoyed working with him. I decided on B&W for this one as again I prefer B&W for both street photography and environmental portraits as the subject is paramount.

One of my favorite photographers since I was a young child was Ansel Adams. For many, when thinking about or viewing black and white nature photography, Ansel Adams immediately comes to mind. Beginning in the early 1920’s and spanning a career of the next 40+ years, Adams photographed many of the natural areas that millions of us enjoy each year and that the majority of us as landscape photographers deeply appreciate including the Sierra Nevada, the Desert Southwest and many of our National Parks.

In direct defiance of the Pictorialism movement of the mid-1920’s, Ansel began photographing landscapes in a realistic way, using small apertures for sharp focus and greater depth of field, heightened contrast and precise exposure. This type of photography had a direct influence on nature photography today. In 1941, the National Park service commissioned Adams to photograph the parks. Ansel was also a founding member of the Group F/64. Group f/64 or f.64 was a group founded by seven 20th-century San Francisco Bay Area photographers who shared a common photographic style characterized by sharply focused and carefully framed images seen through a particularly Western (U.S.) viewpoint. In part, they formed in opposition to the pictorialist photographic style that had dominated much of the early 20th century, but moreover, they wanted to promote a new modernist aesthetic that was based on precisely exposed images of natural forms and found objects. The members of Group F/64, like Ansel all preferred to shoot in black and white rather than color as they all felt it was more realistic and natural than color and they also created some of the most famous black and white landscapes in the world of photography.

There are also nice third party apps and plug-ins you can use and I personally use quite a few of them to get my images just the way I want them. The NIK Collection is one of my favorites and comes with a great B&W plug-in called Silver Efex Pro 2. This software has a nice set of “recipes” for making different types of B&W images with varying looks, from High Key to Low Key and heavy contrast just to name a few.

For any friends you have that are into photography and cannot afford Lightroom or Photoshop, there is a free, Open Source photo editor called GIMP, which is available for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X. http://www.gimp.org GIMP is nice as it has ALL of the capabilities of Photoshop with no cost.

Now that you have more information on how to make great B&W images, get out there and make some great ones!

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Also be sure to join the Liam Photography Podcast Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/liamphotographypodcast/ You can reach the show by call or text @ 470-294-8191 to leave a comment or request a topic or guest for the show. Additionally you can email the show @ liam@liamphotographypodcast.com and find the show notes at http://www.liamphotographypodcast.com.

You can find my work @ https://www.liamphotography.net on and follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @liamphotoatl. If you like abandoned buildings and history, you can find my projects @ http://www.forgottenpiecesofgeorgia.com and http://www.forgottenpiecesofpennsylvania.com.

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