The Art of the Black and White Print


A while back Dan Steinhardt from Epson and Josh Haftel from Nik Software proposed a class for Kelby Training on Black and White printing. Of course we jumped at it because this is always a hot topic. Plus, you really can’t get two people more knowledgable and relevant in this area, as Epson is the go-to printer, and Nik Silver Efex Pro is the go-to black and white software.

Why I Declined To Be Part of the Class (At First)
Anyway, as planning for the class came closer, Dan asked if we could do a roundtable discussion on what inspires us about B&W photography and asked if I would participate. After giving it some thought, I declined because I’ve never been into B&W photography. I didn’t shoot black and white when I was young, and I don’t have this nostalgic feeling or appreciation toward black and white photography (until now, but more on that in a minute).

So, to be fair, I asked Dan if I could simply be there to facilitate the discussion rather than actively participate in my feelings on the topic. I thought maybe (with my limited feelings toward B&W) that I could actually help the discussion a bit because I’d be approaching them from a fresh point of view. They agreed and that’s what we did.

The Lightbulb Moment
During the first lesson these guys roped me in immediately. Around the 2:30 point in the first lesson Dano (that’s what we call Dan) started talking about how black and white belongs to photographers. Color had been available to painters for a long time, but black and white was something that photographers could call their own. Then Josho (that’s not what we call Josh ;) by the way) jumped in with his thoughts and I was hooked from that moment. He said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “That black and white allows us to focus on things that we see all the time, but break it down into shape, form, texture, etc…”. It’s funny because I’m sure everyone reads into things differently – but to me, what Josh was saying started making perfect sense. As photographers, we know people are drawn to certain things in a photo (bright areas vs. dark, sharp areas vs. blurry). It was at this point I realized that in it’s simplest form, black and white photos can really help people focus in on the subject in a photo and let us (as the photographer) show off that subject in a very basic way. I think it’s why I’ve always like black and white wedding photography. The brides dress is white right? That’s what you look at and that’s what you should look at so it’s a perfect match. There’s obviously many more great examples and much more to this topic, but that was really a breakthrough moment for me and has gotten me interested in shooting more black and white photos.

Watch This Class
I have to say, if there’s any one course that has helped me grow artistically (and trust me, I’m not a very “artsy” kinda person so I don’t often say this – in fact I’ve never said this), it was this one. I encourage you if you’re a Kelby Training subscriber to log in and check out this course. If you’re not a subscriber, then you should be. There’s over 300 courses on there which takes your subscription price down to less than $1 dollar per class. Enjoy!

  • http://gravatar.com/byoregon Bill Young

    Hi Matt,

    Thanks for the class; I really enjoyed it. As a user of LR, PS CS6, SEP2, and an owner of an Epson 3880, I felt like you were talking right to me. You definitely contributed by leading the discussion at the beginning, and I appreciated your B&W viewpoint. My favorite parts of the class: the review of papers, Dan’s review of the Advanced B&W print mode (I’ve never tried it), and Josh’s SEP demos. I got more enjoyment than I should have watching Dan flounder through the print driver menus. That’s exactly how I always feel with that stupid software. I think that section of the class should be required watching for the Epson software developers, and they should be embarrassed. Not that other print drivers are any better; they all suck! Seems like there’s a home printing breakthrough for the first company that can get that right.

    I assume you’re already pursuing the obvious followup class, color printing? That’s probably more in your wheelhouse, and I’d be interested in the paper discussion with maybe a Color Efex Pro tie-in.

    Bill

  • Matt Snider

    @Bill – if you want a good primer on color printing, check out John Paul Caponigro’s classes on KT or on his website.

  • Mike Lyons

    I really enjoyed the class. As an oldtimer, I lived in the darkroom. Read Ansel Adams and anything I could get my hands on( limited compared to today).

    I thought your lack of B&W education made a good counter-point to the experts and enriched the conversation.

  • Michael Pachis

    I have not watched the class yet (watching Scott’s Paris class) but it is up next. Like Bill above I have the same software and printer and I’m looking forward to the class.

    Matt I’m glad you are taking a fresh look at B&W. Being older than you I might have some nostalgia for B&W (love the old classic movies) but I have always loved the pure light, form, and texture of B&W photography.

    Great classes at Kelby Training, keep them coming.

  • Pingback: My First “Official” Black & White Photo (and the story behind it) | Matt Kloskowski