How Lighting Affects Black and White Photography

Recently I decided that it was about time I started pushing myself and being more creative with the lighting in my photography. We've all seen photographers with their shoot through umbrellas and softboxes, the lighting is nice and even but lets face it none of that's particularly exciting or challenging. So I set about creating a set of black and white images that had a real impact and punch to them... how did I achieve this? I decided to shoot at night, in the dark, and with only lights I found lying around the house. So that meant no flash, no diffusers, no real control over the power of the lights and sometimes not being able to change the positioning of the light source.
Doing this project meant that I had to really look at how the light fell on the subject, how if the light was closer it had a more dramatic and narrow area of illumination, and how moving it further away reduced the impact but lit not only the subject but the area around them.
So how does this relate to black and white photography? Well take a pitch black scene, add a strong light source and place it close to the subject and you get some remarkably dramatic images. Bare in mind that light through a diffused source (shoot through umbrella, softbox etc) is nice and even, soft and clean... without this it's harsh and casts shadows - perfect for shooting someone with lots of character in their face!
As a photographer it's important to see light and how it falls on people on the scene you are shooting. We all know that overcast days are perfect for photo shoots as the clouds create a massive softbox that diffuses the light and gives even and clear photos. So does this mean that we should never shoot in anything other than a scene where we don't have harsh lighting, lots of shadows and contrast between dark and light? No definitely not! In fact these are the conditions in which black and white photography really comes in to its own. That relationship between dark and light should be used to add drama to a photograph, the shadows used to create depth and the highlights used to contrast and draw the eyes to the focal point of the shot.
Remember that in a black and white photograph the brightest part of the image should be the subject... shoot in a dark room, light them with a strong non diffused light source and you'll get some incredible results. So I urge you to try this little experiment, practice with harsh lighting, use your creativity to set an interesting scene and enjoy the results... Oh and don't forget to let me know how you get on!
Newcastle Wedding Photographer

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