What about Black and White photography?    

A fellow stopped by my shop this past week to see what kind of film cameras I was selling. I don’t think he was planning on a purchase as much as he was interested to see if there were still film cameras available and, likely, just wanted to kill some time in a warm shop after wandering along the freezing street.

He began by saying he missed the days when he would load his camera with Black and White film and go out for the day. I laughed and said there is no reason you can’t still do that. “You just have to set your digital camera to black and white only mode. ” Then added, “of course I prefer to convert my images to Black and White in post.”

I remember those days (Not so fondly I may add) when I would always carry two cameras to photograph a wedding or a family. One would be loaded with colour film and the other with black and white.  I placed a bright sticker on one camera so I would remember which had which film. And when I went on vacation I also would carry two cameras, one with black and white and one with slide film.

Always toting two cameras, and always changing lenses! Gosh, what a hassle lugging a big case with two cameras, lenses and bags of film.

I knew that fellow was just being nostalgic so I didn’t say any of that, but I sure thought about it and how much easier I have it now.  He commented how much he liked black and white photographs and said he still has enlargements he made years ago hanging on his walls.

I also share is love for black and white prints. There are eight framed photographs that my wife and I made hanging on my walls. Including one that’s 3 feet by 4 feet. And there is even a B&W framed poster by Alfred Stieglitz on the wall behind the computer.

I agreed with him when he said that he thought that, black and white photographs, “convey a mood that stretches the imagination” and he mentioned that he admired several of the B&W portraits I have hanging in my shop.

That was a perfect time for me to quote Photojournalist Ted Grant, who is regarded as Canada’s premier living photographer, “When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!”

In an article in June of 2014 I wrote. “A black and white photograph depends on its ability to communicate, it doesn’t need to rely on eye-catching colours for its’ visual presentation. Those B&W images that stand and pass the test of time combine attention to subtle changes in light, composition, and perspective. And it stretches our creativity and forces us to visualize our world in different terms.”

I wouldn’t want to be limited to shooting black and white any more than I would want to be limited to only using one lens. Some images just seem stronger in colour. However, if I can again repeat what I also wrote in that 2014 article, “I remember a photographer once saying that he believed shooting in B&W refined one’s way of seeing. And I heartily agree.”










Photographing Flowers by Bathroom Window Light       

Daffodil BW

This week my wife and I had our first serious walk of the year around her garden.

Everything was competing for a place in the sun and the colours were beginning with white being the most prominent. I guess that might be because the first flowers to bloom in my wife’s garden this year were her white daffodils, and there are lots. We were looking for flowers to bring inside the house, so the abundant daffodils were the natural selection.

In March of 2013 I wrote, “Photographing an Orchid in the Bathtub.” In that article I discussed how one morning, I realized that a lone blooming orchid that my wife was watering on top of an upside down plastic barrel in our bathroom tub was a photo opportunity in the making.

At that time I could see a back light beginning to come through the frosted bathroom window and the slight beginnings of a back glow on the flower. It as in the morning and I knew within an hour or so the sun would move to that side of the house and continue in a southern arc for the rest of the day.

It was with that in mind that we decided it would be fun to photograph the daffodils before Linda choose a final location to display them in the living room.

One could set up a small studio for flower photography anywhere in a house. I even have a small diffusion box especially designed for product photography. Nevertheless the soft diffuse light coming through the frosted bathroom window glass is almost perfect for flowers.

I found another plastic 5-gallon barrel, placed it up side down in the tub with the white daffodils on top, and set up a speedlight coupled with an umbrella on a lightstand to photograph the daffodils.

When I photographed that orchid it was early morning. However, this time it was late morning and a more direct light was coming through the bathroom window. So I took the outer cover off the big 5-in-1 reflector I have and it became another layer of diffusion when I placed it between the daffodils and the window.

All I had to do then was point my 135mm lens, shoot, arrange the flowers, shoot again and rearrange. When I mentioned to Linda that the flowers would look good as a black and white photo she said. “Everything is pretty much monochromatic anyway”, so it was with a final b&w image in mind that I took the picture.

Photography viewed as Art

Green wall in alley

A photographer friend, Nancy, told me about once entering a hand-coloured, black and white photograph in a local art exhibition.  The organizers advised her that they had a problem deciding where to place it, with paintings or with photography.

Wanting to be creative, and a bit traditional, she had used black and white film to photograph a scene and printed it in the old way, using chemicals in trays, with black and white photo paper. She then used translucent oils to colour specific areas of the black and white photograph.  Please remember that hand-colouring black and white photographs has been in practice as long as photography has been around.

The individuals, who organized the exhibition being ignorant of the history of photography (I was told they were all painters), believed that because she had applied something on the surface of the emulsion-coated paper that her photograph now had become a painting. I think that, lacking respect for photographers as artists, they regarded her work as something one would do with a colouring book.

