Understanding the behaviour of light and the effects it creates makes a huge difference in black and white photography. But you still have to make sure the camera records it faithfully, and that’s where an understanding of exposure theory and technique pays dividends. In this post we explain everything black and white photographers need to know about using light to create stunning monochrome images.
The black and white photographers’ guide to lighting direction
The direction of the light has a big impact on the appearance of a picture, but while the principles of lighting may appear complicated, they are actually quite straightfoward.
If you follow the old-fashioned advice for snapshot photography, you stand with the sun behind you.
This illuminates your subject evenly and produces clear, recognisable results with no incovenient shadows or exposure problems. Unfortunately, frontal lighting also produces pretty dull pictures.
Backlighting is much more interesting. Here, the sun (or other light source) is behind the subject, so you’re shooting into the light.
Backlighting can produce striking silhouettes or very attractive ‘rim-lighting’ effects in portraits.
But it also makes it much trickier to get the exposure right, and there’s the risk of lens flare if the sun is in the frame or just outside it.
Sidelighting is excellent at revealing texture, and works really well on surfaces like stone and wood, though less well on objects with more clearly-defined shapes.
Sunny days are the best times to observe the effects of different lighting – you can see how it changes by walking around your subject or returning at different times.
PAGE 1: The black and white photographer’s guide to lighting direction
PAGE 2: The black and white photographer’s guide to light quality
PAGE 3: Understanding point source lighting
PAGE 4: Working with natural light in black and white
PAGE 5: Metering tips for black and white photographers
PAGE 6: Exposure tips for black and white photographers
10 common exposure problems every photographer faces (and how to fix them)
Black and white photography made easy: tips for pro-quality results from start to finish
Master your camera’s autofocus: which AF points to use (and when to use them)
See the light like a pro: everything you were afraid to ask about using natural light
10 landscape photography mistakes every photographer makes