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Using Light in Black & White Photography

The world is a bright and colourful place, a sea of colour, and for the majority of us, this is how we photograph it.

However, if you want to shoot in black and white you'll need to start seeing the world in black and white. Deciphering how the colours render on a scale of grey, looking for patterns, texture as well as light and shadows. Today I'm going to explore the use of light and shadow in your black and white photography.

As we mentioned in our previous blog, having a full range of tones from true black to true white is a key element in creating a powerful photo, unless of course you're using your creative talent.

Light can be used in many ways, for example, the joy in a bright photo or the mysterious mood created by a darker image. When we combine light and shadows, we create depth in an image, create texture that we can feel in our mind.

How can we use light to create depth in an image?

This is an every day image, a radiator, attached to the wall in my house. I used a Fujifilm X100F, shot in black and white without post processing. What you see is what you get!

The first image is with ambient lighting only and provides a dull and flat image. The second image is with an additional light source placed behind the camera. The same effect that one would achieve using on camera flash. The image is still relatively dull and flat. You can see that both histograms are condensed and don't provide a wide range of tones.

In the third and fourth image, I have used side lighting, one from 90° and the other from 45°. The last image provides deep shadows and brighter highlights. The histogram shows a wide range of tones without any clipping.

As can be seen from the four images, lighting, as with any type of photography is a great way to create the desired effect in your images, in this case depth. The same technique will be used to create texture, as can be seen with the next image.

When your image has lots of black and dark grey tones, this is known as low-key. Conversely when your image has lots of whites and light grey tones, this is considered high-key. While high-key images can still have a few shadows, and low-key images a few highlights, their predominant tones will be on either the highlight or shadow side of the histogram.

These types of images are used to evoke emotion in the viewer. These are some good examples of high- and low-key images.

I hope this article gives you a better understanding of how light can enhance your black and white photos.

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"The first 10 000 photographs are your worst" Henry Cartier-Bresson

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