Guest Challenge: How to Tell a Story through B&W Photography
So, the last time that I guest-posted here we focused on getting emotionally involved with the subject matter we’re recording in full colour photography. Now, we’re going to work a little harder by producing black and white images. Stay emotively connected, you’re still going to need to apply that to whatever type of photography you prefer.
Why is black and white photography harder to do? It’s because most of us see in vivid living colour. We’re so used to seeing that way that we also instinctively try to shoot that way. Unless severely colour blind, we technically do not see in monochrome. Our eyes themselves do not see in colour, but our brains extract that photonic information from the light spectrum, and processes it so that we can appreciate colour.
In order to see in black and white; therefore, we have to condition our minds to ignore all or most colour, as though it’s a distraction, and concentrate on all the other aspects of imagery at the moment we are shooting:
Light and shadow (from bright white, through all grey values, to pitch black);
High or low intensity of contrast;
Soft diffuseness or hardness of light;
Opaqueness of darkness;
Whatever else we can use to dramatize and describe whatever we’re shooting.
Although it’s a funny word to be associating with creative photography, what we want to do is illustrate our subject matter.
My background in the arts is that of an illustrator. Illustrators use visual art to tell stories; either real or imagined. I am specifically a 2D visual artist; I paint and draw. It is the techniques that I rely on as an illustrator that I also apply to my photography, especially my B/W work. Here are a few illustrators’ narrative techniques that you will need for this challenge:
Exploit exaggerations, especially in regards to physical movement. We like to photograph faces because so much can be interpreted; accurately or inaccurately, from someone’s physiognomy and expressions. Sometimes, however, you can’t or don’t want to photograph people up close. This obviously means that you can’t rely on faces too much in telling a story. Look for body movement that illustrates that someone or something has triggered a reaction in another. If a cat is virtually motionless while pivoting only an ear to focus on a sound coming from somewhere, it may be better to wait for that cat to turn its head and articulate its body in order to look in the direction of the sound. Photograph that body language. Show that exaggeration.
Play mind games through straight photography. Many of us enjoy using Photoshop and its contemporaries to make unrealistic scenes, like turtles flying through the pellucid air of someone’s bedroom. There is a challenge; nevertheless in trying to photograph something as it actually is while relying mainly or exclusively on tricks of natural or unnatural light to create a fanciful idea. Induce emotions, curiosity, surprise and bewilderment in your viewers by making them question if what they see is possible or not. M.C. Escher was an illustrator who did this often.
Photograph subject matter that either leads up to or away from the climax of a story. Yes it can be powerful to photograph a house, fully engulfed in flames with its family and neighbours standing by watching firefighters do their best to save the home. Impact can still be made about how the place looks after it’s been gutted, and the homeless family might be in a temporary shelter somewhere dealing with loss and an insurance company. There’s a story outside of the climax that needs to be investigated and told.
Now let’s see what happens to your B/W photography. Straight monochromes, duotones, tritones, and quadtones are all included in the black and white realm of photography. Show the world what you can do!
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