Easy-to-follow video tutorials help you learn software, creative, and business skills.Become a member

The medium of black and white

From: Foundations of Photography: Black and White

Video: The medium of black and white

Before we go on, there is something you need to think about. Black and white is not color photography without the color. Black and white is a medium all to itself. Painting and drawing are both processes of rendering an image by hand onto a piece of paper, but you would never say they were the same medium because they produce very different results, and they can be used to very different effect. It's the same way with black and white and color photography. I'm not just arguing semantics here. If you start thinking about black and white as a different medium then it will be easier for you to shed some habits, not permanently, but there are some ways of looking at the world when you're shooting color that just don't serve you very well when you're shooting black and white.

The medium of black and white

Before we go on, there is something you need to think about. Black and white is not color photography without the color. Black and white is a medium all to itself. Painting and drawing are both processes of rendering an image by hand onto a piece of paper, but you would never say they were the same medium because they produce very different results, and they can be used to very different effect. It's the same way with black and white and color photography. I'm not just arguing semantics here. If you start thinking about black and white as a different medium then it will be easier for you to shed some habits, not permanently, but there are some ways of looking at the world when you're shooting color that just don't serve you very well when you're shooting black and white.

At the simplest level, your goal as a photographer is to create an image with a clearly defined subject and background, and so you frame in a particular way, you expose in a particular way, perhaps to brighten a specific area or to darken another. You choose a specific focal length and camera position. Typically, you use all of these parameters in concert to try to separate your subject from the background so that it's clearly identifiable as the center of interest.

If you're shooting color, separating the subject from the background might be easier because the subject and background might be different colors. At other times, a particular scene might be harder because the subject and background are the same color, or because the background is distracting. In black and white, everything in your image is a shade of gray, and you get to choose the shade of gray that corresponds to any particular color. Black-and-white photography therefore is about recognizing and controlling the interplay of total relationships in the world, and this is why I say it's a different medium than color.

In black and white, the way you recognize subject matter, the way you shoot, the way you post-process, all of these may be done very differently than when you shoot color, because your entire photographic vocabulary is not exclusively about tone, about lightness and darkness. Here is an example. Walking down the street I see this lamp. Now the subject matter isn't particularly interesting, and the light is not even that great, but because I know how to think in terms of tone, I recognize that there is a total relationship that could be interesting in this scene.

If the sky were represented as a very dark tone then the lamp, which has a very light tone, might stand out in an interesting way. After processing the image, I get this. Again, the entire thought process was about tone, and I only recognized this as a potential image because I was thinking like a black-and-white photographer, not a color photographer; and this is why I see black and white as a different medium from color, because they have different vocabularies. Yes, they share some things, just as painting and drawing share line and form, but with black and white, because you don't have color to work with, you'll find yourself paying more attention to tone, contrast, possibly geometry, and line, than you would when you shoot color.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for Foundations of Photography: Black and White
Foundations of Photography: Black and White

39 video lessons · 23203 viewers

Ben Long
Author

 
Expand all | Collapse all
  1. 8m 25s
    1. Welcome
      1m 24s
    2. Why black and white?
      5m 12s
    3. Suggested prerequisites
      53s
    4. Using the exercise files
      56s
  2. 19m 43s
    1. Is it really black and white?
      1m 9s
    2. How gray corresponds to color
      4m 38s
    3. The medium of black and white
      3m 5s
    4. The vocabulary of black and white
      4m 46s
    5. The physiology of black and white
      2m 22s
    6. How a camera's image sensor captures an image
      3m 43s
  3. 32m 46s
    1. Preparing the camera
      3m 34s
    2. Light revisited
      6m 3s
    3. Seeing in black and white
      2m 21s
    4. Taking a black-and-white expedition
      1m 17s
    5. Finding and shooting a black-and-white image
      11m 14s
    6. Shooting a tone-based subject
      2m 0s
    7. Exposing for black and white
      6m 17s
  4. 1h 38m
    1. The nature of grayscale images
      3m 33s
    2. Converting to black and white using Photoshop CS4 or CS5
      6m 17s
    3. More about the Black & White dialog box
      3m 19s
    4. Converting to black and white using Black & White adjustment layers
      3m 55s
    5. Converting to black and white in Camera Raw
      4m 5s
    6. Making an advanced tonal correction
      17m 33s
    7. Doing more tonal corrections
      14m 6s
    8. Calming down highlights
      10m 4s
    9. Vignetting
      8m 58s
    10. The trestle images
      2m 39s
    11. Handling tricky skies
      2m 43s
    12. Doing a selective black-and-white conversion
      2m 23s
    13. Toning
      1m 19s
    14. Split-toning
      2m 19s
    15. High-key and low-key images
      2m 32s
    16. Diffusion
      4m 40s
    17. Using Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro 2 plug-in
      7m 46s
  5. 24m 14s
    1. Selecting a printer
      5m 17s
    2. Preparing the image for print
      8m 30s
    3. Configuring the Print dialog
      5m 9s
    4. Evaluating a print
      5m 18s
  6. 43s
    1. Goodbye
      43s

Start learning today

Get unlimited access to all courses for just $25/month.

