A Tribute to Black and white wedding photography

25 May 2019

Black and white wedding photography | Does a b/w photo tell the story? Color vs B/W photography | Tips to take and make better black and white photos

Black and white photography has always fascinated me

And who does not, right? It is so powerful and essential that it goes straight to the point, but with the lack of colors! How cool is that?... I still remember, in my early stages of learning, when I really understood the meaning of making a black and white image; I mean, what are the necessary ingredients to make a B&W photo? The answer is simple, the blending and combination of "two colors": black and white, that's all!

We can appreciate in the history of photography, that black and white was used in many ways and with different "style" choices. But let's begin by first understanding what we are talking about and the right definition of a black and white photograph.

—TRIBUTE TO BLACK AND WHITE WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY

—TRIBUTE TO BLACK AND WHITE WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY

In the modern digital world, with any editing software you can convert a photo into black and white, with a single click. For example, by removing all color saturation until the image becomes monochrome, right? However, as with many things in this world, it is necessary to know the WHY of things and, in this case, how a black and white image is made by definition.

According to Wikipedia: "Black-and-white (B/W or B&W) images combine black and white in a continuous spectrum, producing a range of shades of gray"... Congrats Wikipedia, very well explained!

Love it. A true well done black and white image is supposed to have a well balanced gray scale.

The more “ranged” the scale is, the better the visual impact will be. That’s why not all the images are great for black and white, but this is another interesting point to talk about in another moment.

“BLACK AND WHITE ARE THE COLORS OF PHOTOGRAPHY"

Does black and white photography tell the story?

Yes it does, absolutely! Robert Frank, an iconic photographer of all time explains beautifully why: “Black and white are the colors of photography. To me they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected.”

As an honest and visual storyteller I always pursue the story, the moments. Remember: everything is about authenticity ;-) and colors are not my priority. First, I need to uninterruptedly take care of the frame, using a strong and meaningful composition and expose for the right light and mood... And when everything matches, when is time to click on the shutter button, it’s always when the “decisive moment” is happening... I fight and struggle to know when is the perfect moment for the photo and I always hope to have captured it in the greater way!

—The decisive moment

Getting Ready in Black and White

The decisive moment

It is a concept (and a book) of the world photography dad, the one and only Henry Cartier Bresson: he mention that the decisive moment is a product of a unique set of technical, cognitive, and emotional skills developed from extensive training and experience in photography, as well as from a psychological knowledge of people. This moment occurs when the visual and psychological elements of people in a real-life scene spontaneously and briefly come together in perfect resonance to express the essence of that situation... You can checkout out the topic in deep at this link: [link]

Actually, at the beginning of my career, this quote of Henry Cartier Bresson made me dream more about all the possibilities of photography, such an inspirational speech:

“To take photographs means to recognize, simultaneously and within a fraction of a second, both the fact itself and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that give it meaning. It is putting one’s head, one’s eye, and one’s heart on the same axis.”

A black and white image usually makes me think more

It looks like every time that I see a B/W photo, I’m not “satisfied” only with the moment and the meaning, the purpose. I search in mind some extra “interpretation” or details to be focus on.

This doesn’t happen in my mind with colors. Let’s say that when I take a look at an image in color, in an instant I notice everything and I can appreciate in a few seconds everything about that photo. But when the photo is B/W, my mind doesn’t rest, it wants to go beyond what the photo is saying... It’s difficult to explain but that is what happens in my mind ;-)

—Tributing black and white wedding photography

A color image is not always a good candidate to be converted in B/W. To have a rich B/W image with a strong impact, you need first to have a great image

During my workshops, many times I have noticed situations in which a noisy photo (or just a not well-exposed photo) was converted in B&W, thinking it was looking better than in color... an actual quality rescue for the image, LOL ... In a few words, it's like saying: “This picture in color is bad, let’s convert it in B/W so it looks better”... If the picture is not good in color, it doesn’t mean that in black and white looks better just because "black and white" is more artistic... No $*& way!

Black and white wedding photography

Black and white wedding photography

Nowadays, almost all digital cameras in the market are shooting in color. It doesn’t matter if you shoot with a custom preset setting on your camera or if you shoot Raw in monochrome... Once you download the photos, the original will always be in color.

