About 30 years ago, I became interested not just in taking photos but in developing and printing them. In those days, that required setting up a darkroom with an enlarger, paper and chemicals, a far cry from the ease of today’s digital darkrooms.

It was possible to develop color photos and even slides back then but the temperature tolerances were pretty tight and being off by even a degree in temperature could result in photos with weird color casts. The process of balancing the various colors was also a difficult and time consuming affair. Black and White photos were much easier (and cheaper!) to produce.

Picture of Lake Louise in Canada converted to Black and White

So I went out, bought an enlarger, paper, chemicals, plastic trays, tongs, a red light, heaters for the chemical baths, timers, a gadget for finding when photos were accurately focused on the paper. Well, you get the idea. There was a lot of small accessory gear required for that darkroom. And it also needed a place where no light could get in to ruin the photos. Converting the loft into a darkroom was my solution.

But once I was set up, it was a lot of fun. I shot with black and white film and printed on black and white paper and learned some of the dodging and burning techniques required to get the most out of prints.

Roll forward 20 years to the digital revolution. Adobe Photoshop and other software like it now gives anyone with a PC their own digital darkroom. Just a few years ago, when everyone was still shooting on film, if you wanted to use your digital darkroom, you had to get your slides or negatives digitally scanned first. These days, with the advent of digital cameras, all anyone needs to do is hook up their camera to their PC and download their images and they’re ready to go.

Somewhere in the flurry of recent advances and whirl of color digital cameras, Black & White photography seems to have been lost. In some ways it’s seen as being something from the past and now that we can all afford to take color photos, why should anyone want to return to the old days?

Black & White photos seem to capture the essence of the subject with more clarity than color equivalents. Maybe that’s because there’s no color to distract us from the raw textures, lighting and patterns in a photo. Thinking about this recently I thought about creepy old houses (why I don’t know) but in my mind a black & white photo of such places seems to evoke a greater sense of dread than a color version. Do you think Norman’s house in Psycho would have looked as daunting if shot in glorious technicolor?

If you shoot using film, you can still buy black & white stock. There’s probably more types of such film available today than there was in the past. If you shoot digitally, you’re almost certainly restricted to shooting in color (although some digital cameras do provide an option for shooting in black and white).

So, if you want to try your hand at black & white photography, what can you do? Shoot in color and use your digital darkroom to produce stunning black & white photos!

I’ll be adding some black & white techniques to the website if you’d like to try your hand. But, as a taster, here are some of the things you need to be aware of with black and white in mind:

  • Learning to see in black and white – Serious black & white film users view a scene through a lens that usually has a color filter attached. Digital darkrooms let you convert your color photos to black and white in a variety of ways.
  • Pattern and Symmetry – both are very well suited to black and white photography.
  • Light, Tone and Contrast – vary the tonal balance of a photo to highlight particular features of a photograph (with color, this would result in some colors being overly saturated creating a very unnatural looking photo)
  • Using Lens Filters – just as with color, they can be used with black and white
  • Darkening Skies – skies lend real atmosphere to a black & white photo. Learn how to make the most of them.
  • Converting To Black And White – Photoshop techniques for converting color images into black and white photos.

If you think black & white photography doesn’t have much relevance to landscape photography, then take a look at Ansel Adams’ photos.

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