Become a member
Sometimes @lynda teaches me how to use a program and sometimes Lynda.com changes my life forever. @JosefShutter
@lynda lynda.com is an absolute life saver when it comes to learning todays software. Definitely recommend it! #higherlearning @Michael_Caraway
@lynda The best thing online! Your database of courses is great! To the mark and very helpful. Thanks! @ru22more
Got to create something yesterday I never thought I could do. #thanks @lynda @Ngventurella
I really do love @lynda as a learning platform. Never stop learning and developing, it’s probably our greatest gift as a species! @soundslikedavid
@lynda just subscribed to lynda.com all I can say its brilliant join now trust me @ButchSamurai
@lynda is an awesome resource. The membership is priceless if you take advantage of it. @diabetic_techie
One of the best decision I made this year. Buy a 1yr subscription to @lynda @cybercaptive
guys lynda.com (@lynda) is the best. So far I’ve learned Java, principles of OO programming, and now learning about MS project @lucasmitchell
Signed back up to @lynda dot com. I’ve missed it!! Proper geeking out right now! #timetolearn #geek @JayGodbold
Share a link to this course

What are exercise files?

Exercise files are the same files the author uses in the course. Save time by downloading the author's files instead of setting up your own files, and learn by following along with the instructor.

Can I take this course without the exercise files?

Yes! If you decide you would like the exercise files later, you can upgrade to a premium account any time.

Become a member Download sample files See plans and pricing

Please wait... please wait ...
Upgrade to get access to exercise files.

Exercise files video

How to use exercise files.

Learn by watching, listening, and doing, Exercise files are the same files the author uses in the course, so you can download them and follow along Premium memberships include access to all exercise files in the library.


Exercise files

Exercise files video

How to use exercise files.

For additional information on downloading and using exercise files, watch our instructional video or read the instructions in the FAQ.

This course includes free exercise files, so you can practice while you watch the course. To access all the exercise files in our library, become a Premium Member.

Join now "Already a member? Log in

Are you sure you want to mark all the videos in this course as unwatched?

This will not affect your course history, your reports, or your certificates of completion for this course.


Mark all as unwatched Cancel

Congratulations

You have completed Foundations of Photography: Black and White.

Return to your organization's learning portal to continue training, or close this page.


OK
Become a member to add this course to a playlist

Join today and get unlimited access to the entire library of video courses—and create as many playlists as you like.

Get started

Already a member?

Become a member to like this course.

Join today and get unlimited access to the entire library of video courses.

Get started

Already a member?

Exercise files

Learn by watching, listening, and doing! Exercise files are the same files the author uses in the course, so you can download them and follow along. Exercise files are available with all Premium memberships. Learn more

Get started

Already a Premium member?

Exercise files video

How to use exercise files.

Ask a question

Thanks for contacting us.
You’ll hear from our Customer Service team within 24 hours.

Please enter the text shown below:

The classic layout automatically defaults to the latest Flash Player.

To choose a different player, hold the cursor over your name at the top right of any lynda.com page and choose Site preferencesfrom the dropdown menu.

Continue to classic layout Stay on new layout
Exercise files

Access exercise files from a button right under the course name.

Mark videos as unwatched

Remove icons showing you already watched videos if you want to start over.

Control your viewing experience

Make the video wide, narrow, full-screen, or pop the player out of the page into its own window.

Interactive transcripts

Click on text in the transcript to jump to that spot in the video. As the video plays, the relevant spot in the transcript will be highlighted.

Are you sure you want to delete this note?

No

Your file was successfully uploaded.

Thanks for signing up.

We’ll send you a confirmation email shortly.


Sign up and receive emails about lynda.com and our online training library:

Here’s our privacy policy with more details about how we handle your information.

Keep up with news, tips, and latest courses with emails from lynda.com.

Sign up and receive emails about lynda.com and our online training library:

Here’s our privacy policy with more details about how we handle your information.

   
submit Lightbox submit clicked
Terms and conditions of use

We've updated our terms and conditions (now called terms of service).Go
Review and accept our updated terms of service.