How To See Light : A Guide To Black & White Photography

Photographer Daniel Delgado (@ricanfx) gives us tips on how to shoot the world of black/white photography by seeing in light and shadow.

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Based in Chicago, Moment 50 photographer Daniel Delgado is best known for his beautifully lit, black & white, urban portraits. These photos, which he calls Spotlights, utilize the harsh light seeping between tall buildings to highlight his subjects. In doing this, Daniel creates a theatrical, almost calm, scene of the city.

We were immediately drawn to his work, not only for its quality, but also because we love B&W photography. After all, it was the beginning of photography, 200 years ago. And still today, the black and white aesthetic creates a timeless escape from the modern age – into a space that’s neither past nor present. It’s a layer that is exists on its own. 

That is what Daniel's work channels, and we wanted to know how he does it. His response was surprisingly unique: 

Seeing Black & White, Before Color...

The most important thing to realize, before you start taking B&W photos, is that you are not taught to see in black and white. The world is inherently in color. 

When you think about color, it creates a brighter scene and sets a standard of the world around us, because of our experiences. Most think about color as the opposite of black and white – color images like fuller, more detailed versions. Yet, the more you see in black and white, the richer a moment can be. It allows you to strip down the natural world and truly experience its core elements: light, subject, and depth. 

Seeing the world in black and white doesn’t give a flat view of reality, but teaches you how to see and depict the different spaces between each grey tone. It encourages you to take a step back and notice the differences in how light invokes the space and how shades of color will translate into a variety of grey tones.

Anticipate, take notice, and take the shot.

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Capturing Light...

Natural light is rich! Once you understand where you want to shoot, you need to understand how light falls on a subject in that space. You will have to look at how light creates depth in the image, how it contrasts between one lighter tone and the next darker one. 

It's impossible to overstate the importance of light – how it's casted in the scene, and how to use it to make a subject pop. You must first be aware of where the light is coming from, in order to use it to your advantage. 

Next, you must consider your timing and how that will play into effect of the shot. Light is never in the same space for long. The best way to take advantage of your limited time is to know what you’re shooting and how you want to shoot it. Exploring different angles in a space will help you make these decisions.

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Being Mindful of Shadows...

Be mindful of shadows. Your awareness doesn’t stop at the highlights created by the light. Light and shadows are two sides of the same coin. Shadows help create a higher sense of depth within a black and white image than in most color images. 

Nothing is as pure in an image as light and the shadows it creates. You can’t have one without the other, so you must be aware of balancing them. As light moves, so do the shadows, and they can create backdrops that can either add or detract from the mood of the photo. 

Shadows shouldn’t be feared, they should be embraced. Proper balance of your shadows and light can bring direction into the composition, allowing a viewer's eyes to be guided through the image.

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Embracing a new perspective is not easy, but once you build a higher awareness of light and shadows, the rest will follow. The more time you spend focusing on the core elements and understanding how they work, the more you will start seeing your frames in black and white.

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Daniel Delgado

Based in Chicago, Moment 50 photographer Daniel Delgado is known for creating beautifully lit, B&W frames. He’s got a talent for capturing dramatic natural light, and candid moments of urban dwellers. He calls these photos Spotlights.

Using the harsh contrast of light that seeps through the tall buildings, hitting his subjects, Daniel creates a theatrical, almost calm, scene of the city.

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