Black and white photography is hard

… but that’s good.

My personal challenge of tackling black and white (b&w) photography this month is liberating. I have to use my brain. I have to struggle. I have to fail. And I learn.

Thank you, dear helpers

Yesterday, I couldn’t find b&w settings. Today I woke up to suggestions (thank you, Perelincolors!) and found a few clues online (thank you, Ken Rockwell) for help.

I have a Nikon D5200. In case you are looking and confused like I was, even after reading the manual, the menu feature you want is Picture Control. From there, you can choose the monochrome (among others) setting. This way, you can see b&w in your display, which was my goal yesterday.

While I could get the freedom of manual back on the body of the camera, the auto-focus on the lens wouldn’t work properly. I have had problems manually focusing the lens in the past, likely because of my poor eyesight, but didn’t have too much trouble today.

Day 2 Theme: Street and Establishing Shots, skipped for now

Since we are temporarily living in quiet Canadian suburbia where tumbleweed bumbling down the middle of the road would not look out of place, I’m going to wait on this one. (If tumbleweed would grace us with its presence, I could have a foreground subject.)

Instead, I’ll share a few shots from practicing around the outside of the house in the late evening. Here’s to daylight past 10pm!

mini Japanese lantern in garden

waiting to light up the night

side table outdoors in black and white

patterns and shadows

potted plant ready for renewal

shadows and real – which is which?

gorgeous pink flowers in black and white

flowers in the evening – do you know what these are?

Lessons from today

As fantabulous Desleyjane reminded me, contrast, contrast, contrast! Agreed. Having my display in b&w helped me to see that I need to keep practicing to train my eye to see photos completely differently than with colour. It’s really challenging for me to figure out what will provide enough contrast to get a picture that isn’t boring or confusing as to what the subject is.

Hitoshi made a great point about how light is so important because it’s all you have to work with. While this is the same with colour photos, I no longer have a wider spectrum to compensate.

I discovered while editing the photos that blurriness seems to be more noticable, even shrinking them to the larger 1024×768, compared to colour pictures.

As for contrast, I only altered the potted plant one. I don’t think it’s great and something seems off with it, but I still like it and it will be another benchmark for improvement.

If you’re doing Photo101, how are things going for you so far? If you’ve got feedback for me on these first few attempts, please share! I’m in full learning mode.

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27 thoughts on “Black and white photography is hard

    • Thank you! I liked those flowers, too. I want to try them again and use some of the contrast advice. By the way, do you have any suggestions on how to see contrast around me? I’m still struggling with this. Do I look for shadows or certain colors? I really don’t know where to start. Oh… and is there a better time of day? Does it matter if there is overhead sun or clouds? I think I should be able to take photos in both conditions.

      • Contrast… I think taking notice of textures is a good hint – you can get good b&w contrast with different textures. For example concrete next to glass, or timber grain with a clear sky. Actually skies are probably good practice – a clear sky with a very “busy” tree shows good contrast, even better with some clouds. There’s a tag you can follow called “black and white photography” – some great example in there. I hope that’s somewhat helpful?

  1. Hooray for finding the BW settings!
    I love BW photo’s as they often seem a bit more classy/stylish than colour photo’s, and the subject stands out more instead of being distracted by all the other colours going on in the photo. Except of course for nature, somehow the colours in nature are just meant to be only photographed in colour, aside if you want to highlight something very clever/structural/contrast.
    Eh..does this make sense? My photo skills limit itself to point & shoot (although in my head I always keep saying shoot & point …hihi)…with my phone, so I totally clueless about most of the things you’re writing about.
    But I do admire your journey and the photo’s. I think of these series my favourite is the table because of the pattern and shadow effect.

    • Thanks! It was a great discovery to find those b&w settings, even if they were buried under a non-intuitive (for me) label. 😀
      Yup! Those comments make sense about black and white looking classy and allowing the viewer to focus on the subject. I agree.
      Ha ha! I love your point and shoot reversal. That sounds like something I would say. And thank you for your admiration! ;D It really is fun even if I find it challenging. I love the table one, too. Arigatou!

