Most of my loyal readers probably know by now that photography is a big part of my life. Though currently my hobby, it is what I love to do, and my ability to capture nature’s beauty is enabled by how my perspective on everyday life has changed over the years. Today, I can see beauty in nearly everything.
Recently, I made the decision to switch over to black and white for the majority of my photography. I have always loved black and white. It probably all started back in high school when I setup my own darkroom in our basement to develop film and print my own photos. The process was amazing to learn, and I can still immediately recognize the smell of those chemicals to this very day.
There is something about the emotion of a black and white shot that appeals to me. Maybe I find color distracting. Or, perhaps color takes away from the raw emotional element of what photography is all about. Without color, you are left with nothing but “content”. Pure substance.
The elimination of color immediately introduces a few critical differences to my process of getting great shots, as it would for any photographer. And, I am reminded of how similar this process is to approaching life with a fresh new perspective after prioritizing true happiness out of life…rather than temporary feel-gooderies produced by “stuff”.
Contrast and texture become more important
Technically, contrast and texture are both always important. But, they now become more critical in getting the shot. In black and white photography, there is nothing more important than contrast between shades of gray. Ansel Adams was an expert at squeezing out maximum contrast, especially around clouds in the sky. A sky alive with sharp edges between lights and darks makes a substantial difference and represents the separation between great, and simply “okay”, photography.
Textures in black and white shots create a sense of depth. It is a dynamic element of a photograph that can turn a white puff in the sky into a dramatic cloud, or take a boring wedding dress and turn it into a stunning centerpiece.
Morning/Evening light becomes less critical
One of the first elements of photography that newer photogs quickly learn is how important light is – especially when working with color. Typically, the two best times of day where the light is the softest and offers the greatest potential to capture gorgeous photos is dawn and dusk…or in other words, in the morning or evening right around sunrise and sunset. Why? The sun is low in the sky and, as the light from the sun passes through various layers of atmospheric gasses that are more dense at that angle, light literally comes alive with color.
But, the elimination of color from your photography makes colorful light, naturally, less critical. Of course, beautiful light is still very important when taking photos for black and white, and both dusk and dawn light often creates sweeping shadows and stunning highlights that make virtually all photography pop right off the page. Thus, “less critical” rather than “not important”.
“Beauty” gets immediately redefined
Color influences beauty, but it certainly does not define beauty. The ability to look at everyday life with a black and white lens in your eye can make the difference between robotically going through days unaware of how wonderful life truly is, and taking a fresh perspective on life, seeing things for not only what they ARE, but also what they CAN BE.
Recognizing the new kinds of beauty during this photographic transition from color to black and white involves the same changes in perspective that humans take when they streamline their lifestyles, minimize their possessions, think positive and totally kick ass in every facet of life.
Turn your life into black and white
Try something. Turn your life into a beautiful black and white photo. Through the absence of color, true beauty still remains and very often represents what life is all about in its crude and most fundamental form. Think of it as bringing the concept of minimalism into your view of the world. Color is “extra”. Maybe black and white is all you ever truly need when life is simplified.
How do you turn your life into an Ansel Adams-style black and white masterpiece? Try three things.
1. Simplify. Remove clutter. In fact, remove all the elements of your life that cause you stress or heartache the best that you can. That Facebook “friend” of yours who keeps giving you crap on your wall? De-friend. Your car that keeps breaking down, requiring costly maintenance? Sell. The job that keeps you wasting hours of commuting time every damn day? Quit (or relocate).
2. Rid your life of the unnecessary. That super-pimp sports car that you bought in your 20s (yes, I’m guilty!)? Sell. Those 20 different pairs of pants, only 3 of which actually get worn? Yup, get rid of the other 17. Is cable television really worth $50 bucks a month (or more)? Do you NEED unlimited data on your cell phone? What about that Starbucks coffee? Honestly, who needs to spend good money on incredibly average coffee, anyway? Take an honest assessment of your life and nix the unnecessary. Not only will you substantially simplify your life, you’ll save money in the process, too.
3. Lastly, relax. I mean, just sit the fuck down and let your mind wander. Resist the temptation to completely plan every minute of your weekend. Instead, take enough time for yourself to think. Think about what went right last week, or what you might do differently the next. Some people meditate. Others take a walk. And some, like me, just plop their butt down into one of our backyard wooden chairs and stare into the pool. I might take a little nap, too.
Oh, #3 reminded me of a bonus. Sleep. Get your sleep and wake up rested. You will feel better, look better and perform better at virtually every facet of your life. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, it usually shows.
Even if your plan is not to retire early, simplifying your existence makes life that much easier to live.
Look at all this beauty!
And lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t post a few of my own black and white shots. Can you find beauty in minimalist black and white?
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.