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In this Foundations of Photography, Ben Long shows photographers how to develop a black and white vocabulary and explains the considerations to take into account when shooting for this medium. The course follows Ben as he goes on location and explains what makes good black and white subject matter and how to visualize the scene in terms of tonal values and contrast rather than color. Along the way, he demonstrates some exposure strategies for getting the best images. Back at the computer, Ben demonstrates techniques for converting the resulting photos into black and white using Photoshop and other imaging tools, and offers tips on printing and output.
One of the things about black and white that can intimidate beginning photographers is that they think they have to be able to see the world in black and white. I guarantee you, when I'm shooting, I do not have a black-and-white image in my mind. I cannot perfectly imagine the color world around me in black and white, but that doesn't mean that I don't look at the world in a different way when I'm shooting in black and white. Now very often, you'll simply do what you always do: you'll walk around, you'll look for interesting subject matter, and then you'll compose and shoot. In a rapidly changing situation, you may not think at all about how light or dark you want particular tones to be in your final image.
You'll figure all that out later when you convert your image to grayscale. You may want to think some about exposure, and we'll talk about that later. But as we've already discussed, a black-and-white photograph is a record only of luminance, or brightness. So if you move through the world paying extra attention to changes in brightness or curious plays of brightness or darkness then your eyes will be open to potential black-and-white images. You don't have to be able to see in your mind's eye what the finished image might look like. You can figure that out in post. All you have to do is be able to recognize that a scene might make a good black-and-white image.
You then capture that and figure out later if it works. Now, if you are just starting out, make it easy on yourself and do your practice and what you know will be good light. Head out in the late afternoon when the shadows are long and the light is contrasty and start practicing. Trying to find good subject matter in dull midday light is just going to be a discouraging exercise in frustration. So tilt things in your favor and be certain that you're working in good light. Later you can practice with less ideal lighting. Remember, too, to always keep your eyes open for any interesting relationships of tone, regardless of what the light is like, like we saw earlier with the lamp example.
As digital photographers, we are not of course committed to choosing to shoot in either color or black and white; in fact, we're always shooting in color. When you get adept at shooting in black and white you'll be able to move through the world doing your normal color shooting, but also have your eyes open to potential black-and-white images, and there will be times when something that you thought was going to be a good color image will work better in black and white and vice versa. For now though, while you're learning about black and white, it's best to go out in the world with the idea that you're only looking for good black-and-white images.
For a while you need to just wallow in black and white, and shoot only that.
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