Black and white

Black and white Urebx photography – the timeless art form that says, ‘I’m too hipster for color.’

B&W is the perfect way to show off my superiot ‘aesthetic’ and prove to everyone that I AM a real artist. Errr. No. That sounds fuckin’ horrid. Let me start over.

Black and white photography (grayscale) challenges Urbexers to consider tonal values, contrast, and texture to create compelling images. Understanding how different colors translate into shades of gray, can help develop a keen eye for lighting and exposure, which in turn enhances the ability to capture well-exposed color photos.

However, trust me when I say this: the link between color and B&W photos goes wayyyyyy beyond the absence of color.

The conversion from color to grayscale will impact the visual aesthetics, mood, and storytelling of a picture.A classic and timeless look, evoking specific emotions or moods, highlighting textures, shapes, and patterns.

Anyone thought cameras just magically captured a bunch of colors that represent different wavelengths of light? Like a rainbow party inside your DSLR? Sure, then the camera sensor works its mystical powers to process these colors and voila! We get a stunning color image with all those fancy hues, saturations, and tones. It’s practically like a wizard casting spells to create a masterpiece! Pure magic, right? Not like it’s just basic science or anything. More seriously however…

As you know, light enters the camera through the lens and passes through an aperture, which controls the amount of light reaching the sensor. The light then falls on the sensor’s pixels. Each pixel (photosensitive material) converts light into an electrical signal. In the case of black and white photography, the sensor does not have color filter arrays (such as the Bayer filter). When light strikes a pixel, the photosensitive material generates an electrical charge proportional to the intensity of light. The charge accumulates within the pixel, representing brightness. The accumulated charge in each pixel is converted into a digital value through an analog-to-digital converter (ADC). This process assigns numerical values to represent the varying intensity levels of light, ranging from pure black to pure white. After the analog-to-digital conversion, the resulting digital values form a grayscale image, where each pixel represents a specific brightness level.

Mastery of certain elements in black and white photography can significantly impact an Urbexer’s ability to create balanced and visually appealing compositions in color photography as well. Technically understanding black and white photography then, serves as a foundation for developing an artistic vision and understanding the interplay between light, exposure, and composition. This ultimately leads to taking well-exposed color photos. Unless, of course, you wish to embrace blown-out highlights and darkened shadowy mysteries.

So, stripping away the distraction of color, monochrome photos draws attention to the composition, textures, shapes, and patterns, allowing for a deeper exploration of tonal values and contrast.

B&W also has unique applications in various fields, such as scientific photography, where it provides a simplified and focused representation of the subject. In technical fields such as medical imaging, astronomy, and engineering, grayscale images are used to better represent different shades of brightness and contrast.

The link between color and B&W photography thus extends beyond the absence of color; it encompasses interplay between tonal values, composition, storytelling, and desired visual impact.

Strangely enough, the debate between capturing black and white photography in-camera versus converting color images to grayscale in post-processing has long been a topic of friction.

Both approaches have their merits, but I found that capturing black and white photography in-camera is a preferable choice.

Capturing black and white in-camera provides a more authentic and intentional experience. By setting the camera to shoot in black and white mode, I am able to visualize the scene and compose the image with a monochromatic perspective from the outset. It encourages Urbexers to think in terms of shapes, textures, and tonal contrast, leading to a more thoughtful and deliberate approach.

Additionally, shooting in black and white mode allows us to see the final result in real-time through the camera’s electronic viewfinder or LCD screen. This instant feedback enables adjustments to exposure, composition, and lighting on the spot, ensuring the desired tonal range and contrast. It also helps develop a better understanding of how different colors translate into shades of gray, enhancing ability to pre-visualize scenes and make better creative choices.

Furthermore, capturing black and white images in-camera preserves the full dynamic range of the sensor for monochrome interpretation. When shooting in color and converting to grayscale in post-processing, there is a risk of losing tonal details and introducing artifacts due to the interpolation process.

Lastly, choosing to capture black and white photography in-camera encourages us to embrace minimalism. By eliminating the distraction of colors, we focus on capturing the essence of the subject, emphasizing shapes, textures, and contrast. I believe this approach fosters a more direct and powerful visual communication.

While converting color images to grayscale in post-processing can offer flexibility and control, capturing black and white photography in-camera provides a more immersive and intentional creative process.

If you think I am exagerating it all, I invite you to conduct the following experience; the next time you’re out and about with a camera, do this:

Start by taking color photos, focusing on vivid hues. Bright reds, gleaming glass windows or vibrant street art…whatever colors reach your attention. Create a few dynamic photos.

Then, switch your camera to black and white mode, and… voila, everything changes.

Suddenly, you’ll see the same place in a whole new light. You’ll start to notice the textures, shapes, and patterns. You will automatically become more focused on composition, contrast, and the play of light and shadows, no effort needed. As you strive to capture scenes in black and white, your compisition will automatically change. It’s magic !!

Shot in B&W. No post treatment.

It’ll dawn on you like a ton a brick that shooting in black and white requires a different mindset and your brain will automatically adjust.

You’ll quickly play with different exposure settings to create varying levels of brightness, darkness, and contrast in your black and white images. Things we rarely do when we shoot in color where we play with color balance, saturation, and hue to create images that are more visually striking, bold or dynamic.

If you’re in dire need of inspiration, open another page on your favorite browser and check out those cats:

  • Ansel Adams
  • Dorothea Lange
  • Henri Cartier-Bresson
  • Gordon Parks
  • Robert Capa
  • Alfred Stieglitz
  • Walker Evans
  • Edward Weston
  • Irving Penn
  • Diane Arbus

I am NOT telling you to forget about colorful sunsets or vibrant portraits, and embrace the “monochrome life” to truly understand the elusive art of exposure…but think (and shoot) in B&W once in a while. You wont regret it. I believe that creating impactful black and white photographs requires a heightened sense of composition, tonal range, and mastery of light.

The absence of color places a greater emphasis on the technical and artistic skill of the Urbexer, demanding an acute understanding of visual elements and ability to capture the essence of a moment.

So get ready to don your beret, put on your hippster shoes and dive into the world of black and white photography. Don’t forget to put on your bicycle mustache and skinny jeans while you’re at it

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