We both wondered what the opinion of those exhibition judges would have been if she had captured a scene with a digital camera, used PhotoShop to convert the image to black and white, and then placed colours on some areas of the image.  She could have erased some items in the image, cloned others, or added items into the image that came from different photographic digital files. Would they still call it a photograph?  The artist had used the medium of photography to create the final image, but I have met people that would not want to call that photography.

Ignorant of the strong tradition of creative modification by photographers, many will refer to film-created images as “real” photography, and digitally created images as “digital” photography that are somehow unreal, as if film based photographs have never been altered or manipulated.

It is not bad enough that many patricians of other artistic mediums have a hard time including photography as art; but there are also photographers that want to dismiss digital or digitally manipulated images as not being “real” photography.

In my opinion if the original image file or “negative” (whether it be paper, or film-based, or digital) came from a camera of some sort, the final print, no matter what is done to it between the time light is captured on a sensor or film and presented as a final picture, should still be called a photograph.

I am excited that the medium of photography is continually changing with modern technology. Film emulsion has gone through an amazing amount of changes since 1826 in France when Nicéphore Niépce produced the first permanent image. Incidentally, his picture took eight hours to expose.  I can only presume that if he were handed one of the latest digital cameras he would be excited, and would not foolishly hold on to outdated technology, and as a photographic inventor he probably would be happy to experiment with today’s cutting-edge technology.  Yes, if we want we can still produce images with 100-year-old techniques and materials; or we can embrace the medium as it changes.

The problem those judges had with photography might have been is that it is used in so many different ways and has become so accessible.  Try to find some aspect of our society that is not impacted by photography. The medium has reached a place that, through emerging technology, makes it very usable for many people.

There are those that use it only to document their lives, but it can also be used easily for creative purposes.  One only has to check out the multitude of online photography sites to find the truth in that. That might also be why those judges struggled to accept changes to my friend’s original image.

Nancy photographed an interesting subject, and, instead of choosing to use a digital file, or colour film, she decided to use black and white film to create a mood to help the viewer feel what she felt when she released the shutter. Then further, she continued to visually discuss the subject and the surrounding scene by adding hand colouring to enhance specific elements of the photo and produced an image that was able to go beyond being a documentary of a moment in time. I think photographers like Nancy are as much artists as those in any other creative medium.  There should not have been a problem in deciding if her print was a photograph or a painting.

I am surprised that there aren’t many exhibitions held in towns and villages here in British Columbia solely for photography. Yes, photography clubs hold private exhibitions, but those aren’t generally open to the public at large. I think lots of people would participate and lots more would attend. I certainly would.  I suggest that if there are not ongoing photography exhibitions in your community, get together with some other photographers and make one happen.

I really do appreciate your comments, John

Visit my website at www.enmanscamera.com

Infrared Photography on a winter day

old truck in infrared Infrared roadside Farm in Infrared

Photographers always tell me that they are participating on some kind of photo challenge or another: a photograph-a-day for a year, or once-a-month for some specific time, or some have even decided to follow a particular subject through each season. I like the idea, however, I expect dedicating time to making a photograph every day (unless one works in a busy studio and is doing it as part of the work day) could become quite a chore.

Personally, I have tried projects that require that kind of stick-to-it dedication, but I get side tracked easily and rarely complete what I started. Last February I thought I might photograph a bridge a month. I live near a big river so how hard could that be? I did get a few and then I just forgot.

When it comes to my personal photography fun stuff just happens. For example, it was one of those days when I was too lazy to do the stuff around the house that I should have been doing.  I was reading some and just thinking about photography in general. OK, for me thinking about photography isn’t that unusual, it is actually what I prefer to do.

I was lazy, reading and thinking about how I should have a photo project. OK, the project: drive up the road a couple miles and photograph neighbour’s places poking out of the snow and do it with my infrared camera which is fun.  Criteria: Hope for some sun.

I have an older digital SLR camera (Nikon D100) that has been modified to only see infrared light. Infrared (IR) light is light that has longer wavelengths on the red edge of the spectrum and is invisible to human eyes.

The sensors for digital cameras are sensitive to more than just the visible light spectrum. This causes problems with colour balance, so camera manufacturers place a filter in front of the sensor that blocks the infrared part of the spectrum that only allows visible light, and not infrared, to pass through. The modification for my D100 was accomplished by removing that filter, and installing one instead that blocks visible light, allowing mostly infrared light to reach the camera’s sensor.

The camera still functions normally with full autofocus and autoexposure, except that it’s now able to record the infrared wavelengths that are just beyond what the human eye is capable of seeing.  When infrared photographs are produced as black and white the photographs show trees with glowing white leaves and black skies opening up new visual opportunities for photographing the world around us.

