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Photography Question 
Brandi S. Jackson

How to Take Good B&W Pictures

I just started wanting to mess with the B/W aspect. I am not sure about how to tell if it is too dark when the hues are just a little off. How do you know?

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4/10/2007 12:06:24 PM

Alan N. Marcus   Hi Brandi,
If you were to ask "What constitutes a prize wining black-and-white picture?" a thousand times, you would receive a thousand answers. Thatís because photography is both an art and a science. You might get satisfactory answers regarding the science but the artistic ingredient is another matter.
That being said, judges will look hard at tonal range. A "suitable" black & white image usually has strong tonal contrast with an abundance of middle tones. Most prize winners fill this bill, plus they contain regions of pure white and pure black. Skin tones should appear natural, which means they hover around middle gray. Lighter complexions rendered lighter than middle gray, darker skin texture rendered darker than middle gray. Skin just like all other objects will fail to show texture when reproduced too dark. The proper reproduction of objects, so they show texture, is much sought after.
It has always been my belief that black & white photography is far more difficult than color photography. I hold this belief regardless of media - be it conventional film or digital. In color photography, the colors themselves influence a feeling of object separation, whereas in black & white we must convey this awareness by lighting and exposure. This can be quite difficult because many objects appear quite different (color contrast) due to their hue but in black & white they reproduce about the same shade of gray thereby object separation is deficient.
Now, if you want to do your thing in black & white, try a museum and view prints made by the great artists. You must look at an original print. No book or magazine can hold a candle to a real print viewed in good light.
Alan Marcus

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4/10/2007 2:29:17 PM

Michael A. Bielat
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/23/2007
  Also study the zone system... Check out in Photoshop (if shooting in digital) the channels tab on your layers palette (there is an RGB color layer). By unchecking them, you can get you a vast array of looks. It's much more accurate than just going in and converting to grayscale in PS.

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4/10/2007 9:00:42 PM

Garth Wunsch
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/11/2006
  When Michael refers to "the Zone System" he is referring to the methodology started by Minor White and then improved upon by Ansel Adams and Fred Picker (all three are now deceased). This is a technical approach that was used for manipulating the negative densities, first in the camera and then in the darkroom. To those of us who learned it in "the good old days" (read pre-digital) it has paid huge dividends in understanding many digital dark holes. It is worth the effort.

For the digital end, I have found Scott Kelby's book "The Photoshop CS2 Book for Digital Photographers" to be very helpful. He outlines four or five of the more common ways to convert to B&W. The other EXTREMELY useful resource I have is Clayton Jones website, particularly his paper #9...

This page will lead you to more free information than you can absorb in a year. Clayton is true gentleman of the web community and digital photographers everywhere because he has so freely shared what he has paid a great price to learn.

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4/17/2007 5:18:18 AM

Alan N. Marcus   Hi Garth,

In 1941, Ansel Adams and Fred Archer jointly published the Zone System which provides photographers a way to precisely adjust exposure. The zone system revolves around the use of an 18% placard.

Minor White embraced the system. On numerous occurrences he was a guest lecturer in my classroom.

The 18% gray tone, universally used to calibrate photographic instruments has a long and unparalleled history. It stems from the works of Hurter and Driffild who in the 1880ís pioneered the science we now utilize to measure how photographic film (now chips) respond to exposure. By the late 1930ís photoelectric light meters were in use. At the Kodak Research Laboratories, Messrs. Jones and Condit measured scene brightness vs. exposure and proved the typical sunlit vista averaged between 18-20% reflectance. In 1940 Kodak published instructions using a refection light meter reading from a Kodak yellow photo paper package. The yellow paper box/envelope placed in the scene, and lit in the same way as the subject. When used as a reference, the image of trademark yellow package yielded a mid-gray density on the black & white film. This was the forerunner of the 18% placard.

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4/17/2007 6:43:44 AM

Simon  A. Stone   here is a good rule of thumb that I was taught when I first started using a darkroom. a picture is well-exposed when you still have detail in the highest highlights. iknow it doesn't cover all the bases, but it helped me alot.

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4/19/2007 6:54:53 AM

Garth Wunsch
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/11/2006
  Alan... thanks for correcting my history... and I didn't know about the yellow being 18% equivalent.

I responded because I thought Brandi deserved a bit more depth or direction for the Zone System topic. that being said, for the uninitiated in digital B&W ...ME... the resources I mention have been VERY helpful. But I am still having a real brain cramp trying to understand all the technical jargon to get to a good print with my shiny new Epson 3800... the darkroom seemed so much easier... even if it was messier.

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4/20/2007 6:57:50 PM

Brandi S. Jackson   Thank you so much for the history and advice. I have been studying and have allot more to do. I have learned about the camera I am using and Have found all of the advice to be Spot-on. I will keep working on B/W. Michael,Alan,Simon and Garth, you have been a world of inspiration. I hope you find the time to have a look at my Gallery and see what you think. Thank you all for your time and Honesty.

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4/21/2007 4:40:17 AM

Christopher A. Walrath
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/25/2006
  A good source for info on the Zone System and IMHO the best available, is in Ansel Adams' book 'The Negative' which is part of his three book Basic Photography Series. He goes into vast detail in chapter 4 and since he helped directly to develop the system, he offers to date the best opinions and information on the subject that I have seen to date.

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4/21/2007 9:43:12 AM

dennis w. mcclain   one other thing you should think of if doing prints. what is the range the printer, and or print company capable of. this is something I read recently. printed black isnt 0, and white isnt 255. so its best to set those points were they should be for print at the get go. that said play with levels, contrast and color chanels in ps. pick what you like best. thats what I do. heppy shooting denny

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5/6/2007 2:14:21 PM

Christopher A. Walrath
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/25/2006
  One more note. FILTERS, FILTERS, FILTERS. Whether glass or some such that are attached or silicone that is later applied as in PS, learn the effects of color controlling filters being used in which lighting situations. Mastery of light will make your images POP!

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5/8/2007 2:19:29 PM

dennis w. mcclain   speaking of filters.
they have kodak wratten filter actions for pse5.0. i've been playing around with them. they are deffinantly worth a look.

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5/8/2007 3:27:30 PM

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