Black and White Photography 

chrysanthemum

Red Crown Gas

Fat Cat on a warm spring morning

Granville street bridge

Thompson River by Jo McAvany

Country street

Spring is on the way and with it is blossoming colour.

Only a week ago the walk from the driveway to my home was frozen with snow still clinging to the rocks that hold the garden back. However, yesterday morning the walk was almost dry with grass beginning to frame the border.

One would think that the talk from photographers stopping by my shop would be about spring colours. Ahh…but there was not even a word about how nice it would be to photograph all that springing colour.

The first phone call of the morning was from a frustrated student that needed to complete an assignment asking me if I sold Ilford black and white film. I don’t.

A bit later a fellow I hadn’t seen for a while stopped to say hello and we talked about shooting infrared. He was hoping I could help him find an infrared camera.

I had just this past week missed out on a good deal on a converted camera, but the spring used camera sale will be at the end of next month in Vancouver and I suggested he join me there.

That conversation continued when he showed me some black and white infrared photographs that he had found online.

Later that afternoon my friend Drew showed up just as another photographer and I were admiring some of the excellent images made by members of a Facebook black and white photography group.

The three of us looked at pictures and talked about B&W until closing time.

One would think with the ease that modern DSLRs make colourful photographs that there would be little serious interest in black and white. After all, to make a good B&W image one should use some kind of editing program that allows adjustment of the different colour tonality.

I am sure the numbers of photographers that actually produce B&W are few compared to colour, but there are many avid groups on Facebook and Flickr that are dedicated to what has become to be called “monochrome” photography.

I pick and choose which of my images gets converted. Sometimes the subject deserves to be shown as B&W. And when I mentioned to my close friend and photo-partner, Jo McAvany that I was going to write about black and white she insisted that I stop by to get a B&W photo of the river she had taken earlier in the day.

I still remember the time when colour was almost non-existent. Once in a while someone would have the money and shoot a roll of colour, but most of the families in the neighbourhood I grew up in only could afford black and white film. Some people didn’t like colour pictures. I remember my aunt critically looking at some pictures at a family gathering that they “just didn’t look natural”. And as I have written before, when I first got into photography I preferred B&W.

I strongly believe a successful black and white photograph depends on its ability to communicate. It doesn’t depend on eye-catching colours for its’ visual presentation. Those B&W images that stand out combine attention to light, shadow, composition and perspective.

Ted Grant, widely regarded as the father of Canadian photojournalism wrote,

“When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!”

I think that black and white photography is far from being left behind, and in my opinion, with the current processing software, updates in high quality printers, and printing papers black and white image-making will continue to be an option for many serious photographers.

 

 

 

 

I like Black and White Photographs   

 

I have always been drawn to Black and white photography.

At one time I even believed that B&W was the only medium serious photographers worked in. To me a black and white photograph has a mood and conveys a tactile quality. That’s why many of my personal image files get converted to B&W.

During film’s reign photographers had to decide whether to use black and white film, colour film or slide film. Most of us carried at least two camera bodies, but today the decision to make a black and white image is best left to post production; there is no need for that second camera. Post-production is the intricate combination of computer programs, printers and papers that now rivals the quality of chemical-based, traditional black and white photography.

Traditional black and white depended first on the brand and type of film, for example, Kodak Tri-X, or Ilford Delta 400, etc., then the camera’s initial exposure, how the film was developed (what chemicals were to be used), and finally the choice of paper for final printmaking.

The digital sensor has more latitude than film and getting a usable exposure is very easy. If one over-exposes it usually isn’t a problem. An poor exposure with digital does equal a loss in image information, but much of the time its still a usable photograph.

With film we used to hear “shoot for the shadows”. With digital all that has changed, and of course we can check our exposures using the histogram.

Most digital cameras have a black and white mode available in the menu, but I don’t recommend using that, it does nothing more than create identical red, green, and blue channels in the final picture file. Just de-saturating a colour data file in-camera will give a monochrome image, but it doesn’t include control of the different tonal values that make up a true to reality black and white image.

