There’s no two ways about it, colour is intoxicating. Just think about how you respond to an orange-red sunset or an azure-blue ocean—these and innumerable other examples all create deeply felt, emotional responses.
So in a monochrome image that is devoid of colour, our natural reaction is to seek out other qualities. But what is it that we’re left with if we remove colour? Well, naturally the subject remains the same, which is why few people question the use of black and white in reportage, but so does the structural composition of the image— its line, shape, and form, its contrast and tone, and its texture. Without colour to distract us, these elements assume a greater significance.
Look through any collection of black-and-white images, and the ones that jump out at you will have strong lines and shapes: graphics that provide structure and help guide the viewer through the image. Form, as we shall go on to see, has a different connotation, being more concerned with three- dimensional volume rather than the flat, two-dimensions of shape. Lines are ubiquitous, found in natural as well as artificial environments. Some are curved, some are straight, some are horizontal, others vertical, and yet more are diagonal. These different forms of line, as well as leading the eye, also elicit powerful emotional responses. Diagonal lines, for example, being neither vertical nor horizontal, can create tension, as can tightly formed curves. While horizontal lines and more sweeping curves tend to produce a feeling of calm.
Shapes, whether geometric—such as triangles, squares, and circles—or nongeometric can be used as the building blocks of composition, and if repeated can have real impact. Key to how much impact graphics have on an image is contrast. If the lines and shapes are made of dark and bright tones juxtaposed to one another, they will create a strong and active impression. When processing images to show off strong graphics look to increase contrast as much as possible. Whether or not you clip highlights or shadows depends on the image.
Michael Freeman’s Photo School: Black and White, by Freeman & Luck
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