The Black and White Photograph  

 

Today my friend Jo McAvany showed me a book of black and white portraits she had made for a client.

Black and White has always been my favourite photographic medium so, of course, I was really pleased to see that she was willing to take the step away from what most local photographers are doing and create the portrait collection in black and white.

Photojournalist Ted Grant, who is regarded as Canada’s premier living photographer wrote,

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

Black and white photographs (in my opinion) seem to create moods and convey an almost tactile quality.

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 the test of time combine attention to subtle changes in light, composition, and perspective. I think a B&W image stretches our creativity and forces us to visualize our world in different terms. I remember a photographer once saying that he believed shooting in B&W refined one’s way of seeing. And I heartily agree.

In spite of the many modern photographers that don’t bother with anything more than just accepting what comes out of their camera, black and white photography is far from being left behind in the past and 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 a host of serious creative photographers.

Those photographers that are good at black and white photography learn to exploit the differences in tonal elements in a scene and present viewers with successful B&W portrayals that make excellent use of shapes, textures, light and shadow, and the loss of those original colours becomes irrelevant.

For those that haven’t tried monochrome (another word applied to B&W) image making, I will mention that it is easier than ever. Most digital cameras have a black and white mode available in the menu. However, I would suggest trying one of the many great programs available on the Internet that can be downloaded to test for free. Who knows, you might, like I do, really like black and white photography.

Readers by now must know how much I like quotes from famous photographers. So I’ll finish this up with some words from a turn of the century fashion and commercial photographer, Paul Outerbridge who wrote, “One very important difference between color and monochromatic photography is this: in black and white you suggest; in color you state. Much can be implied by suggestion, but statement demands certainty… absolute certainty.”

Photographing Victoria’s Harbour

        

We had decided to escape for a few days to Victoria, British Columbia, over the Thanksgiving weekend. The ferry docked at Schwartz bay, we disembarked, and made the scenic drive into Victoria. This is a bustling, picturesque city surrounded by water that is, in this photographer’s opinion, a perfect place for a photographer to wander around looking for photographic opportunities.

We were lucky in that our hotel room was on the ninth floor with a beautiful view overlooking a panoramic harbour only a block away. It was perfect setting for a photographer. Upon reaching our room, the first thing I did was set up my tripod on the balcony, attach the camera, and start taking pictures of the view. I wanted photos that showed the warm afternoon light, and later on more photos displaying the early evening sky as the city lights began turning on, and finally as the sun vanished, I made lots of long exposures with the only illumination coming from the harbor and the city.

Our first morning had a beautiful blue sky with only a slight breeze and as my wife got together with her long time friend and left for a day of site-seeing and some shopping, I got out my camera and made my way to down to the water front on foot.

My wife and I live in the very dry interior of the Province with rolling hills, lots of lakes, and a large river, however the ocean and everything connected to that environment there is unfamiliar and exciting and I couldn’t wait to start taking pictures.

I chose to bring my 18-200mm lens. The 18-200mm is a lightweight, multifocal length lens with an aperture range of f/3.5 – f/5.6. I know that many photographers these days are favoring wider apertures like f/2.8, but I would be using smaller apertures because I wanted scenics with a sharp focus from foreground to background. Using a wide aperture would reduce that depth of field. And for those readers that would say, “what about those lowlight evening images from the balcony?” My answer is that those were the images that especially needed all the depth of field I could get and most were f/8 or more.  Besides I was using a tripod and a cable release. Anyway, there wasn’t anything in my pictures of that lowlight cityscape that would be moving and I could use as slow a shutter speed as was necessary to get an exposure that worked.

I call lenses like that 18-200mm “vacation” lenses because they are so versatile. I have never been one for carrying lots of equipment and a lens that gives me both wide and telephoto capabilities saving me from carrying a bag full of lenses. My plan was to spend as much time as possible walking along the waterfront. I meandered back and forth thinking nothing of retracing my path when there might be another subject angle I wanted to consider, and the added weight of a heavy wide aperture lens, or additional lenses, would have slowed me down. Exposures change with how the sun reflects off a subject and returning to a place previously photographed several blocks away seemed worth the effort.

I had to get used to how the reflection off the water tricked my camera’s light meter. I don’t know if all cameras are the same, but in my experience relying on the camera’s meter in many cases will result in an over exposure. So I always underexpose around large bodies of water. That’s easy. I just make a few exposures and check my histogram until I am satisfied.

I had a great time photographing boats, planes, birds, and pretty much anything else on, off, and around the water that caught my eye as I roamed Victoria’s waterfront. I found new subjects, met interesting people, and even spent time with other photographers. I really enjoyed the change of photographic scenery and highly recommend any photographer to change things up to refresh their perspective.

I appreciate your comments.

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com