What is it about black and white photography that draws so much interest? Perhaps it is from a sense of nostalgia about being “old timey”, as in black and white TV preceded color TV. Perhaps it is because black and white prints go with any decor. While it could be that simple, to the photographer color and black and white are as different as, say, black and white.
Color photography is partly about the play between colors. Opposite colors on the color wheel, called complementary colors, are looked for when composing a shot. But black and white is about contrast, strong subjects, and what draws the eye in. It is photography stripped down. There is no hiding in what is colorful and pretty. Attention must be paid to what the eye sees first and which direction it travels when there is no color parachute.
In my photo “Ghost Ship”, the eye is drawn directly to the large, white hull of the boat at the front left of the image. From there, the eyes slowly scan back the rest of the boat, only then revealing the worn and tattered details. This is a classic composition using leading lines to take the viewer’s eye from the front of the boat deeper into the middle of the picture. While bright areas tend to draw the eye into an image, dark areas seem to repel the eye. Also, eyes tend to follow lines to their conclusion. A strong photo can capture the eye and control how it sees the photo.
“Ghost Ship” was taken on the shores of the Delaware Bay. I tiptoed through the mud and reeds to get as close as possible to the grounded ship. When I got close, I immediately recognized the strong composition. However, what our eyes see doesn’t always translate into an photographic image because our brain processes images differently than film. So for this image I knew I needed to use my widest angle lens and get as close as possible to the front of the boat. A wide angle lens has a property where things close are exaggerated and things far away are made smaller. They maximize the space in a scene, making near and far seem impossibly distant from each other. Once my wide angle lens was secured on my camera, I crouched down just a couple feet from the bow of the boat to take this shot.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love color photography. Grand colorful landscapes hold a special place in my heart. But I am proud of this image, I think it came out well. In color it lost some of its power, it was screaming to be a black and white. Listen to your images, sometimes they tell you all you need to know!