Only a few special cameras can shoot in B/W only, for example, the Leica M Monochrom, where the sensor is modified to capture only B/W images. But I still prefer to have a raw color photo, so I can decide later what would be the final destination of each picture: depending on which is the purpose of every image... Does color help or does it distract? What does tell the story better? Which version has a better impact?

Let me tell you that I shoot in color and I keep almost everything in color :-) And there are just a few pictures that besides were born in color, from the beginning they are destined to be converted into B&W.

So, everything at the beginning starts with the first important answer to "What picture will look better in black and white?" OMG, I'd need another post to talk deeply about it, this topic is so interesting!... but also so personal that it could be misunderstood. So let's keep it on hold! For now, with all my pleasure, I can tell you instead:

A few tips to make a great black and white

  • Balanced editing:

“A picture says more than a thousand words” I know, but not always! Sometimes it can reach up to 1,000 words... and sometimes hardly one. What the heck?!, LOL

A black and white photograph must go straight to the point of the storytelling, letting you know as much as possible about the event happening. Let’s say that if a B/W photo has a great message to tell, in monochrome could have a stronger impact; but watch out, the wrong use of a B/W editing could also destroy the message!... Remember, not all the photos are great for B/W.

  • Contrast:

A good looking black and white need an contrast. So to apply a great B/W, first, you need to have great light. Try shooting a portrait photo, while standing under a terrace shade! :-) The picture will look good in B&W if your subject is a silhouette and you expose for the background... Great contrast, right!? But try to completely change the settings: expose for shadows and burn out the background (all white)... If you convert this picture in black and white, it will probably be a poor B/W photo. Does it make sense?

  • Shadows and texture:

Since color can often distract the viewer from the main point, having a higher dynamic range helps to strong shadows and texture be more appreciated in a 'black and white' image. Generally, we appreciate more the black of the shades and the textures. So the message could be more effective by using only two colors (and the whole system of zones)... Think for a second in this: Having only a few elements to take care of in a BW photo, everything gets more crucial, so we probably have a more understandable meaning and immediate effect. I think so!

Do you remember Ansel Adamas' incredible landscape photography images? I'm sure that if you could see exactly the same live-scenes from the photographs he took (same composition, light and moment)... But, in color... Well, the iconic photos of Ansel Adams are recognized worldwide, precisely for being in 'black and white'. So, surely your photos would be completely different from those of Ansel Adams; just because, in pure essence, they both are two opposite photography styles.

It is the same point here, working with some amazing light and understanding perfectly the system of zones (with all its beautiful scale of the grays) can compose a very strong impact image... 'An objectively professional and artistic black and white wedding photography, and with few elements (almost flirting with minimalism...). Sometimes, this way simply produces better results than color.

  • Rule of color:

Some photos only could exist in color: either because of the patterns, the perception or the purpose of the colors itself, etc... Try only to desaturate a color image to turn it into black and white, then ask yourself: "Does this tell the story? Is the color useful to tell the story better? "... It is not necessary to edit it to get those answers, in most cases, it is an obvious choice. But it takes experience, taste and objective criticism, to make these decisions.

  • Color Mindset:

If I am given the choice between color and black & white, for me it is a very simple decision... I am a person of color. I think that color can tell the story better, in a general scenario and general conditions.

But of course, I'm always ready to sue and embrace black and white, as long as it "fits"... You know,those moments when the image "tells you" to do it, whenever it feels good. There really is not a magic formula or an established number of black and white photographs that "you must" deliver as wedding photographers... That is one of the most intimate and relevant decisions of each photographer at the moment of editing. It is all about what you have to say to the world that is why your mindset is basic to achieve it.

So, do you think first about colors vs BW? ... or, do you just shoot and think about that later in post-process? ... Two worlds, two different scenarios.

If you have your daily photographic choices clear in your mind, maybe you already know your answer. If you are still thinking about what is best or works best for you, I would suggest that you shoot RAW in color, later you will decide.

When it's time to edit your photo, concentrate on the moment and do not lose it. I am sure that you will choose the best option according to your needs and tastes ... and you will be sure that you did not miss that moment.

That's all folks, the few tips that I shared with you to make a great black and white are the ones that work for me, I hope you find them useful.

—Find your own personal voice in wedding photography

Happy clicks and good vibes to everyone!

Di Lusso

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