Many think of infrared photography as the stuff of military night reconnaissance, or, as frequently portrayed in movies, as aerial thermal imaging that finds the bad guys. With thermal imaging one sees the heat the subject is producing, however, infrared as photographers use it, with our modified cameras, is about capturing the light or radiation that is reflected off a subject and doesn’t involve thermal imaging at all.

In 1800 Sir Frederick William Hershel described the relationship between heat and light and let the world know about the existence of infrared light in the electromagnetic spectrum.

I don’t know how conversions are accomplished with modern sensors. With my old D100 I need to preset the white balance and be aware of a meter that is easily tricked with the white snow. I must check my camera histogram after every release of the shutter and usually make two or three exposures just in case. However, everything appears normal through the camera’s viewfinder.  Also, because so much light reaches the sensor one can use high shutter speeds and so it is easy to hand hold while exposing a photograph.

I would have liked a clear sky with more sun to increase the infrared effect, but the high clouds let in just enough light to make things interesting and challenging. Some subjects don’t work very well with infrared, so I just experiment, take lots of pictures and hope for the best. I knew on that not-so-bright-day my images would take some work with PhotoShop and NIK’s SilverEfex.

Infrared photography is fun. I was only out wandering my neighborhood for a little over an hour before I hurried home to work on what I got. Everything changes when one is working with infrared, forcing even the least creative among us to think creatively. I can leave my images with blue trees the LCD displays or move the white balance off the preset to cloudy and get red and black pictures instead. Opening an image file in PhotoShop is always a bit of a surprise and from there on its all experimenting and personal vision. Yes, infrared is fun.

As always, I appreciate your comments.

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Liking Black and White Photographs


My last article entitled, “Wandering City Streets with my Camera” included both colour and black and white images and elicited the following remark from reader, Timothy Schultz, who said, “I don’t usually like black and white photos, but they were used very effectively here.”

Black and white photography has always been a favorite of mine, and I am pleased that some readers agree that sometimes the use of black and white is effective.

During my years of involvement with photography I have seen changes in the kind of photography people are doing. When I first started making pictures as a child it was all about economics – B&W prints were cheaper than colour prints.  After that one-hour photo labs appeared in shopping center parking lots, department stores, and finally in malls, and colour prints became inexpensive and the mainstay for photographers.

I have always liked black and white and much of the time prefer the mood it evokes.  Since the introduction of digital image making and programs like PhotoShop and NIK software’s Silver Efex the need to carry a dedicated camera and to commit space for a custom-built lab has disappeared.  Now all that is necessary is learning how to effectively use the correct program.

Colour is reality, and black and white seems a bit “arty”, or as I wrote, “mood evoking”.  I have never produced an album of wedding photographs without including some black and white prints and when I ask the couple if they are OK with that, I always hear, “Oh, we love black and white. Yes, please”.

People comment that a black and white portrait speaks about a person’s personality.  I am not sure about that, but I do like, and sometimes prefer, black and white, depending on whether the subject is a person, an animal, or a building, and what I am trying to illustrate with the photograph.  And, I “previsualize” how those colours are going to work as shades of gray while I am composing the photograph.

I’ll mention here that famous photographer Ansel Adams introduced the idea of, and the word, previsualization. It is a term he used to describe the importance of imagining, in one’s mind’s eye, what the final print reveals about a subject.

We see everything in colour, and in the modern world of digital photographic technology that’s what is captured.  Then, we visualize and translate those images into black and white images using post-production technology.  I really do like B&W pictures and sometimes miss those singular times in my darkened room, where I would produce my B&W photos by hand in open trays of chemicals.  However, technology has changed and there are many options that now allow photographers to produce higher quality B&Ws.

I read an on-line discussion entitled, “Why Black and White Photography” by Robert Bruce Duncan. In it he wrote, “black and white has an inherent dignity”.  His opinion is thought provoking.  Perhaps we do see and interpret more in a B&W photograph. Duncan goes on to say that he thinks few colour landscape photographers have matched the black and white work of photography greats like Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Paul Strand, Margaret Bourke-White, and Imogene Cunningham, for example. And on portraiture he says, “it’s more than arguable that black and white is at it’s best for people photography…From early portraits by Julia Margaret Cameron, and later, Steiglitz and Steichen….(and) the photographers who documented America during the depression, to a whole slew of great Hollywood glamour photographers…and all the masters that made Life magazine perhaps the best periodical of its era.”

I am intrigued with Duncan’s words, I could mention some famous colour landscape photographers, but I’ll leave them to readers to search out. I believe both colour and B&W has its place.  As I wrote, sometimes I prefer black and white depending on the person, animal, or building, and what I am trying to say with the photograph. I pick and choose what image I think will work best in black and white and that depends upon the subject, the circumstance, the light, and, of course, the colour.

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com