  2. Way to go!! I’m a beginner too and I really applaud your courage. There’s great wisdom and freedom in the beginners mind. It’s a beautiful thing! Thanks for sharing. Well done 😊

    • Thank you, Joy! It’s fun to try something new and something that is a struggle. The learning curve is steep and there’s lots of satisfaction. And the great thing about digital photography is getting immediate results and seeing improvement.

  3. Hi Hillary, I remember having seen your question on tips for B&W photos but couldn’t find your message anymore. I see that you already got many and good advice and are busy practicing. AND ENJOYING IT!
    I do love B&W because of the possibility to make better images, when playing with contrast, shadows, and of course the black and white balance. The texture you got is beautiful. And Hitoshi is right. Light is the most basic and essential feature for a good execution of a B&W photo. Use of light makes you play well with all other things mentioned before, like contrast, shadows, highlights, exposure, etc. Otherwise you get flat photos and think you didn’t do well.
    I commend you for what you have achieved so far. Keep doing it! Way to go.

    • Thank you, Lucile! I asked the same question to Desleyjane and I’m curious what you think. I’m having trouble seeing contrast around me and am wondering what I should focus on. Do I look for shadows, strong colors (and what might those be??), overhead light?

      • You’re welcome, Hilary. Think of shadows, reflections, and start just with it. There is a lot you can do with post processing. You can totally transform your picture. You will achieve high contrast with editing.
        I suggest that you join Desley’s image reboot this month. Just take one image you are not happy with and play with post processing.
        Relax. I don’t believe there is anyone making the perfect photo while shooting. Even the best photographers post edit. And a lot. That’s what a professional one told me some days ago.

        • Thank you. Those concrete suggestions of shadows and reflections seem accessible and doable. I still have this notion that I can take a good photo without much processing and more practice will probably help me see the possibilities or not in this. 🙂 I appreciate your comment about what a pro told you about editing. It helps with perspective. That’s a good idea about Desley’s image reboot! I’m going to give it a try.

  4. Oh, what a challenge! I would love to do that in B&W too. Must be very hard. Yes, texture comes out to the surface and makes the photos look more interesting.

  5. If you shoot in black and white mode does the camera still save the colour information? It is always interesting to compare the two. I didn’t realise you could view black and white though. Must try to find that for our Nikon. My husband will love that feature. (We have a Nikon too).
    The thing that struck me from your photos was the texture of the wall in the second shot. I bet I wouldn’t even have noticed in colour.
    Great thing to try for the month – I look forward to seeing your photos improve – and learning from your hard work too!

    • I think my camera only records the monochrome using that particular setting from what I can see. I suppose I could fiddle with the color settings on my computer after to see, though. Have you found it yet? Which Nikon do you have?
      Interesting about the texture in the wall. That brick used to be, well, brick colored but it was painted white years ago. It really looks pretty boring otherwise but I love the nobbly bits that you can see more easily now.
      Thank you! It’s nice to have a goal. I don’t think I would do photo101 again without one.

      • We actually have two, a D3000 and a more recent D7000 which is amazing. However we are still learning how to use both of them. We had to get a second one to stop us fighting over the only camera.

          • The cameras are fairly similar in how they work, but the D7000 is much easier to use as you have buttons to change the ISO, white balance etc and two dials instead of one for aperture and shutter speed. You don’t need to go into the settings area at all so it is much quicker to take a manual photo. You have an extra viewing window on the top where you can easily see all the settings as you change them. The disadvantage is that is it much heavier, especially with a zoom lens – not good when you are walking up a mountain!

            • Thanks for the comparison of those two cameras. The D7000 really does sound amazing! The layout sounds better than the D5200. I’m better now with navigating but I still have to look to change the ISO (front of the camera on the left) and aperture (press and hold a button at the top right). They seem so far away from each other and not laid out well. And that extra weight is simply good exercise. ;D

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