When you’re shooting film, you can’t turn the world – or your viewfinder – black and white.
So it’s helpful to be able to learn to see in b/w so you can discover the scenes and lighting and textures that will make the best b/w photographs.
Before I began my great film adventure (2012-2017), the preceding seven months I was shooting abundantly with a Nikon Coolpix, then the most sophisticated camera I’ve ever owned (and still the camera I’ve spent most money on, by some margin).
I quickly found that the Coolpix has a neat high contrast b/w mode.
This gave me moody and inky b/w photos without any fiddling about with software afterwards. I just plugged the camera into my laptop, uploaded the photographs, deleted those that didn’t make the grade and kept the rest, a very simple workflow.
But more importantly, the b/w mode, as with other modes on the Coolpix, benefited from live preview.
In other words, the camera’s screen shows you exactly how the photo will look before you release the shutter.
Without realising it at the time, this interactive feedback taught me the impact of aperture on depth of field, how to lock focus on part of a picture then recompose so the focus wasn’t always on the central object, and how to fool/force the camera to over or under expose certain parts of the scene for a more desirable final image.
What the little Nikon’s screen also showed me, was how the world looked in black and white.
Over time, and with practice, I came to find the kinds of photographs that seemed to look better in b/w to me, than they would in colour.
I reached the point where, before even switching the camera on, I was starting to look beyond the colours of the scenes around me, and instead considering textures, patterns, light and shadow.
Seven months and over 7000 photographs with the Nikon later, I came into film photography with a vastly more informed idea of shooting in b/w than I ever could have got from just shooting film cameras, none of which of course can give you any direct b/w feedback.
So, even if you predominantly shoot (and want to continue to shoot) black and white film photos (here’s a way to make it far affordable), then I would strongly encourage you to try carrying a digital camera with you too, set to a black and white mode.
You don’t even have to make any pictures with the digital camera, and a half decent camera phone will suffice.
As long as you start viewing the world in b/w through the screen of the digital camera, it can’t help but make it easier for you to make photographs better suited to b/w, rather than shooting with black and white film loaded and your full colour eyes, and hoping that a few of the photos might turn out ok in b/w when you have them developed days or weeks later.
Have you tried using a digital camera to help you learn to see in b/w? What other tips do you have about seeing better photographs in b/w?
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