The Exciting World Of Black And White Imaging
Just as when you put a new lens on your camera, loading black and white rather than color film makes you see differently. The images you make deal in the gray scale world, where tone and texture and an exciting range of light can be found. There are deep blacks, bright whites, and all the shades of gray in between. Black and white is an extremely versatile medium. It can express the stark reality of a news photo or the subtle forms of nature with equal power. Of course, all photographs are a representation of reality. But black and white allows us to consider the world and all its texture without the distraction of color. And when you become involved in processing and printing, whether the prints are made in the conventional or digital darkroom, you will soon see the amazing creative freedom black and white affords.
Most photographers shoot solely in color, but we'd bet there are a good many who stick to black and white. The dedication to black and white among art, fashion, editorial, commercial, and avid amateur photographers continues to grow, aided by new films, more accessible processing, and the new potential for printing afforded by the digital darkroom. Throughout the history of the craft black and white has held great importance. To those who collect photography it remains the medium of choice. And to those who seek greater realms of expression, the art and craft of black and white can be a lifetime's endeavor.
Today there are numerous routes into black and white, ones that you can take with any camera. The major film manufacturers continue to bring out new black and white emulsions, including a new Delta 400 from Ilford. But there's another option for everyone who does not have access to a black and white darkroom or lab, and that's the chromogenic films for virtually every format. This is actually a color type film that records only in black and white. These films can be processed in color chemicals in any minilab or major photofinishing plant. Kodak offers Select B+W 400, T400CN Professional, and even a film for Advanced Photo System format, Advantix B+W. Ilford has XP-2 400 and Konica offers monochrome VX400.
When the labs print from this film (which you can also print yourself in your home darkroom or scan for use in the digital darkroom) you can get prints in virtually any color caste you want, from neutral to sepia to blue. That's because they print on color paper.
To get a sense of the real power of black and white take the time to look at prints in galleries and museums. Study the way the tonal values interact with the subject matter and how they offer an entirely new view of the world. Go to the library and get books that feature the work of the masters of the medium, including Ansel Adams, Minor White, Aaron Siskind, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paul Strand, Eugene Smith, Robert Frank, and others. This can be a great way to study how black and white affects the ways in which a subject can be perceived. Consider the artistic controls and creative choices these photographers have made. As you begin to make images yourself you'll see how deliberate choices and an educated eye can have a very important effect on the visual and emotional impact each image can make.
All this adds up to some real photo excitement. As you explore the medium you'll begin to see how you can change the character of your image and subject by the way you choose contrast, the relationship of black, white and grays in the image, and how toning and selective exposure in printing can enhance the mood of every scene.
With all this in mind we offer our Special Section on The Exciting World of Black and White Imaging. We start out with 10 Tips for Terrific Black and White and follow up with features on lighting and other creative enhancement techniques. We are also very proud to feature the work of David Plowden, who has dedicated his life to photography in his chosen medium of black and white.
So the next time you go out and buy a few rolls of film, consider picking up some black and white. Load up your camera with black and white and prepare to see the world in an entirely different way. And for those of you who have already taken the plunge, consider expanding your creative possibilities with some of the tips we offer here.