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Daguerreotype? Improve your B&W Photography

Have you ever heard of Daguerreotype? This was breaking news in Europe in 1839, when Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre and the French government announced a way of fixing images to a mirror-like surface.

A daguerrotypist would polish a sheet of silver-plated copper to a mirror finish, make it light sensitive by treating it with fumes and then expose it to light through a camera. Further exposure to mercury vapour and additional chemical treatment to remove the sensitivity to light, you had your daguerreotype. This process, better known today as photography.

Daguerreotype of Louis Daguerre in 1844 and the Daguerreotype camera built by La Maison Susse Frères in 1839, with a lens by Charles Chevalier. Wikipedia

The earliest reliably dated photograph of people. This view of the Boulevard du Temple was captured in 1838 by Daguerre. Due to the longer exposure time, the only people that appear are the two on the bottom left, a man having his shoes polished. Source: Wikipedia.

The great pioneers of photography:

Ansel Adams (1902-1984).

Group reading paper, Manzanar Relocation Center, 1943

Ansel Adams Artworks

Brassaï (1899-1984). Extinguishing a streetlight on Rue Émile Richard, 1932. NYTimes

I love black and white photography, with its beautiful classic feel, it allows me to capture the person soul, the atmosphere, not just the environment.

You can use light to walk the viewer through the experience, like the photograph above by Brassaï, your eye is immediately drawn to the lightest part of the photograph. Only then do you begin to explore the rest of the photo. Silhouettes guide your eye around the elements hidden in the shadows.

The lack of colour in a photograph allows us to take our photography techniques to the next level. We learn to see shadows, shape and texture in greater detail. We experiment with the effects of contrast and tone. Everyday items like timber, foliage and bricks show excellent texture, while surfaces like metal and glass demonstrate a wide range of tones.

5 things to consider when photographing in black and white:


For an average contrast there should be a smooth change in tone from the darkest black, through all the shades of grey up to the brightest white. If you're looking to photograph using the full tonal range, avoid high contrast lighting. Scenes with a wide variety of colour hues can help provide excellent results.

For best results, keep an eye on your histogram. If you're seeing "dips" from the shadows to the highlights, you're dropping tones. If you're looking for a "high contrast" image push the shadows (left) and highlights (right) of the histogram inwards.

Cristiane Teston / Jean Van Der Meulen


For a monochrome photographer, contrast and tone are very similar. A black and white photograph is still just a monochrome image. The colours of your scene are converted into different shades of darkness.

Where this can be problematic is photographing different colours that when converted to monochrome display as a similar shade. For example a red subject against a blue background (a persons clothing against the blue sky). These will appear as similar shades of grey.

To correct for this you can alter your lighting, create shadows and highlights. For digital photographers, you will have greater control of the tones in post processing. Capture the image in colour and convert to black and white later.


Shadows are very important when it comes to black and white photography. You should constantly be aware of these as your capture your scene. With the lack of colour, shadows help the mind determine shape and depth in the image. Shadows help lead the eye through the photograph.

Engin Akyurt

As with all types of photography, experiment with your composition, change your position, adjust the angle of the lighting to change your shadows. Photographing landscapes at different times of the day changes the depth of these shadows. Shadows help strengthen your black and white photography.

Black and white photography is simply a view of the greyscale tones in the image. Shadows do not always have to be pure black, so leave some detail hidden in the shadows. Managing shadows is a combination of exposure and processing. Shadows can create shapes, leading lines and can contribute to the overall composition of the image.

Sven Brandsma


The shape of an object can be defined by shadows. However, when it comes to defining shape in an image, the photographer often uses contrast. Without contrast in a black and white image, we have no shape. Again I use the example of a red object on a blue background. They both have the same tonal range and has the potential of blending into each other.

Josh Rose / Aleksandar Pasaric

Experiment taking photographs of different objects, different shapes in a black and white scene. Look for the unusual shapes that goes unnoticed. Look for the shapes based on contrast and tone.


Everyone knows that feeling of holding a fire log in your hand, or that soft feeling of silk against the skin. We learn to see texture in a different way with black and white photography.

It makes me "feel" the photo when I see the texture in a cobble stone pavement, the grit on a building or the prickliness on a pineapple. With the distraction of colour removed, texture can captivate your viewer.

To capture the texture in your image you'll need to play with light and shadows. The lower your light source in relation to the surface, more highlights and shadows will be created. This provides the texture. Of course your object must be textured to begin with.

No matter how low the light is angled on the hood of a car, you will never create texture.

Brittany Ashworth / Nathan Dumlao

Position your light source at an angle to the camera, so the shadows are visible to the eye. Experiment with different angles to increase the depth of the texture.

Over the next 5 weeks, Frame Focus Foto will be diving deep into the world of black and white photography. We'll cover the concepts, the tips and techniques and bring you inspiration from the experts for you to master your B&W skills and create that jaw dropping, awe inspiring masterpiece.

If you haven't yet follow us on Facebook & Instagram @framefocusfoto.

"Colour is descriptive. Black and white is interpretive" - Eliott Erwitt

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