When I first started making black and white pictures years ago with Photoshop I used a B&W conversion process that used the channel mixer. To do that I first opened the image, then I went to the menu and selected adjustments, then in the drop down list I selected Channel Mixer. I checked the monochrome box at bottom left; I changed the red channel to 60%, changed the green channel to 40%, ignored the blue channel, and changed the constant to +4. Finally I clicked ok and I had a black and white image.

Those days are long gone with modern programs like ON1 and Luminar with their many pre-set Black and White offerings. Making a good B&W is as easy as choosing the tonal value that one prefers. And, of course, there are many more, just do a search.

A black and white photograph depends on its ability to communicate, as it doesn’t attract with eye-catching colours for its’ visual presentation. Those B&W images that stand out combine attention to lighting, composition and perspective.

Black and white photography is far from being left behind in the past, and in my opinion, with the current processing software, updates in high quality printers, and the latest in printing papers, black and white image-making will continue to be an option for serious photographers.

 

 

 

Infrared photography is always a fun change.      

 

The wind came and the choking smoke from the fires in British Columbia and Washington State has disappeared. Gosh, it seems strange to see the hills across the valley again. I opened all the windows and doors to let the breeze reduce the smell of smoke in my home.

Well there it was waiting, a sunny day with only a few clouds in the otherwise clear blue sky, for any photographer with the time and energy to walk out for a few pictures of the golden fields and green forests that weren’t being burned by the wildfires.

I grabbed my camera, hopped in the car, and drove up the dirt road across the river from my home. I wanted a wide shot with lots of sky, but as I walked along the dusty road to make the photograph I began thinking how easy and boring my photo was. So with that thought in mind I got back in my car, drove home, dropped off that camera, and got our my infrared camera to start over again.

Black and white makes me think about the subject first and then the light, or how a subject looks in a particular light. Infrared, on the other hand, makes me think about the light first and then includes the subject. Of course the subject, and how it is composed and framed is important, but some things don’t look any different with a camera converted to infrared than a colour image converted to black and white. Those of us using infrared always must be thinking about the light first and then choose subjects that we think will look like they are photographed with infrared.

I stopped to photograph a landscape around a neighbour’s barn, and then hiked up the road a ways for a shot of an old car that has been rusting on a hill for a lot longer than I have lived in British Columbia. Then drove down to the river. The far bank was lined with campers and boats for the annual Salmon run and Pritchard is a favourite fishing location.

I drove across the bridge, got out and walked along the beach then back over the bridge. I won’t begin to count the number of times in the last 40 years that I have stood on that bridge and pointed my camera at the scenery along the Thompson River. I always find something worth photographing.

Using infrared gives me images that are a fun change from sharp colourful pictures I get with my DSLR. The glowing white foliage and black sky create an otherworldly mood.

I’ll finish this with what I wrote about infrared last May. “Shooting infrared is always an exploration, a discovery and moves a photographer far from the usual.”

 

 

Photography lessons with Black And White Film 

5-flower

port-view

rip-proof-overalls

seagulls-and-boat-2

deadman-junction-building

windowpane

I have recently been talking with many photographers that are very interested in the process of black and white film photography. Most had their introduction to photography in high school using film and although they moved forward to iPhones and digital cameras, they were pulled back to film by memories of the unique “hands-on” experience they had with film.

With all that interest I thought I would revisit an article I wrote in June 2014,  “What I Learned About Photography by Shooting with Black /White Film”.

I began using black and white film because it was cheap and it’s what we used in my first college photography class. After I began to understand the medium as being creative instead of just a way to records things, I grew to like B&W and for years refused to shoot with anything else.

With film, once the camera’s shutter was released what one got was, well, what one got was-what-one-got. There were no second chances as enjoyed today. Photographers were left with only a memory of that moment until the film was printed.

We used a term called “Previsualization”. Previsualization is attributed to photographer and educator Minor White. While studying their subject a photographer predetermines how the final image would be processed and printed. Ansel Adam referred to that as “the ability to anticipate a finished image before making the exposure”.

There was also the Zone System. American photographers Fred Archer and Ansel Adams collaborated on the technique for determining optimal film exposure and development for a method to precisely define the relationship between the way one visualized the subject and the final results.

Those techniques helped us determine how the final print could look. Colour film had to be printed in an almost lightless room, whereas labs for printing B&W were quite bright allowing us to see the image and control an image as it was printed.

