When you photograph in black and white and you are not considering colour information, you only have luminosity to use, which is essentially light reflecting off surfaces. This may sound limiting, but it is actually a great way to understand light and how, when reflected back at you, it can transform subjects and the way in which you see them. When exploring black and white photography, a way of getting used to not using colour is to start by looking at surfaces and the little areas of shadow and highlight that define them. You do not need direct sunlight to do this; in fact it can be a rather overcast day with very little sunlight at all.
If you now look at ‘Branch and Leaves’, it is clear that there is no strong light striking the woodland floor and the photograph was taken on a rather overcast day in dense woodland. What I relied upon on this day was the simple reflective and silvery nature of the surface of the dead branch and the fallen leaves that surrounded it. The simple difference between the smooth texture of the branch set against the many fallen leaves separates the branch and accentuates its shape and ‘line’. If you train your eye to see these areas of light, shadow and texture, this opens up a whole new world in which black and white works beautifully. This comes with time and practice, and exploration of subjects such as this will enable you to understand that subjects that would look rather dull as colour photographs actually come to life in a series of greys.
This extract is from Exploring Black and White Photography - A Masterclass by Paul Gallagher
Branch and leaves was taken using a Walker Titan Large Format camera, 120mm lens, f32, 2 secs.