The Best Black and White Photographic Subjects :: Digital Photo Secrets

The Best Black and White Photographic Subjects

by David Peterson 2 comments

When you’re beginning black and white photography, it’s often difficult to figure out what to photograph in the first place. You’ve seen some amazing black and white photos, but you don’t know why they’re so amazing. How can black and white enhance a subject? Are certain subjects more tailored to black and white photography than others?

In a word, yes. Black and white photography is almost a completely different artform. With the colors no longer there to take your viewer’s attention away from the tiny details, you can focus more on the form and texture in your image. Consider photographing the following subjects the next time you make the switch to black and white.

Find subjects with interesting textures

The rocks above are a great example. The entire purpose of the photo is to show the contrast between the two different rock textures. With no colors distracting you, the smoothness of the white rocks stands out in an uncanny way, and it works really well when placed next to the porous and rough texture of the black rocks.

What other subjects have a lot of texture? You don’t have to travel very far to find them. They’re right in your home. Your kid’s sports equipment, the baseballs, footballs, and basketballs are all made of a leather that has an interesting texture. And what about the fruit in your kitchen? Oranges, raspberries, bananas, and apples each have a unique texture that can’t quite be duplicated.

Outside of the home, there are flowers, water droplets, footprints, the wood grain from a tree trunk, and so much more that I can’t list it all. I’d suggest going on a long walk and looking for things that have texture. And if you’re going on a walk, you might as well bring you camera with you. Snap a few photos and let me know how it goes.

Find subjects with interesting shadows

Not all subjects will have interesting shadows at all times of the day. Have a look at the image below. If the sun were shining directly overhead, none of the shadows would be visible, and you’d have a bright white mess. The same goes if you were to take the picture very early in the morning. Everything would be covered in shadow, and you wouldn’t be able to see anything.

But there is a time of day when it all comes together, and there’s just enough balance between the shadow and the sun. That’s when interesting textures start to emerge, and by switching to black and white, you can see them in more detail. It isn’t always a matter of finding subjects with interesting shadows. It’s more a matter of finding the right time of day to photograph them.

Find abstract subjects

The abstract photographer in me loves black and white. Why? Because no other medium allows you to focus on the form of your subjects. Whenever you’re shooting in black and white, try to find subjects that represent geometrical shapes. You’ll be surprised with the results you get.

How many of you would have guessed that the object in the photo is a staircase? Without the colors to distract your vision, you don’t see the staircase as a staircase. You see it as a spiral. Black and white photography gives us the unique opportunity to see the world in a way we never usually see it. We enter a world where form takes reign over the familiarity of the objects themselves.

That’s art-speak for “we see shapes, and it’s pretty darn cool.”

While it can certainly take a while to train yourself to see the shapes in ordinary things, once you do, it will make your black and white photography that much more interesting. The coolest subjects tend to be the ones you’d least expect to find. There is form in everything. Black and white photography will teach you to look for it.

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  1. Rebecca Cate says:

    Just a quick note to say that your tips and articles are so enlightening. You manage to put so much into a short essay. I don't have to bother with all the confusing details of technology to learn the simplest solutions. I have been photographing for 30 years but never can learn enough. Thank you!

  2. marian riesberg says:

    David - I wish I could just put you in a bpttle with a cork to have with me every time I need to cash in on your wisdom. Thank you so much, I love every word you have ever sent me. :)

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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.