Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Birds in Black and White

Creating black and white images are rare for me. I suppose this is because my eyes are trained to see color and when I view a stunning black and white image, my right brain goes into meltdown trying to figure out how a scene in color can look so much better in black and white. I believe the photographer that created the image must have seen it in black and white and used his or her skills and artistic eye to capitalize on that vision. I would like to be able to do that because I really like black and white images.

I suppose another reason I have not considered black and white is that I photograph a lot of birds. Naturally, with their pretty colors, birds are photographed in color. But color is not the only appealing quality of a bird. Birds have beautiful shapes and forms, and sometimes interesting patterns and textures. Are these not the important elements for a black and white image? In other words, birds have several characteristics that might lend to black and white.

I spent a good amount of time searching for black and white images of birds for inspiration and what do you suppose I came across mostly? Photos of black birds, mostly images with several black birds on power lines or in flight. Interestingly, I also ran across a blog from 2007 written by photographer Mark Graf. He too was pondering this idea about why bird images are rarely black and white? I guess I don't need to re-invent the wheel, but it seems that in 2014, black and white images of birds remain very uncommon. Are we overlooking something or is it that black and white images of colorful birds simply do not work?

For me, black and white images have a strong appeal. Many landscape photographers are masterful at black and white and present powerful images such that when you view one, you cannot imagine seeing it in color because that would only diminish its impact. Can this sort of thing be done in bird photography? Why not, the necessary elements are there.

So I thought I would go down that path that many other photographers surely have been. I needed to find out for myself. Cruising through several images of birds, I picked out several that might work in black and white. I threw out some and found that what seemed to work is when the bird comprised only a small portion of the frame and the remaining portion consisted of repeating patterns or shapes. Clouds worked well too. I also found certain close ups of birds interesting when there was a wide spectrum of tones and textures to work with.

My final thought on black and white images is that the outcome should be more appealing than the color version. That's just one way to approach it. Here are a few examples where I found the black and white version to be more appealing for some reason or another.  

The BW version of the brown pelican places greater emphasis on its eye, and the textures and tones from the beak and head make the bird appear old and ragged.

The BW version of the great white egret gives it a dark mood, the branches and clouds look sinister and the bird looks ghostly. Not sure why that is more appealing to me, but it just is.

I'm not sure why I like the BW version better of the nesting osprey, but it definitely has something to do with the trees and nest, and not so much the bird.

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