The Secret About BxW

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I love BxW images so much that I asked our photographer to shoot Lawrence and my engagement portraits entirely in BxW film.  This was a long time ago, but I remember it vividly.  The photographer responded politely:  “Usually when people come to Hawaii, they want their photos to be in color, so they can see the beauty of the island.”

Hmmmm…he has a point, I thought.  “Alright, take a couple shots in color and the rest in BxW please.”   😀

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What does this have to do with my lesson on BxW?  Not much, but it was a funny story.  All true, by the way.

Alright, let’s get to it…. Secret #1:  NOT ALL IMAGES LOOK GOOD IN BxW!

Shocking, right?!!  The problem is, not everyone realizes this bec they are learning with a digital camera.

With digital photography, it becomes easy to adopt the philosophy of shoot-NOW-think-LATER, because it uses technology where you can view your images a second after pressing the shutter and many rely on post-processing to fix something or change a photo to BxW.  All with a few clicks of a button.

This process leaves little reason to need to think very much before you shoot.

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Secret #2:  SHOOT INTENTIONALLY FOR BxW

When I shot entirely with a film camera, one of the things I learned very quickly was looking out for imagery based on what kind of film was loaded in my camera.  I’d shoot differently with BxW film versus Color film.

If I had a roll of 100 speed color, then I’d bring my camera somewhere sunny and colorful, like a beach boardwalk.  (FYI:  The speed of a roll of film is like a digital camera’s ISO.)  If I had a roll of 800 speed BxW, then I’d look for a shady area or shoot at night… and I’d look for interesting textures, patterns and variations of light.

With BxW images, I think about how light and dark would shape the image.

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If you still think “BxW rocks and everything looks great as BxW”, then let me give you an example of why that’s not true…

* REAL LIFE EXAMPLE *

A few months ago, I took Lawrence’s relaxed, lifestyle-esque headshots in color to be used for color.  So I chose a location that had cool indoor lights for a colorful backdrop and a small window for natural light on his face.  Recently, he needed a BxW headshot for something else.  For the sake of time, I took the existing photos and converted them to BxW.

The Problems:

1. There were too many colors with the same tonality, so when I converted this color image to BxW, my subject no longer stood out as he did in color.

2. Some of the colors blended into each other, like his shoulders and hair.  EEK.

3. In BxW, the lines in the background became irritably distracting.  One line even cut through his head — Oy!

This photo did NOT translate well into BxW.

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The Solution:

We did another shoot — but this time, it was intended for BxW images.  (I shot as if I had a roll of BxW film in my camera.)

To prepare, I had to pick a good location.  I knew my subject has dark hair and would be wearing a black suit (because I picked his outfit!), so I chose a location that would provide contrast to my subject.  In other words, no dark backgrounds!

First stop was a garden for a textured backdrop.

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Now there is definition between my subject and his background!

Below is another image taken at the same place.  I angled the camera slightly downward to give less emphasis to his jaw.  (I also made him laugh, so this image is my favorite.)

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Before leaving this location, I found a giant cream-colored door.  Voila, the “clean” light backdrop!

The thin lines, in this shot, provide context to my subject without being distracting and makes the headshot feel more lifestyle than studio.  The fact that the door was cream translated to a light grey, which works perfectly because a white-white would be too stark.

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Nearby, there was a garage.  I like the industrial feel of the cement and hard lines of the building.  So now I have a texturally interesting background for BxW!

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TAKE-AWAYS:

~ Not all color photos should be changed into BxW; and not all BxW photos should be color.  Some images look best only one way.

~ There are different things to look out for when you are shooting in color versus BxW.

~ With BxW portraits, you need a background that will be contrasting to the person.  (Sometimes you can’t control this, like if it’s a Lifestyle session with children, but it’s something to look out for.)

~ You also have to consider tonality of colors (e.g., medium shades of red and green may look great together in color, but when changed to BxW, they will both look like a medium grey).  Things with similar tonality will blend together in BxW.

~ Especially with BxW images, you can use light and shadows to shape or define your subject.

QUESTION OF THE DAY:

Is my husband lucky to have a photographer for a wife, so he can get free photoshoots — OR — is he UNlucky because it also means I get to blog about him?!!  🙂

HOMEWORK:

If you have a DSLR, change your setting to “BxW”.  (Most cameras will have that option.)  Then go out there and shoot with intent to create a good BxW image.  You will end up training your eyes to notice the background, tones, etc.

If you have access to a film camera, even better.  So leap in the air and cheer “HOORAY”!  heh heh.  Afterwards, shoot two rolls of film, one in color and one in BxW.  Use both rolls in the same location and same time of day, so that most factors are equal.  Shooting with film, even for just one day, will improve your photography skills.  I guarantee it.

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2 Comments

  1. These are awesome photos and tips. Thanks. I think I’m going to try the homework 🙂

    • Betcha didn’t expect to get homework, huh?!! hee hee.

      It’s more that I think people learn better (in general) when they get to try things out for themselves. Glad you found my article helpful, Ron. 🙂