WHAT MAKES A GOOD BLACK AND WHITE PHOTO

Seattle, Washington

BLACK AND WHITE FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHY

As I have gotten more into black and white photography, I have learned many things. The biggest one is that most black and white photos are different levels of grey. Many photographers hit the black and white button in Lightroom, do a little dodging and burning and call it good. When you are interested in purchasing a black and white fine art print, there is more to a black and white than different shades of grey.

infrared black and white south twin mountain near mount baker in the north cascades
Imaging a black and white fine art gallery in your home with prints from Randy Bott. Twin Sisters Mountain. Limited Edition of 100 prints available.

ARTISTS I STUDY

As I study the works of Joel Tjintjelaar at Bwvision.com, Jim Welninski with Alteredspacephoto.com, one thing stands out in their work. There are only 2 elements in the majority of their photos. The Figure and the Ground. The figure is the subject of the image and what is highlighted. The Ground is the rest of the image. The ground could be the sky, buildings, water, etc. Anything else that is not the Figure. When you look at a black and white image to purchase for your home gallery, make sure you know what the figure is in the image. This will make the image stand out while hanging on your wall.

downtown Seattle near the train station in black and white
Enjoy the contrast of black and white photos in your home office with prints from Randy Bott. Seattle Lighting. Limited Edition of 100 prints available.

KNOW WHAT IS IMPORTANT IN THE IMAGE

In the above image, the "Figure" is the Smith Tower and the few buildings to the right. The "Ground" is the rest of the image. You know exactly what is going on in the image. If it was just different tones of grey, your eye would not know where to go and get lost. What creates the sense of Figure and Ground is the area with the highest contrast. Essentially where the light meets the dark. Of course this is not the case for all black and white fine art prints. If the image is a portrait of someone, that makes it hard to have a figure and ground elements. In the case of landscape or architectural photography, the Figure and Ground are the important elements.

Chihully glass museum in black and white.
Black and white fine art prints by Randy Bott can transform any home or office. Chihuly Glass Museum. Limited Edition of 100 prints available.

HOW TO CREATE THE FIGURE AND GROUND

What makes the Figure/Ground elements difficult is the amount of masking needed to separate different elements of the image. I can spend days to weeks making hard masks of all the elements in an image I want to edit. In the case of Cityscapes, I make a mask of the sky, then the buildings, then each individual building, etc. along with luminosity masks. Then I need to combine several masks to make a single edit on one part of the image. You can see the editing process can be tedious but it really makes a difference. This allows me to edit the image and show exactly what is the figure and what is the ground.

black and white panorama of downtown Seattle
Panoramic fine art prints for sale by Randy Bott Photography. Seattle Panorama 2. Limited Edition of 100 prints available.

FOUNDER OF MODERN BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOGRAPHS

When most people think about black and white photography, Ansel Adams is the first person that comes to mind. To some, he is considered the founder of modern black and white photography. But not only was he an amazing photographer, he played a vital role the conservation of national parks like Yosemite by being part of the Sierra Club's board of directors. But back to photography. I couldn't imagine what Ansel had to go through to get his images. Especially in Yosemite. Carrying a large format film camera, large tripod, and everything else he needed. Then have to find a dark room to do all the post processing on each image. And before you say post processing is cheating and that it should be perfect out of the camera, Ansel would spend at least a full day processing each image. I don't know how it works in the dark room but he would dodge and burn his images to get the viewer's eye to see what he wanted. Dodging and burning is lightening and darkening areas of the photo to draw the eye where it should go. I often wonder what he could do with a modern camera. I also think that while he is considered one of the best, times and equipment have changed and I prefer modern black and white images. It's not better but just different.

CONCLUSION

When purchasing premium fine art black and white prints, you want something that stands out. I feel that most of my fine art black and white prints do just that. But then there is a good chance I'm a bit biased when it comes to my work. Black and white photography has been a fun journey. Since I haven't been able to get out and shoot as much as I want, going through old photos has been fun. Went on a trip to San Francisco last year and what I thought were boring images since we didn't have any clouds the entire time, are now turning into fun black and white projects.

Please contact me with any questions about purchasing limited edition premium fine art prints from any of my galleries.

black and white Weber Farmstead panorama photograph
A perfect addition to your black and white home gallery. Weber Farmstead Black and White Panorama. Limited Edition of 100 prints available.
black and white golden gate bridge at sunrise.
Turn your home into a black and white fine art gallery. Golden Gate Bridge Black and White. Limited Edition of 100 prints available.
Mount rainier in black and white long exposure

Mount Rainier Black and White

Mount Rainier reflecting in Reflection Lakes during a cloudy, rainy morning. Converting an image to black and white removes all the distraction cause by the many colors of the scene. A 4 minute exposure creates a sense of movement in the clouds and calm in the lake. Black and white images are about the Figure and the Ground. The "Figure" is Mount Rainier since that has the most contrast and the "Ground" is everything else. Limited Edition of 100 prints available.