Guest Challenge: Let the Shapes Shine Through (B&W Sunday)




Debbie Smyth

The art of photography is all about directing the attention of the viewer.”
-Steven Pinker

This week, I’m delighted to be writing a guest post for Paula’s Black & White Sunday Challenge.

I love black and white photography, and for many reasons. I’m a big fan of street photography; due to the brilliant works of some of the greats such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Gary Winogrand, and the recently discovered Vivian Maier, black and white and street photography go hand in hand in my mind.  Going monochrome can, in my view, add anonymity for the subjects and increase atmosphere.  For me the most important point about monochrome is that by removing the distraction of colour, the photographer is able to direct the viewer to the key elements of the image.  Going monochrome is one of several tools we have as a photographer that allows us to provide focus.

To illustrate, here’s a couple of monochrome edits of two structures in La Defense, a business area in Paris.

Now, here is the original – the eye can’t help but look at the colours, rather than the shapes. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I wanted people to take note of the curves and the juxtaposition of shapes, not the redness of the arch.




This doesn’t apply only to architecture; in the scene below, the thing that caught my eye was the way the shapes of the two men preoccupied with their phones echoed the shape of the metallic sculpture in the foreground. In the colour version the eye is dragged too quickly to the bright buses, whereas I wanted to highlight the shapes.

In the shot below, on the much-photographed Millennium Bridge over the Thames, I opted for a high contrast black and white image to highlight the balance of shapes: the lone person below and the bustle of people above.

a1bw hi contrast-06398


I hope my musings have inspired you to post your own monochrome masterpiece.

“Black and white are the colors of photography. To me they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected.”
-Robert Frank

Steven Pinker – b 1954, Canada, experimental psychologist and author, specialising in visual cognition and psycho-linguistics.
Robert Frank – b. 1924, USA, photographer and documentary filmmaker – his most notable works the 1958 book, The Americans.

Here are the responses to this guest challenge: 


29 Comments on “Guest Challenge: Let the Shapes Shine Through (B&W Sunday)

  1. Very illuminating post, Debbie, and in all senses. That last photo, though, is really intriguing. The stance of the figure at the foot of the steps demands one’s attention.


    • 😀 It is a guest post by Debbie Smyth 🙂 She is great. I know you are very busy Allan, but would you consider hosting a photo challenge on my blog some time?


        • This is super news Allan. I have it covered until June. So the second half of the year would be great. One Sunday….. in black and white. I am so happy you agreed 🙂


  2. Pingback: Let the Shapes Shine Through | Travel with Intent

  3. A thoughtful and illuminating riff on the reasons for going b&w. I love the way you illustrate with examples that prove your points dramatically, and offer a great portfolio of your photography. You’ve certainly proved that colour distracts from form. I particularly like the mobile phoners image: the metallic sculpture and its reflections and the way it echoes the curve of the humans – only a brilliant and alert eye could have captured that synchronicity. I also enjoyed your quotes – surprised to see Mr Pinker there! Thank you.

    And thank you Paula for your inspired idea of guest posts.


  4. Pingback: B & W Sunday Challenge– shapes | Art and Life

  5. I have noticed on her blog how much attention Debbie pays to the details, various shapes from different angles, and her photos always have an interesting perspective. Rather often – the one I would never think of and wouldn’ t have been able to notice without her revealing it. I rarely think of how much a colour can be a distraction of perception but in this post it is illustrated in such a clear way. Needless to say – fabulous photos, especially the ones with the metallic sculpture. There is so much to see and going monochrome is the best option.
    Here is what came to my mind today:


  6. Pingback: Black & White Sunday | Tish Farrell

    • Oh Ron, thank you very much. I know you are often busy, but would you consider hosting a challenge here. I need someone for colour challenge in June and later on whatever month suits you best?


      • Hi Paula, not sure what colour challenge means, so if you can fill me in?
        But happy to help out, prefer July then, lots of travels coming up til then 😉


        • 🙂 Great. It means that it is in colour, not in B&W and that’s why I thought of you as you are the greatest “colourists” among my photographic WP buddies. It can be a single photo, or several. So far there was just one guest challenge post: Knowing your place. July is perfect then 🙂


  7. well I am working my way “back” thru posts – and now I see more of the quote and challenge here – I was all set to grab some photos this weekend – and I am looking for benches too – but had a lot of weekend work to do – so no photo opps for moi yet (yet!)
    I really enjoy the guest posts that you are doing too – you are creating a rich web resource while giving us community webbing at the same time


  8. I’ve been trying a little bit more of converting some of my pictures to black and white. It’s often surprising what you end up with! Quite fun indeed! Love the above examples.


  9. It’s particularly effective with La Defense, isn’t it? I must have a wayward eye because mine lingered on that curved post in both versions. I had to ask myself ‘what blue bus?’ 🙂 Great shots, as ever. Thanks for the shares.


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