Exercise: Black and White

For this exercise, choose a subject, lighting condition or picture situation that you think may look better (To you) in black and white, than in regular colour. Your starting point will probably be colour, and the black and white version will be created during your processing, but in shooting, you should try to ignore the colour element. If your camera allows a monochrome display on its LCD screen, you may find this helpful.

Compose and expose for the black and white version that you will later process. You should find that you need to deal with rather different concerns, paying attention to shape and volume, for instance.

Process the image for black and white, and write down what effect shooting in black and white had on your choices of subject, framing, the details of composition and exposure.

Ansel Adams was an American photographer who is famous for his black and white photography. In order to produce his first portfolio, Adams embarked on an excursion with a plate camera and a dark red filter. When his last plate was left, he knew that he had to visualize the final image he wanted, before he took the last shot. “I had been able to realize a desired image: not the way the subject appeared in reality but how it felt to me and how it must appear in the finished print” Ansel Adams 1920.


I have always loved Ansel Adams work. He is the master of black and white photography, beginning his photographic journey using plate cameras, leading onto black and white film. With a variety of work, ranging from still life, portraits, landscapes and architecture, Adams work shows just how talented a photographer he was. He was able to use his photographic skills and more importantly, his prior visualization of how he wanted his final image to look like, in order to produce breath taking and beautiful images.

Paul Forgham is an internationally renowned photographer based in the South West of England. I read a really interesting and useful article in my Practical Photography magazine (Feb 2014), regarding Black and White photography and Paul Forgham’s photographs.


Using black and white…”I probably use it more with my architectural images…it lends itself well to emphasizing the geometry and form…it adds sense of drama and mood to an otherwise ordinary shot” Paul Forgham

Forgham goes on to explain how to produce an image which will lead to a great black and white image. He says that you should use the regular guidelines regarding composition, but the main challenge is to try and visualize the shot in black and white, which is sometimes easier said than done. He says that he looks out for form and shape, with a wide range of mid tones between the blacks and whites. This reminds me of what Ansel Adams said regarding black and white photography.

I love black and white photographs. They capture your attention and draw you in. When you take the distraction of the colour away, the detail becomes a lot more sharper and prominent. You are able to see the shape and form of the subject or location.

For this exercise, you were asked to compose and expose a photograph, for the black and white version of the photograph, you will later process.

I kept the train theme, and used a photograph of the workings of the train, the insides of the boiler area. There wasn’t a lot of colour, but there was a lot of shapes, forms and detail. I knew that this would make an interesting black and white photograph.

Original Image:

IMG_9481 - Copy

Processed Image:

IMG_9481 - Copy copy

I used the inspiration from Ansel Adams and Paul Forgham, and produced this final black and white image. I began by sharpening the detail in the image. The highlight clipping warning appeared in the window area, so I had to darken the image and adjust the contrast before I converted it to black and white. Once I had converted it to black and white, I then adjusted the highlights and shadows, levels and contrast. I also added a layer of warming filter to the image to darken the black areas, which enabled me to then brighten the lighter areas, whilst keeping the black areas dark. It took me a while to play around with different setting and adjustments, however, I am pleased with the result of the final black and white image.


As previously stated, one reason for discarding colour, and only shooting for the intention of a final black and white image, is that the eye is persuaded to focus more closely on other image qualities. Black and white photography is strongly oriented to the graphic qualities of proportion, line, shape, form and texture. With this image, I focused more on the texture and different shapes within the engine area. ‘consider how your visual creative thinking might change when you aim for a black and white instead of a colour image’  I stood at an angle, in order to capture the window area, in order to let the window area ‘frame’ the detail within the engine area.

I enjoyed this exercise, simply because I love black and white photography. I must admit however, that I am still learning how to process my images properly using Photoshop and Lightroom. I took inspiration from the two photographers I researched, in order to help me with this exercise, and for me to produce a good final black and white image. I do believe that the more time I spend teaching myself, and playing around with settings on the processing software, I will be able to produce a strong black and white image like Ansel Adams and Paul Forgham. I do use tips from my Practical Photography magazine. They have really useful step by step techniques for different types of photography.


Adams, Ansel.

Ansel Adams, Ansel Adams Photographs. Leopard 1995.

ISBN: 0-75-0017-X

Ansel Adams. Published in Mater of Light, Ansel Adams and His Influences. Therese Lichtenstein, Todtri, New York 1997.



Image: http://uploads6.wikiart.org/images/ansel-adams/mirror-lake-morning-yosemite-national-park.jpg

Forgham, Paul.



Practical Photography Magazine. February 2014. Page 45

Image: Makin’ Waves


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