The Secrets to Shooting Black & White Film

Richard Photo Lab's Secrets to shooting black & white film

There’s nothing Richard Photo Lab likes more than kicking it old school, and these days it doesn’t get more old school than black & white film. It’s an aesthetic you can’t find anywhere else, but it also presents some challenges. So, get the most out of this medium by exploring the world of black & white film with Richard!

Black & white photos can shift a viewer’s focus (wink wink). When color is no longer a factor, other elements and principles of design like texture, contrast, and shape all become more magnified. While this makes the whole experience of shooting a bit more challenging, it allows a photographer to convey simple, unadulterated emotion in a completely different way than color photography does.

Photo of a Kodak 400TX film roll

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The toughest part about shooting with black & white film is that you see the world in color. But this challenge can be an awesome learning experience about light, because light becomes the only information in the photo; it is the subject matter of every shot. Interpreting the colors you see into a monochrome image requires a calculated approach and takes time to master.

Image by Jose Villa

What should you have in your tool kit for becoming a black and white film superstar? Because light is so crazy-important, investing in a handheld light meter is one of the best things you can do for your black & white film photography. You’ll learn all about the different qualities of light and how to understand light in a quantifiable way. If you want negatives like Ansel Adams, a light meter is a must-have.

The film stock you chose will also greatly affect the overall look of your shots. Kodak and Ilford are the most popular brands, but the key is really sticking to one stock and then mastering it. Learn all of its variables, how far it can be pushed/pulled, what ISO is ideal… become one with your black & white film stock.

Image by Eric Kelley

Richard has some tips for you when it comes to black & white film...

First, be mindful of light and shadows. Of course, paying attention to light is important for all types of photography, but this is especially true with black & white film. Without any color information, the way light and shadow interact with the objects in your photograph IS the makeup of the photograph. Give some special attention to shadows, which can display really rad textures and details specifically when shot on film.

Second, always remember that shadows are controlled by exposure and highlights are controlled by development. The most common problem with black and white negatives is underexposure, so err on the side of more exposure to get full detail in your shadows. Underexposure = no information = horrible scans and prints.

Don’t be afraid to do tons of testing! You’ll be rolling out gorgeous black & white negatives in no time.

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