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Tips for Black and White Photography from Dennis Skley

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Mazlan has an affinity for trivia and fun facts that he loves to share with others.

Black and White Photography

Black and white photography can turn a drab color photo into a stunning image. It is also perfect media to take photos on overcast days. In black and white photography, you focus on the subject and not distracted by the 'props'. This amazing media has now been ‘rediscovered’ by many great photographers and fashion magazines. The trend and demand for black and white photography for portraits and weddings are also on the increase.

The high black and white photo shows good contrast and works very well in this photo

The high black and white photo shows good contrast and works very well in this photo

Black and White Photos

I have seen many great black and white photos in print and online magazines and always wondered if there were originally in color or in black and white. Whether there were photographed with digital cameras or on films. Were they digitally altered using photos editors?

I was pleased when a photographer agreed to share his experience, give tips on how to take black and white photos and provide answers to all the above questions.

For this stark black and white photo, he use a yellow bell pepper with blue background. On the camera, he had a blue filter.

For this stark black and white photo, he use a yellow bell pepper with blue background. On the camera, he had a blue filter.

Dennis Skley

Let me introduce you to Dennis Skley, a photographer based in Berlin, Germany.

Besides taking beautiful black and white photographs, Dennis also enjoys taking still-life photographs in color.

He also likes to experiment with different film development techniques and taking self-portraits.

Dennis Skley, self portrait in color

Dennis Skley, self portrait in color

See His Full Portfolio

You can see more of his work on Flickr at flickr.com/dskley

He is also on Facebook at Skley.Photography

All photographs featured in this article are the works of Dennis Skley who had given me permission to use for this article.

Q1. Tell us a bit of Your Background

I have always been intrigued by gadget and “technical toys”. The camera was one of them.

My first photographic obsession got started with a Minolta 5000 AF camera, an emulsion film SLR camera, released in 1986. This obsession continues today.

This black and white photo was shot with Ricoh XR 20 SP using film, Kentmere 100 @ ISO 200 and develop with Adox APH 09 (22:00@19°)

This black and white photo was shot with Ricoh XR 20 SP using film, Kentmere 100 @ ISO 200 and develop with Adox APH 09 (22:00@19°)

Q2. Is There Any One of Your Equipment That You Consider Most Important to You?

Well, I do a lot of analog photography and develop the films myself. Therefore, I consider the container to develop films in as my most important piece of equipment. Strange, but it is true!

Q3. What Type of Camera Do You Use in Most of Your Work?

I use both digital and analog cameras as I enjoy editing pictures digitally as well as processing the films and printing them the old fashioned way.

I use Canon EOS 600D for all of my digital photography. For analog, I use both Canon EOS 500N and Ricoh XR 20SP.

The detail and texture gives depth to this black and white photo

The detail and texture gives depth to this black and white photo

Q4. In Any One Session, How Many Pictures Do You Take To Get "The Right One"

Most of them are "one-shot" but for tabletop or still life pictures, I might need three to five takes. Most of my editing works are with Lightroom. I use Photoshop Elements when I want to create a montage, to get an effect, or do some other processing.

Generally, I use these software to edit all of my digital photos; yes, 100% of them!

I do not do any editing for my analog photos.


Q5. What Makes You Decide To Photograph Something In Black And White And Not Color?

With black and white photography, the object becomes the center of attention. It is more focused and more emotional. Only with black and white photography will you be able to find the soul of an object. So, that's how I decide when to shot in black and white or in color. Sometimes, it is a spontaneous action.

This black and white photo may produce uninteresting image if shot in color

This black and white photo may produce uninteresting image if shot in color

Q6. Are Most Of Your Black And White Photos Shot Originally In Color And Converted Later to Black and White?

No, I take all of my black and white photographs with my analog cameras and shot straight in black and white.

It is better to photograph straight away in black and white as you can "molest" the films by 'Push Development and Pull Development'. You cannot do this with colored films.

