Wedding And Portraiture
Black And White--Its The In Thing

Photo 1.
Photos © 1999, Monte Zucker, All Rights Reserved

Black and white pictures are no big deal--at least for me. I started in black and white many years ago, but was thrilled to get out of the darkroom when color became the "in" thing.

Now that black and white has had a resurgence of popularity, I'm glad that there are some great labs out there that can produce fantastic black and white (and sepia, too) without me having to go back into the darkroom. Of course, there's also the digital lab. We can process black and white right in our computers, then print them ourselves or send them out for negatives and photographic prints.

Let's not discount any of these possibilities. Why not service today's market, stay on top of today's trends, and make everyone happy?

Photo 2.

We first have to learn though how to really take advantage of what the black and white medium has to offer. It's not just always a question of switching camera backs and putting in a roll of the other film. To the contrary, there's much more to creating black and white images. But first we need to learn what's really inherent in great black and white images that make them so attractive.

Black and white has almost an infinite tonal range, especially as compared to color paper. This means that the black and white paper can retain detail in photographs from very bright/light areas all the way to the darkest areas. As a means of comparison, let's say that black and white has a range from 1-100, from the darkest to the lightest tones that can be reproduced on paper.

Photo 3.

Color film, on the other hand--especially color paper--has, maybe, a range from 1-10. So, we have to compress the complete range of tones in color to only that small difference which the color paper can handle. Otherwise, when we print to get detail in the brightest areas of the color photograph, the darkest areas will go completely black.

Thus, when we're using the black and white medium, we really should take advantage of the wide range of tones that are available. Instead of compressing the tones to just the small middle area, we should really use lighting that goes all the way from the brightest to the deepest that the paper can reproduce without losing detail. To switch film from color to black and white, then, without changing the lighting ratios is not really taking full advantage of what we can do in the black and white medium.

It's possible, however, to broaden the tonal values of a photograph using a computer, regardless of how the picture was originally exposed.

Photo 4.

Before we discuss that, let's talk about the new Kodak T-Max black and white film--T400CN. First of all, it's processed in the regular C-41 method, which means a regular color lab can process the negatives for us in the same manner that they process our color films. We don't have to go into the darkroom, ourselves.

Using this T400CN film you can get economical machine prints made, instead of having to go to a custom black and white laboratory. Also, it's important to realize that most professional color labs can print larger sized prints from these negatives than most black and white labs or what you could make in your own home darkroom.

The lighting in Photo 1 was by three lamp heads coming out of Photogenic's 800w PM08 power supply. Two main lights of equal intensity were used--one at a 90° angle to their faces and the second just slightly camera-left. The third light was used behind the background, directed onto the matching curtain. I also used a fill light behind the camera, which was my regular two f/stops less than the main light.

Photo 5.

The picture was exposed on color film. To get this black and white effect, I scanned the image into my computer and through Photoshop I "desaturated" the image, taking out all of the color. Then, I adjusted the image in "curves" and created the complete range of tones that is so great for black and white printing. With the file saved at a high resolution, I can now send out for a negative or print it directly onto one of my printers in my home office. I can also e-mail it anywhere in the world in seconds.

Photo 2, the black and white image of the bride and groom, was also originally created in color. Notice how I've been able here to reproduce incredible detail--all the way from the brightness of her dress and veil, down to the outline of his completely black suit against the dark background. This is almost reminiscent of the black and white I used to create on location 40 or 50 years ago. I say "almost," because my images today are infinitely better. I really didn't know what I was doing way back then. I sort of just did "my thing."

Photo 6.

The close-up of the groom's profile over the bride's face (Photo 3) and most of the pictures all started out as color images. I already pushed the limits of the film in this picture, before translating it to black and white, by spotlighting the "mask" of their faces--from cheek to cheek. I did this because I wanted to light her with my regular pattern, while keeping the left side of his face in shadow. The spotlight effect was created by wrapping a Shutterbug magazine around the open main light and directing it exactly where I wanted the light to fall.

Notice in this image what an incredible range of tones is possible in black and white--all the way from the detail in the brilliantly backlit veil, down to the deep shadows of his face. By limiting the direct coverage of the light with the magazine wrapped around the flash, I'm also able to keep his ear in semidarkness, not a distraction in the photograph.

Then, here's another fun thing that I do occasionally with images on my computer (Photo 4). It's all done by playing with the "curves" in Photoshop. Great for the creative juices--and so easy. I sometimes really love the results and so do clients.

Photo 7.

For Photo 5 I tried a different lighting pattern to create the same effect as in the previous two images. This time I placed the light in the position where I normally have it for a profile. This created split-lighting on her and lit his profile beautifully. Then, I used my reflector to wrap the light around onto the shadowed side of her face and to keep the light from flaring into my lens. All these portraits were created, by the way, with my Hasselblad and a 150mm lens on Kodak film.

With the light and reflector placed like this I really got a fantastic range of tones from highlight to shadow. I kept detail in the color print and stretched the tones still further in the black and white image using Photoshop.

Talk about black and white-- doesn't Photo 6 remind you of the Hollywood glamour days? And it's so simple to achieve. Two main lights, each one lighting a profile and the back of the other person's head. Reflectors again blocked both of the lights from flaring into my lens. Of course, the fill light retained detail in the sides of their faces. This profile lighting is ideal for black and white photography. It can show the complete range of tones that it is possible to achieve in this medium.

Photo 8.

Photo 7 is another image that was created directly on Kodak T Max film and printed in sepia. Wow. Just take a look at what Tim Roberts caught at this wedding. Look at the detail throughout--from the deepest black of the singer's tux to the white of the bride's dress. The sepia effect really works here. Could have been a picture made in the '40s or '50s--just what people love to see again today.

Well, not exactly like what we used to do way back then. Study the lighting in this one. That's one of our Photogenic portrait lights being used to light up the dance floor in our candids. We put a Fresnel lens and barn doors on our two main lights for the reception pictures and light up the background of our candids. We're looking for the same f/stop all over the dance floor as we're using on our camera and on-camera flash.
What an incredible way to light up our candids. No way you're going to get candids like this with just an on-camera flash, is there? Worth the effort? You be the judge. Black and white or color? It works for both of them. Either way, what a way to please your clients.

The last picture in this series (Photo 8) is one of the easiest to create, and what an effect in black and white. All you have to do is direct a single flash from behind the bride and groom onto the background. Overexpose the background and you get any tone you want. With no lights on the subjects, you have to get a silhouette like this. The champagne glass is lit by the light bouncing back from the background.

Am I, personally, excited about the resurgence of black and white photographs? I am when the full potential inherent in the process is achieved. I'm not at all happy when the prints are just various shades of gray. But, hey, that doesn't ever have to happen again since you now know how easy it is to achieve these kind of images--directly in your camera or in your computer.

Yes, there's a new world out there, but some things just continue to last. I guess that's why my style of photography--black and white or color--is considered "classical."