Dash Kitten is all about learning to be better at cat photography and making cat movies. I love taking pictures and have achieved a successful image or two, although the perfect action shot is still on my wish list.
Cat photography in black and white photography can seem overwhelming to a beginner but in this post, I focus on the essentials you need to get started in this intriguing area of photography. I include a glossary of terms at the bottom of the post.
Why Black and White Photos?
Last week I asked if anyone had considered taking pictures in black and white because it had been featured in my photography course and is an area I am exploring and having fun with, much to my surprise.
It turns out there is a lot to learn about taking black and white pictures. Everyone thought that they would fade away with the excitement of colour prints but their grip on our imagination and vision is stronger than ever.
So, what is black and white photography, and what isn’t.
Is Monochrome Black and White?
Let’s start by defining what black and white is for you and me as beginner photographers.
Black and white photographs are made up of:
- Black and
- White and,
- shades of Gray
What we know as black and white are actually variations on the colour grey, from deep dark charcoal to almost invisible pale wisps of smoke. Black and white on their own would be stark and graphic, but we often don’t realise how many subtle gray shades fill the spaces in between.
It is these variations that give black and white photographs their impact and depth.
Once you remove the color, it is like stripping a scene down to the bare bones, removing the layers and leaving the form.Wendy Folse
What is Grayscale?
Most photography apps and programs have a quick convert option function that seems to magically remove the colour from pictures. I used to think these were the only way anyone converted a colour image to black and white.
I was wrong. There is a much better way for beginners to use. Your photo editing program can help make finer and more pleasing adjustments to a cat photograph than the simple converter you may have tried before.
Using a Photo Editing Program for Better Black and White Photos
To check the impact of your program’s colour sliders on a black and white photograph, make a duplicate of a cat photo and go crazy with the sliders. You will be surprised by the difference an adjustment can make.
Compare this second photograph with the pre-set version above. I made a difference by choosing cooler tones. It is a little bit darker but the overexposed wood has been toned down nicely.
Check out this third picture below. I adjusted the colours for a warmer tone. The results are not what I expected. One of my favourite black cats looking like something from another planet. The red, green and blue sliders have created an unsettling effect.
Are Monochrome and Black and White the Same?
Not quite. Black and white includes an almost limitless range of gray shades, but monochrome can be variations of any one colour, not necessarily black and white.
Check out this picture of Natasha. I ran it through an Affinity filter for a dramatic red-toned image.
TIP: Your camera manufacturer Nikon, Canon etc., allows you to set your camera to view in black and white although it takes colour pictures. They often call it the ‘monochrome’ setting.
Black and White Cat Photography Tips
The first thing to focus on is your approach and how you think about taking pictures.
Plan to Shoot in Black and White
Do your best to go out with an intention to take black and white pictures. This works even if you shoot in colour and then remove the colour when you edit the image in ‘post-production’*.
It might not always work out. I forget sometimes, but the intention opens your eyes to a different way of looking. I found this myself when I took the picture of Chenzou I
Look for Shape, Form and Texture
Black and white photography simplifies your pictures. Because there are none of the visual clues that colour can provide, you have to rely on:
- Form from contrasts in light and shade.
This also means that you need to keep your pictures simple. No background clutter. Why? Because you want the viewer’s eye to focus on the point of your photograph, the message you have or the story you tell.
- You will learn to look for shape and light as you practice.
This picture of Chenzou shows a sunlit cat and clear in a visually clean space. There is a gentle reminder that cats love to play from the cat toy in the shadows and I was particularly happy to get the whiskers in focus. The picture tells a sweet story, this is a cat it can play or it can contemplate – his choice.
The strong contrasts were provided by bright natural light with minimal intervention from me as the photographer, even in post-production.
Thank you to Neko Ngeru Cat Adoption Cafe for the opportunity to take pictures of the wonderful cats. They have a lively FB page you need to visit.
Shoot in RAW
If you have not come across RAW before, I go into this method of taking pictures in more depth here.
For now, a photograph shot in the RAW format is an unprocessed photograph taken by a digital camera. The ‘raw’ data is captured by your camera’s sensor and saved in a format specific to your own brand of camera. The files are large as they hold a lot more information than a JPEG.
It might sound technical until you work your way through the process but, for black and white pictures it is helpful to try RAW.
It’s not essential though so don’t worry. RAW just gives you more photo information to play with. You do not have to know how it all works. A program like Affinity opens and processes RAW files easily. For Photoshop Elements see my note below Natasha.
NOTE: Photoshop Elements (PE) can open raw files only from supported cameras. PE does not save your changes to the original raw file (non-destructive editing). After processing the raw image file using the features of the Camera Raw dialog box, you can choose to open a processed raw file in PE.Photoshop Elements (Affiliate link)
Remember when you are taking pictures using the RAW format that you cannot take an extended burst of images (or use sport mode). Your camera is processing photographs as it takes them and, after a few pictures
Not Everything Works in Black and White
A good black and white picture has a wide range of tones**. If your picture’s tones are subtle and magical they may radiate a glorious range of lovely colours but they might look flat and lifeless in black and white. Not everything works, and it doesn’t need to either. Colour is sometimes what
TIP: You can do a quick ‘audition’ on a duplicate copy of your image using the ‘covert to greyscale’ to see if your photograph will be a successful transfer from colour.
Great color contrasts are great material for black and white.John Beardsworth
Look for Abstract Shapes
One of the most popular black and white photography techniques is to look for shapes that might not be immediately recognisable or take time to figure out.
You can look out for:
- Negative space
- Lines across or down
- A subject and a strong shadow
This photograph is not an abstract but it has strong horizontal lines and it may take you a moment to spot the worker at his desk.
This photograph was taken in Wellington on the Pipitea campus of the University. There is a strong business department that is becoming a dynamic force in Australasia expanding the modern skills of the local workforce.
Learn About Light and Shade
Apart from shape and texture, the one thing a beginner needs to practice using properly is light. Light sculpts a subject into shape and can have a dramatic impact on your work.
With black and white photography, what you have to say counts more than the way you say it.Gian Marco Marano
Strong shade can be as much a part of your picture as the part of it in the light, or sunshine. This picture of Silver is a closeup with the sun is a good example.
There is sharp fur illuminated by sunlight, framed by what seems to be deep shadow. In reality, I could see well into the shadow but thanks to my settings the camera did not, and it made a lovely picture.
Filters for Black and White photographs
Light can be dramatically affected by any filters you place in front of your lens. These are a subject in themselves so beyond the remit of this beginner’s post. However, I came across one idea that I know anyone can try. Not only is it easy it’s a lot of fun.
The ‘Sunglass Filter’
You will need one camera (of any kind) and one pair of sunglasses!
- Grab your camera.
- Make sure your settings are OK for your situation. It can be anything sunny really!
- Hold the sunglasses in front of your lens.
- Take your picture.
- See how it comes out.
- Rinse and repeat!
Are You Ready to Take Black and White Photographs?
Whatever device you use, DSLR, compact or smartphone camera, you can use these tips to take a photograph with tremendous impact.
It needs a change of mindset but the skills are simple to learn and over time you might find yourself automatically thinking ‘that would make a great black and white photo’.
Black and White Photography Sources:
- Top photographers in black and white
- Post Production* Work done on an image or movie after shooting or filming has taken place.
- What are tones?** The particular quality of brightness, deepness, or hue of a shade of a colour –
- Photoshop Elements and Camera RAW – Full details on the Adobe web site.
- Casey’s detailed how-to for a sunglasses filter.