Black and white photography has been around as long as we’ve had cameras.
Black and white wildlife images can capture an aspect of nature that would otherwise go unnoticed to colour saturation.
In this article, I’ll give you five tips for taking stunning black-and-white photos of wildlife that aim to tell a photo story.
Simplify Your Black and White Wildlife Photos
A wildlife photographer should aim to simplify his/her image compositions.
One of the best things you can do for your black-and-white images is to remove distractions from your subject, keeping it clean and simple.
- If there are trees around, cut them out in your post-processing.
- If there are other animals in the frame, reframe your image.
- If there is any distracting object that degrades the quality of the composition, it must go.
The simpler your image is, the better it will look. Check your image carefully when composing to ensure that you keep it clean.
It can be quite a lot of work if you have to clean every image in post-processing.
You can always crop in closer to your subject to remove distractions from your photo composition.
Focus on removing anything that doesn’t help tell your photo story and keep the viewer’s attention honed in on what you intended.
Tell a Wildlife Visual Photo Story
It’s not enough to take a good photo.
Aspire to tell the story behind it.
Telling a visual photo story is one of the most important things you can do as a photographer, and it’s vital in black-and-white wildlife photography because it can help you create an image that truly stands out.
The best thing you can do is make sure that every single photo tells its unique story—not just with words but also with its composition, framing, subject, and lighting considerations.
It would help to never take a picture unless you know your goal.
If there isn’t any meaning behind your shot, then don’t take it!
People who see someone else’s work want to relate their emotions to what they see on screen or printed paper.
If they don’t understand how your image came together from start to finish (or even why), it won’t resonate with them as much as an image that attempts to tell a visual photo story.
Add Depth to Your Wildlife Images
When it comes to wildlife photography, you can go in many different ways.
Some people photograph their subject from every angle possible, while others prefer to keep it minimal and show only what’s essential.
Adding depth is often a sensible composition tactic that will keep the viewer appreciating your image and can add components to your photo story within an image.
Let’s start by looking at how the photo above uses the background to help create a sense of depth in the image.
Looking at this image, you’ll notice the Zebras and the bush in the background. The sparsity between the main subject (the Rhino) and the animals in the background.
The space between the foreground and the background helps create a sense of depth by clarifying that there’s more to be seen than just what is in front of you.
A minimalist approach creates “clean” images that the viewer can interpret and understand your intended visual message more efficiently.
Don’t Get Over Excited With Wildlife Photography
When photographing wildlife, getting caught up in the excitement and forgetting about telling a story can be easy.
But it’s important not to lose sight of your goals as an artist—capturing images that tell an informative or entertaining (or both) story that is intriguing to the viewer.
First, ask yourself what kinds of stories you want to tell.
- Your answer might be, “I want my photos to make people feel something.”
- Or maybe it will be more specific: “I want my photos to make people pay attention at first glance but then also give them pause for thought when they realize what they are looking at.”
- You may want your images to convey a profound message. Sometimes these visual messages may be unpleasant to look at or conceive (such as photos showing the aftermath of a Rhino poaching assault).
The key here is that once you decide on a particular emotion or tension (for example), look for ways this idea can manifest through your photography.
Once you have decided on the theme of your picture (whether it be humour or fear), begin scouting locations where you might find complementary elements from nature to portray the visual photo story you envision.
How Can I Ensure Great Black-And-White Photo Stories?
When shooting in black and white, capturing the perfect colour shot is not as important.
Instead, focus on composition guidelines and the subject matter of your photo story.
- For example, when you look at a photo of an animal from afar, what do you see?
- Is there something interesting about their stance or movement that draws your eye?
- Is the animal displaying any unusual behaviours?
- Are there any exciting interactions between the animals?
- Could a predator kill be about to happen or happening?
If you find any of the previously mentioned occurrences happening within your frame, try using those elements so that they’re the focus of attention within your image.
Here are some other tips for creating great black-and-white wildlife photos:
- Use natural lighting whenever possible. The best light usually provides soft and gentle tones. Avoid direct sunlight during midday hours, which can wash out important photo details and create harsh shadows. Instead, get out early or stay late when it comes time to shoot—you’ll have more success capturing realistic and appealing images in the sunrise and sunset hours.
- Find ways to incorporate texture into each shot by looking around nearby environments before shooting. Take note of any surfaces like leaves, grasses, or rocks nearby and the animal’s skin detail which might help add depth to otherwise bland images.
- Consider the tonality of a scene. Tonality is the range of tones in an image from the darkest point of black to the lightest end of white within your composition and includes the extensive range of greys between these points. A black-and-white photographer can incorporate the most comprehensive range of tonal contrast within the image composition and should look for opportunities for a wide tonal range when photographing black-and-white nature scenes.
- Add contrast. Black and white photography creates contrast, which is the difference between light and dark tones. You can do this by taking advantage of your camera’s ability to lighten or darken photos, which creates more dramatic images.
- Use a polarizing filter. A polarizing filter will allow you to remove reflections from glass and metal while increasing the blues saturation in your pictures. If you don’t have one yet, they’re relatively inexpensive (around $100) and come in handy for many situations, including landscape shots.
- Use a graduated neutral density filter if shooting outdoors on overcast days where there isn’t much light coming through the clouds – this will help prevent overexposure on your foreground subjects without affecting other areas too much.”
The best black-and-white wildlife photography combines good equipment, patience, and luck.
But even if you don’t have these things at your disposal, there are still ways to capture a great image.
If you love nature and want to start taking better photos of it (or improve the ones you already take), use these tips to inspire your following black-and-white wildlife visual photo story outing.
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