I also use colored filters for my analog black and white photos as they give stronger contrast.

 Taken with Canon EOS 600D

Taken with Canon EOS 600D

Q7. Is There Any Adjustment You Make for Black And White Photos Like Low ISO Etc?

I generally do not do any other adjustment for my black and white photos. I prefer to work in a situation that is given. However, I work with low ISO film as the high ISO film make black and white photos grainy.

Q8. Is Lighting Important For Black And White Photography?

Lights are essential for all kinds of photography. However, in black and white photography, lights are even more important as it adds texture and ambiance to the overall image.

For example, in landscape photography, a clear sky with no cloud will turn out as a white or grey in the final print. Instead, look for an active sky. In some instances, a featureless sky can also be interesting depending on the overall composition. So, experiment and see which work best.

He use Canon EOS 500N and Ilford Delta 3200 film for this night photo. It was taken without tripod (handheld camera) but with high ISO 3200.

He use Canon EOS 500N and Ilford Delta 3200 film for this night photo. It was taken without tripod (handheld camera) but with high ISO 3200.

Q9. What Sort Of Lighting Should Someone Be Looking For?

I prefer natural lighting and if I work in the studio, it will be artificial lighting. Black and white photos look more dramatic if you have a higher contrast. Therefore you might get a good effect if you shoot with the light source in front of you. The strong shadow coming from the light source in one direction is another feature you might want to consider for your photos.

Q10. What Is A Good Subject For Black And White Photos?

You have to look for the subject with complementary colors. Some colors look the same in black and white and you don't get good contrast. Red and green for example, will look the same in black and white. So, as I had mentioned earlier, black and white photos are interesting if they have good contrast.

Black and white photo can give soul and character to an otherwise boring color photo

Black and white photo can give soul and character to an otherwise boring color photo

Q11. When Is The Best Time To Shoot In Black And White?

I personally prefer to take between dawn and dusk, but there is no ‘best time’ in any photography. You just have to know how to capture the moment to film

Q12. Are There Any Special Filters To Enhance Black And White Photos?

I mostly use Pol-Circular-Filter, sometimes Color-Filters. Orange filter on black and white photos will be useful for landscape photography as it will enhance the cloud and give better contrast. The effect is quite powerful in architectural photographs as well.

Orange filter has a strong effect on blue and violet images and will darken very strongly. For green images, it doesn't darken that strongly and it is less strong for yellow-green images.

In nude photography, you will get a strong contrast if the photo is taken with green plants/scenery as the backdrop.

That is why I like using the orange filter for my black and white photography.

The standard rule on symmetry applies to both color and black and white photography

The standard rule on symmetry applies to both color and black and white photography

Q13. Is It Important To Shoot Black and White Photos In RAW?

It´s not important to photograph in RAW but it will be easier later. Without this format, you have to concentrate more on picture taking.

With RAW, you can edit it later if the picture did not turn out the way you had wanted it.

Q14. Is It Different When It Comes To Composition For Black And White Photo?

None whatsoever. The standard rule on symmetry, rules of the third and the “golden cut”, work well for both color and black and white photographs.

Black and White Balance

Also, imagine how the black and white will balance in the final picture. Do not let gray dominate your photo as the final image will turn out flat and uninteresting. Aim for a wide gradient of grays as this will add depth.

Aim for a wide gradient of grays as this will add depth to your black and white photos

Aim for a wide gradient of grays as this will add depth to your black and white photos

Q15. What Other Tips And Advice Do You Have To Take Outstanding Black And White Photograph?

It is essential to photograph items that fascinate you. If you see a house with special windows, then you shoot the windows only and not the house. Capture the texture and detail. It will add more interest and excitement to your photos.

Take Many Photos

In addition, take as many photos as possible. This is not only fun but also effective. Practice makes perfect. Right now I am part of the 365-project i.e. one photo per day.

I also suggest that you study the works of the earlier photographers or browse through some of the earlier black and white photo books. See the effects they get with different approaches to lighting. You will pick up lots of tips from there.

