Shooting Black & White in Asheville

Besides the beautiful mountains, the town of Asheville, NC is also blessed with a lovely downtown that the citizens have done a pretty good job of preserving. Consequently, you can find awesome buildings like this one to point your camera at.

Downtown Asheville is also interesting because it's kind of an odd melting pot of quaint small town, bohemian hippie, college hipster, and middle-aged yuppie on holiday. Having been all of these things at some point in my life, I'd be lying if I didn't say it's my kind of town!

Anyway, back to photography...

I like to shoot in black and white quite a bit, although I may go months without actually doing it. Here are some tips I've picked up along the way:
  • Simplification is always good in photography, but it's even more crucial in B&W. This is because you can't rely on color to differentiate objects. So a cluttered scene can look like a real mess in B&W. The photo in this post is actually a bit busy for an effective B&W, but it still works because the busyness is all repetition, which helps the brain make sense of the clutter and happens to be very a strong compositional element.
  • Look for lines, shapes, and textures. Simple compositions with these building block elements are wonderfully strong.
  • The most effective B&W images have a good spread and allocation of tonalities (shades of gray between pure black and pure white). Think Ansel Adams. You shoot in color, but each of those colors will map to a shade of gray. Ensuring good tonal representation therefore requires vision about how the colors you're seeing are going to map to gray tones. A lot of photographers call this "seeing in black and white". And that vision requires quite a bit of practice to develop.
  • Because of the previous point, seeking contrast is a good strategy. Look for scenes containing shadows and highlights.
  • The wisdom and blessings of shooting in good light apply every bit as much to B&W as they do to color.
  • Skies with clouds look a lot more interesting than clear, blue ones.