March 9, 2009

Instant Black & White Photos

The rise of digital cameras' popularity has coincided with a renewed interest in black & white pictures. While most professional photographers maintain that the best digital black & white images come from converting full color photos using computer software, many amateurs are more interested in black & white without the time in front of a screen.

There are a couple ways to accomplish this. The simplest is to have a photo lab print your color original as a black & white image. But nearly all digital cameras have a setting to create black & white photos directly in the camera. Check your camera's manual for a "monochrome" or "bw" setting.

If you have a compact digital camera, changing to black & white mode causes your camera to display a black & white version of the scene you are framing right on the LCD monitor. This is a great advantage to learning to "see" black & white images. If you have an SLR, you have to take the photo first and then play it back to compare the monochrome version to the original color subject.

Besides black & white, some digital cameras have a sepia ("see-pee-ah") setting which produces a brown & white photo reminiscent of historical pictures. This is effective for photographing old buildings and people in historical costumes, such as at a Civil War reenactment. Many digital SLRs have other color choices (such as blue, green and purple); look for an entry in the camera menus called "tones" or "tints".

So what makes a photograph interesting in black & white? Light and shadow become very important to your pictures without color. Look for light coming from the side or behind the subject for dramatic results. Watch for interesting shadows created by the light.

Texture also becomes more prominent in monochrome photos. Texture is a visual sense of how it would feel to touch the subject in the picture. Lighting coming from one side at a low angle produces the most pronounced effect.

Seek out things to photograph that are already black and white in color. Also search for subjects that are one color throughout but have interesting differences in lighting or texture.

See the fun you can have with the black & white setting in your camera! And all without paying extra for special prints or spending time in front of the computer.