With B&W film I learned to previsualize, and as I selected my subject I would think about how I would process the film and make the final print. I could alter the exposure rating, as with the Zone system, and depending on which chemicals I planned on using, how I would develop the film. I would select different papers and chemicals to change contrast or tonal values in the final print.

Shooting with black and white film taught me to think about tonal shifts from black, to mid grey, and finally, to white with detail. Managing the process of developing and printing taught me that the camera and film (now the sensor) are just the starting point to making a photograph match my personal vision, and my personal vision is much more important than the camera’s.

A B&W photograph is a matter for the eye of the beholder, the intuition, and finally the intellect. Of course colour is all that, but much of the time it seems photographers are overwhelmed by colour, rarely seeing anything of importance in a scene other than the colours.

Because black and white images don’t attract with a play of colours, they seem subtle and demand close attention to composition, lighting, perspective, and the context the image is shot in as important factors.

 

I Learned About Photography by Shooting with Black and White Film

bicycle & stairs

iron rails

phonebooth

Red Crown Gas

white pillars

floral entrance

Brick doorway

Last week I wrote about black and white photography. From the comments I received I realized there are many other photographers out there very interested in enjoying the process of making black and white images.

While driving my noisy, old diesel truck (with my car waiting a replacement engine) I got to thinking about what it was like when I used black and white film. The drive was along a winding, valley road that we are so familiar with in British Columbia,  And although I attempted to listen to the radio, the static caused by the power lines running along the roads edge, the loud diesel engine and, of course, the worn out radio, left me to my own thoughts, and soon I was contemplating about film and shooting with black and white film.

Formerly, once the shutter was released on a camera loaded with film what one got was, well, what one got was what one got. There were no second chances as enjoyed today. One was left with only a memory of that moment in time until the film was processed and printed.

A friend remarked that photographers had to be better in those film days than they are today. I think that’s a nice, egotistical thought to comfort aging picture takers, but I don’t think its true. And in my not so humble opinion, I am going to say that modern photography is just different, evolving and different. Even in the days when film ruled there was a difference between those that filled their cameras with colour film and those, like me, that preferred black and white film.

I began using black and white film because that’s what my first college class recommended, then after a time I began to understand the medium and grew to like B&W.

We used a term called “previsualization”. Previsualization is attributed to Minor White.

While studying the subject a photographer predetermines how the final image would be processed and printed. Ansel Adam referred to that process as “the ability to anticipate a finished image before making the exposure”.

There was also the Zone System. American photographers Fred Archer and Ansel Adams collaborated on the technique for determining optimal film exposure and development that provided photographers with a method to precisely define the relationship between the way they visualized the photographic subject and the final results.

Those techniques were, at least in the way I applied them, to formulate or determine how I wanted the final print to look. Colour film had creative limitations and had to be printed in an almost lightless room, whereas my personal lab for printing B&W was quite bright because photographic paper is only sensitive to white light, not yellow, orange, or red. And that allowed me to fill the room with light and see the image and control how it would look.

With B&W film I learned to previsualize, and as I selected my subject I would think about how I would process the film and make the final print. I could alter the exposure rating, as with the Zone system, depending on which chemicals I planned on using and how long I would keep the film in the developer. I would select different papers and alternate chemicals to change contrast or tonal values in the final print.

Shooting with black and white film and managing the process of developing and printing the picture taught me that the camera and film (now the sensor) are just the starting point to making a photograph match my personal vision, and my personal vision is much more important than the camera’s.

Shooting black and white taught me to watch for tonal shifts from black, to mid grey, and finally, to white with detail. Studying how it would look became an intellectual process rather than an emotional one.

B&W photography is a matter for the eye of the beholder, the intuition, and finally the intellect. Of course colour is all that, but much of the time it seems photographers, overwhelmed by colour, just push the shutter seeing nothing deeper in a scene than the colours.

Black and white images, because they don’t attract with a play of colours, seem subtle and make me think about the tonal range and demand my close attention to composition, lighting, perspective, and the context the image is shot in as important factors.

I learned about photography by shooting with black and white film. I don’t use film anymore, and the photographic examples I have included are digital. When I am thinking in black and white, I slow down and that stretches me to creatively see, and show, the world differently.

I really appreciate any and all comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com