Black and White Photography – A Lesson in Observation

Today, I’ll be going off the beaten path with you.  I won’t talk about lighting, Photoshop or Lightroom. Today’s lesson could actually be a challenge.  You see, we’re going to talk about observation. Obser…what? Yup! Observation. There’s more to taking good photographs than lighting, composition or post processing techniques. Really? Yah, really. One very important journey to improving your photography skills is to observe what other photographers are creating. See what those images do to you; how they make you think or feel.

There are many things that happen to us when we truly take the time to observe a photograph; really sink our minds and souls into it. An image could bring a plethora of varying emotions, it can tell a story or bring forth old or new ones. It can also bring out the technician in us as we start analyzing lighting and composition.

A picture is more than a 1000 words. It’s a glimpse at the photographer’s history frozen in time; his vision of reality as he presses the shutter. I often go through this exercise of asking why. Why did he take that photo? Why did he want to share it with me? What can I learn from it?

And that’s the exercise I’d like you to try today. I’ve compiled 50 of my favorite black and white photos of animals from my personal portfolio. Skim through them and when one catches your eye, stop. Stop and ask yourself why. Why this image? And if you’re so inclined, please share with us your observation in the comments. Who knows, I might actually learn something about myself through YOUR observations. 🙂

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15 responses on "Black and White Photography - A Lesson in Observation"

  1. The peacock is beautiful. Your eye is normally so captivated by their beautiful colors you dont see the textures that are displayed in the black and white version.

  2. Thank you for the breath-taking photography, Yanik.
    You are absolutely my favorite photographer!

    I strive to be as good as you one day.

  3. B & W creates a mood and atmosphere that colour just can not deliver. The photos are great and you have captured your subjects well.

    The question I would ask is Would some of the photos looked just as good in colour? Colour creates a different mood and feel for a picture. Let me give you an example No 10. The Peacock. Would this magnificent bird looked better in colour? I think it would and the reason is that the Peacock is not looking directly at you so to make this photo stand out the colours in the birds feathers would have directed you eye away from the fact that the peacocks head is looking away from you.

    Only a thought.


  4. I would agree with what most of the others have said about all 50 of the pictures, B & W creates a mood that colour just does not have but I think colour has its place and would some of the photos shown been better in colour as they would have created a different mood e.g. no 10 would have shown the peacock’s feathers in its true glory adding a different dimension to the photo. You don’t get that with the B & W picture.


  5. Thank you for sharing these amazing photos.

    It’s hard to choose but I think my favourite is Cat 1. Although the fur is completely black, there is so much depth in the shades. This angle of the photo also gives a glimpse into the mischievous personality of the cat, which is great!

  6. Thank you for being an inspiration for B&W photography…this month I am learning this technique and I was really inspired by your photos.

    I love how you have captured these animals – I can definitely tell your love for them and also for capturing the spirit of them through their eyes. The eye of the black cat (cat2) is my favorite…as well as the little “weenie-dog” (pepino1). Seems like you had a great zoom lens for some of those shots! Wow! There is nothing better than the privilege of having an animal pose just right for you! Keep up the great work!

    Off to make my cat pose for me…

  7. I enjoyed the unusual cropping of many shots, especially the duck standing on one foot.
    Also the texture in the pigeon against the brick wall was very nice and unusual.
    I personally didn’t care for the vignette in the little puppy looking up – to me the
    shot didn’t need it.
    I like the animals seen through foliage like the chipmunk and the cat at the end.

  8. There’s something about black and white photography… it’s so raw 😛 I love it!

    Great post Yanik!

  9. I agree with SilkeK about the seagulls, brilliant timing 🙂

    Also love the cat shots, either because of the unusual crop (cat2 and cat5) or because of the very strong eye contact (the same goes for the macaw).
    The gorgeous backlighting and strong, minimal composition in the duckling shot.

    Thanks for sharing these, Yanik. I’ll definitily keep b & w in mind next time I photograph an animal.

  10. Great job on the comments guys! Keep it up! 🙂

  11. Have to agree about the emotions you caught on the animal’s faces. They are so expressive.

  12. Awesome gallery if I may say so myself.

  13. I liked:

    – The raptor head for the detail. Especially the string of saliva.
    – The fox for the softness of its fur.
    – The owl on the stump for simplicity.
    – The wolf on the dark background for the hunter’s movement into the dark.
    – The monkey for the sweet, trusting expression.
    – The seagulls for synchronicity.

    Thanks, that was fun.

  14. What I see in many but not all of the B&W photos is human emotions captured in the animal expressions. Thanks

  15. Great article! I really think the art of observing is one of the fundamental keys of photography. All your pictures are great, but I really love the photo of the elephant because by getting in with that detail, you’ve really emphasized the beautiful texture of the skin.

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