Other Aids to Your Photography

If you have color photographs and want to convert them to black and white, read BeFunky online photo editor and learn how to get various effects in black and white.

Besides having a good camera, you will need other types of equipment to help you with your photography. Read Essential Photography Equipment for various types of equipment that you may consider buying.

If you are thinking of buying a camera, then you should read The Best Cameras For Photography. It gives you all the tips and advice on how to buy or upgrade your camera.

Appreciation and Gratitude

I like to extend my appreciation and gratitude to Dennis Skley for agreeing to do this interview. For him to take time from his busy schedule is a big sacrifice, for which, I am truly grateful.

NOTE: All the photos used in this article are with special permission from the owner and photographer Dennis Skley. You can view more of his work at flickr.com/dskley

This is one of those rare color photograph that Dennis edited to black and white photo with color

This is one of those rare color photograph that Dennis edited to black and white photo with color

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Mazlan

Comments

Anna Haven from Scotland on April 06, 2014:

Useful and interesting. I was taking black and white pictures over the last few days. Helpful hub.

Mazlan (author) from Malaysia on April 25, 2013:

@Darrylmdavis, thanks for the visit and commenting

Darrylmdavis from Brussels, Belgium on April 25, 2013:

Good stuff :-)

Mazlan (author) from Malaysia on September 20, 2012:

@coffeegginmyrice , I am glad you enjoyed reading this article on black and white photography and worthy of sharing. Have a great weekend.

Marites Mabugat-Simbajon from Toronto, Ontario on September 18, 2012:

I love and enjoyed this hub. I am a slave to photography as a hobby. I'm just elite and like to go out with my camera. Useful, awesome and interesting hub! Will share.

photostudiosupply from Rochester, New York on July 24, 2012:

Very useful tips. Nice hub, vote up for this!

Om Paramapoonya on July 20, 2012:

What a fascinating interview! I appreciate the photographer's insight and perspective on black-and-white photographs. Also, these photos are truly awesome.

Dianna Mendez on July 20, 2012:

He has some talent! I do love the black and white photography as it makes such a dramatic statement in photos. I enjoyed the hub post.

Movie Master from United Kingdom on July 20, 2012:

What fabulous photos - I enjoyed this very much!

Voted up!

Mazlan (author) from Malaysia on July 19, 2012:

Thanks to all of you for stopping by and commenting.

@kumar24894 & @CassyLu1981 Thanks for the vote and the share. I am pleased that you found this info helpful.

@Julie DeNeen I am glad it has inspired you

@amuno Thanks for the pin

@Vinaya Ghimire Actually the expertise is from Dennis, I only did the interview and compile his tips and advice on black and white photography!

@rfmoran, By analog, Dennis meant cameras that we used to have in the last century without the digital technology. It also uses the emulsion film and pictures will be process in the darkroom. Those cameras that he is using are no longer in production.

Russ Moran - The Write Stuff from Long Island, New York on July 18, 2012:

Greatstuff, greatstuff. B&W photos can convey a drama that color can't. I don't get his point about using analog rather than digital though.

Vinaya Ghimire from Nepal on July 18, 2012:

I practiced my photography on black and white film. These days though I do not take black and white photographs, I sometimes convert my colored pictures into grey-scale.

Thanks for sharing your expertise.

Alfred Amuno from Kampala on July 17, 2012:

Great pics GreatStuff. pinned it.

Blurter of Indiscretions from Clinton CT on July 17, 2012:

This was fantastic. It makes me want to be a photographer!

CassyLu1981 from Spring Lake, NC on July 17, 2012:

Excellent hub! When I was in photography classes we had to do a 30 day only black and white photography class and it was amazing some of the shots everyone got :) Love all the wonderful information in this hub. Voted up and shared!

kumar24894 from Fuck of HUBPAGES on July 17, 2012:

geatstuff, great hub . I love photography and this hub is much useful.

voted up and sharing !!!!