Photographers aspire to see things in black and white for an entirely different reason. Most love the joy and excitement of color, but for aesthetic reasons a photographer may choose to turn off the color and jump into a world where contrast reigns supreme and light reveals that contrast through a variety of compositional elements. Although a photographer may wish to capture the shot in black and white, he/she faces one very obvious obstacle. We don’t see in black and white; we see in color. Our eyes must be trained to see when color conditions are suitable for black and white. This can be accomplished with handy devices like a monochrome viewing filter or the monochrome live-view in your camera, but it’s really not that hard to see this with your “naked eye”. Like all skills it just takes practice.
The interesting thing about color is that it can be distracting. Sometimes looking at a color shot becomes more about looking at the color than looking at the picture. Black and white strips that distraction away and compels you to take in the entire scene. A leaf becomes a road map; the soft pile of a blanket invites you to touch it; a street candid captures the sorrow in the longing glance of a lonely teen; all these details could have been lost in the green leaf, the pink wool or the bright orange t-shirt of their color versions. We fall into the trap of our natural tendency to see in color and forget to see the possibilities of the alternative. It is an ironic twist that our seeing in color can become so black and white.
It takes determination to see in black and white in our world of color, but it can be done in the same way it takes us to understand another’s point of view. We can’t rely on gadgets or LED screens for those issues. Like all skills it takes practice. In the end, the more we try it, the better we get. If we go out looking for colorful conditions that are conducive to black and white, we will find them and our black and white photos will improve. If we listen to others and truly try to grasp how they feel and why they think the way they do, we will “get it” and we will become more compassionate people. Seeing is an art and in this world of color, seeing in black and white even more so.
Now available on Amazon Kindle- Seeing in Black and White: An Amateur Photographer's Thoughts on the Art of Monochrome by Ann H. LeFevre