The subjects for black-and-white photography might seem limited. For example, traditional subjects include landscapes, portraits, still lifes, and everyday scenes.
A portrait, just to consider one of these, can be formal, candid, environmental, representative, and more. This does not even consider the different people to be photographed, lighting conditions, season, background, or the many elements that affect the final photograph.
Beginning photographers are the most pliable when it comes to outside influences. They are typically still searching for a style, honing their skills, and unsure of their abilities. For these reasons and others, many photographers have a difficult time choosing appropriate subjects for their photography.
Especially for beginning photographers, choosing subjects is usually the best place to start. I often have students complain there are no subjects. “There’s nothing interesting to photograph,” is a common refrain. I advise them to take pictures of things they like, whether those things seem interesting or not. I’ve found that when we’re photographing subjects in which we’re interested, we are more likely to look for a good image.
Beginners often photograph their subjects literally. There’s nothing wrong with that. Many times, though, an ordinary subject can be made extraordinary. That is rarely due to the subject and almost always a reflection of the photographer.
Most viewers like dynamic photographs. To make a dynamic photograph, you must see the shapes, lines, and tones that make up a black-and-white photograph. In a sense, the photographer must learn to break down the subject into its basic compositional elements, and then build an image from them.
By beginning to look at your compositions as visual elements, rather than merely literal subjects, you will go a long way towards taking photographs of which to be proud. Remember: Photographic images are made of tone, shapes, and lines. Their relationships will make it easier for you to find a good composition – no matter what the subject. And you’ll learn even old subjects can be shot anew!
Part two of a two-part series, provided by Bernhard J. Suess for the New York Institute of Photography (www.nyip.com).