Black and White Processing with Photography Drawing in 15 Steps

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Photography Drawing™ (PhtD) is the processing method I created for black and white photography, that aims at giving an image a three-dimensional look and create the illusion of depth.  This method has its base in the principles of working with light that are used in drawing, which explains its name. This principles are generally used in any visual representation, not only drawing, but also painting etc, but they can be more easily understood if you look at hoe light is used in a drawing. I am making here a practical overview of this method for black and white fine art processing where you can learn how to apply it in 15 steps.

You can see how I apply Photography Drawing on my image Aqua Serenity from the series Urban Saga series, Aqua Serenity featured in this article.

You can find an extensive description of this method in the book From Basics to Fine Art – Black And White Photography, also on my website

I am teaching this method in my workshops and mentoring courses and I have come to understand what the things are that help best in applying this method, so they can get the best results. To help those who want to use this method I’m making a synthesized description of the steps to follow when processing with Photography Drawing, so you can get the best outcome.


Defining Volumes

Understanding Photography Drawing means understanding how light interacts with geometrical shapes, which in architectural terms are called volumes.

The volume is more than just a geometrical shape, it can be a complex geometrical shape, created by joining several simple geometrical shapes. It generally works as an independent entity and it is perceived like that by a viewer, either in real life, in the form of buildings, or as an object in an image.

Urban Saga V - Aqua Serenity - Detail of using light , shadow and contrast to create depth and volume


Working with Light

What we do in Photography Drawing is what drawers and painters do in their drawings and paintings, meaning to influence the perception of the viewer and the way he sees an image. They do this by using light and shadow in order to create a certain reality. Drawers and painters work primarily with light. They may work with color also but the idea of volume and of three-dimensionality is created by working with light. You can use Photography Drawing in color photography just as well as in black and white photography, but when working in black and white it is easier to understand how light and shadow interact, since we do not have the colors to interfere with the idea of light intensity. The first thing a drawer or a painter learns is how to work with light. In my opinion this is the first thing a photographer should learn too, in order to become a creator in photography.

Working with Contrast

The second most important thing a drawer or a painter learns is how to work with contrast. This is among the first things a photographer has to understand, so he can have control over his images.
Contrast helps to emphasize objects and to delimit them in space and from one another. Both these actions are vital in black and white photography, and in any kind of photography.


Mastering the work with light and contrast, understanding how to use them according to the idea you want to convey, is the keystone of working with Photography Drawing and the essence of creating black and white photography. Knowing how to put light and contrast to your service means having done 90% of the work and all that is left is putting everything in practice through processing. I will explain now how you can think and what you can do to achieve this.

Ode to Black I - Self Black - Processing steps with Photography Drawing



Step 1

Identify the light source in your image and think where the light is coming from. This will indicate how the light is falling on your volumes/objects.

Step 2

Decide if you will keep the direction of light you captured or change it through processing, in order to suit your vision.

Step 3

Identify the main and secondary volumes in the image. The main volumes should sustain your idea, the secondary will create the background for your story and enhance the message the main objects transmit.

Step 4

Study the way the complex volumes are created from simple volumes, so you know how to separate them in space and render them to create a three-dimensional look.

Step 5

Think which will be the most important element of your image and subordinate everything to it.

Step 6

Think which will be the least important element in your image so you make it less evident through processing.

Step 7

Use brighter tones on the more important subject and darker tones on the least important. Remember that bright tones reveal the objects they are applied on and dark tones conceal them.

Step 8

Create the brightest area of your image on and around your main subject and the darkest one on and around the objects you are not interested to emphasize.

Step 9

Create selections of your most important volumes and surfaces (including the sky and water when you are showing them in your image) so you can work on them selectively.

Step 10

Think that you have to make everything in the image look three-dimensional and you can do this by rendering the objects in your scene. As tools you can use to render your volumes dodge and burn, gradients, and any other painting tool available (Paintbrush etc.)

Step 11

Think where you need to focus, where you need to add or remove light so your image has depth and looks realistic (not real but realistic).

Step 12

Processing has to follow your composition and have the same logic, and not negate it. We help the composition by the processing we apply, we do not go against it.

Step 13

The way you will give the illusion of depth is by creating more contrast on the volumes in the foreground, or that are in front of others, and by working with less contrast on those in the background, or on those that are placed behind others.

Step 14

Think that a good modality of creating contrast is by creating contrast along the edges that separate 2 objects in space. You can create this by working selectively on both objects and pair brighter surfaces with darker ones – meaning, making one surface bright and the other dark when they are separated by an edge or when they belong to objects placed one behind the other.

Step 15

Always check the balance of light in your image and think that harmony is one of the main qualities of an image that will attract the attention of a viewer. You can create harmony through the good use of composition and by creating a balance in the use of light.

Urban Saga II - New York City Cityscape - Black and White Processing Steps - Photography Drawing Detail


I think this will help both those who are familiar with Photography Drawing from my book or courses, as well as those who haven’t yet studied it, to see black and white fine art processing in a more clear sequence and know how to use the power of light, shadow and contrast to create in an image the world they imagine in their minds and souls.
Because it is not enough to have the vision, but also to know how to realize it in reality so to create in a viewer the same emotion you as artists felt and that led you to create in the first place.
Vision is useless if you don’t know how to put it in practice and this means much more than learning Photoshop.

Further study resources for fine art black and white photography you can find in the tutorial section of my website and in my new video tutorial Creating (en)Visionography – The New Fine Art Photography.

eBook From Basics to Fine Art – Black-And-White Photography – Architecture and Beyond
Video Tutorial Creating (en)Visionography - The New Fine Art Photography - Long Exposure, Architecture and Beyond
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Architect with a Master degree, multi award-winning black and white fine art photographer, author and highly sought after educator, Julia lives in Athens and is mostly known for her black and white fine art photography.

Julia is the founder of   (en)Visionography™ which she considers an alternative to fine art photography, seen as an evolution of photography in the digital era. This evolution and the new creative tools available today give the artist the freedom to express his own vision and story, independently of the subject he photographs. (en)Visionography™ is the photography that starts from the artist himself, who is taking inspiration from his own emotions in front of the world and from his life experiences. In this respect (en)Visionography brings photography close to the idea of art since the process of creation in (en)Visionography is the same as the process of creation of artists working with other means.

This theory reflects in her personal creative and processing method “Photography Drawing (PhD™)”, method based on how light interacts with volumes and how this can be translated in an image by using the principles of classical black and white drawing, applied to black and white photography.

Co-author of the best-selling book "From Basics to Fine Art – Black and White Photography", the book is considered by many critics one of the best books on black and white photography of the past decades.

Published internationally in numerous books and magazines, Julia's photographic work can be seen online in the most important photography galleries and in private collections worldwide.

Julia’s fine art photography is represented by Rotella Gallery in SoHo New York.

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