Archive for August 11th, 2008

Learning Photography in Black and White

August 11, 2008

© Copyright Pawoli

One of my goals for the Photobird blog is to help you learn how to take better photos. I don’t consider myself an expert photographer by any means — in fact, I resist calling myself a photographer — but I like how my photos turn out, and I get compliments on them, so I must be doing something right. I think I have a good sense of what works well and I’d like to help you along. That said, I have a lot to learn as well, but I think I’m on the right track.

If you ask me whether I would pick color or black and white as my favorite style, I’d definitely pick color. However, black and white photos can have some advantages, especially as you’re learning how to shoot better, because there’s none of that “color stuff” getting in the way.

Shooting in color adds too many variables and can make learning photography too complicated. When learning something, I suspect you usually start with the basics and then grow from there. When reviewing black and white photos or learning to shoot with black and white film, this is exactly what you’re doing: starting with the basics. In fact, I don’t know if this is still the case, but before digital cameras became popular, I recall that introductory photography classes were taught using black and white film, not color film, because of the complexities of shooting in color.

I never took a basic photography class, but I wish I had. As I understand it, some of the things photography classes teach you include exposures, f-stops, shutter speeds, and how the camera perceives and receives color, and how all of that ultimately impacts your photo. In place of photography classes, we have excellent books such as Understanding Exposure which can teach you a lot of those things. Still, starting off with the basics of black and white film might have had its advantages.

We also have billions of photo examples online that we can learn from. Unfortunately though, most of those examples aren’t good examples to learn from, if you want to learn the basics first.

Composition is one of the fundamental photography skills that I’ve been talking about a lot and I will continue to stress its importance. Well-composed photos always seem “correct” to me, if there was ever a correct way and an incorrect way of shooting photos.

One of my favorite “How to…” photography tutorials and blog posts is the one entitled “Simplify“, as part of The American School of Paris’s free tutorial on the importance of composition. I strongly recommend reading it and practicing it.

One photo portfolio that I came across recently that made me think of this “starting with the basics” approach is from “Pawoli” of Paris, France. Many of his photos are in black and white, and in those photos, you can clearly see the concept of simplification. More of his photos are located at; to continue looking through his blog, which is in French, click “Messages plus anciens”. (Thanks to 1001 Noisy Cameras for pointing out his portfolio.)

In his photo “Seuls” shown above, besides using the concept of simplification, it’s also using the Rule of Thirds, with the couple positioned in the left third of the frame. I also like how Pawoli composed the photo to make the bank of the river form a curve that splits the photo. Very creative.

Pawoli’s photos are clean, simple, and very attractive; I enjoy looking at them repeatedly, and they would look great framed, hanging on walls. When photos reach this high level of quality, where you feel you could look at them over and over again, and hang them on walls, isn’t that what we’re all striving for when we click the shutter button?