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.

 

 

 

A performance of the Photographic idea 

 

Ansel Adams, in the Forward to his popular selling 1950’s book “The Print” wrote,

“Photography, in the final analysis, can be reduced to a few simple principles. But, unlike most arts, it seems complex at the initial approach. The seeming complexity can never be resolved unless a fundamental understanding of both technique and application is sought and exercised from the start. Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art. Therefore emphasis on technique is justified only so far as it will simplify and clarify the statement of the photographer’s concept.”

I have flipped through “The Print” many times since I got into photography. I think that it was almost required reading for photographers at one time. Especially those of us dedicated to hours of time in dimly lit rooms, peering at paper prints as they slowly materialized in smelly, (and somewhat toxic) liquid-filled trays.

“The Print” by Adams is from a period when photography was about striving for the perfect negative and a quality final print (image). Concepts that are all but forgotten in this age of hi-tech computerized image making.

We don’t worry about a perfect negative any more, because even if the image file produced in-camera isn’t perfect RAW files are easily colour balanced, cropped, and sharpened. Contrast can be decreased or increased and the final picture doesn’t show any sign of resizing or noise reduction. And in my opinion, sadly, the trend for many photographers has become to not make prints at all.

I believe Adams’ forward in “The Print” is as worthwhile now as it was in 1950.

Even with the changes of how an image is managed and finally used (whether print or electronic) the thought process and technique should be important. Adams wrote about the technique of taking the picture, the method used to develop the negative, and then finally the printing procedure.

He might as well have been talking about transferring image data from a camera to computer, optimizing the RAW files in post-production, and outputting to a personal printer for the final print.

I thought about that as he continues, “We may draw an analogy with music: The composer entertains a musical idea. He sets it down in conventional musical notation. When he performs it, he may, although respecting the score, inject personal expressive interpretations on the basic patterns of the notes.”

“So it is in expressive photography: The concept of the photograph precedes the operation of the camera. Exposure and development of the negative (RAW image file) (my remarks in parentheses) follow technical patterns selected to achieve the qualities desired in the final print, and the print itself is somewhat of an interpretation, a performance of the photographic idea.” I have always liked that final sentence of his “…the print itself is somewhat of an interpretation, a performance of the photographic idea.”

Those words always remind me, as Adams put it that, “Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas.”

Modern photographers appear to be obsessing with each new offering manufacturers place on the table, and the obsession with technology may often seem to be what photography is really about. Although I will admit that it is fun, I think photographers need to remember that, “The concept of the photograph precedes the operation of the camera.”

That seemingly out-dated book is still on my bookshelf, and I regularly flip through its pages.

After all the prattle about what the newest camera, or lens, or computer program is capable of, I like to be brought back to what, in the end, photography is about for me personally.

Infrared photography is a refreshing change                          

 

I just like to make pictures.

When I retired from pointing my camera for money I was reminded how much fun it is to photograph everything for my personal entertainment.

The past two weeks I have stayed close to home with my cameras and, yes I’ll say it, “focused’ on subjects that are within ten to fifteen minutes drive from my front door.

My subjects aren’t necessarily exotic and there aren’t troves of photographers traveling long distances to set their tripods up in anticipation of those once-in-a-lifetime photographs. But, for me the things I pass along the local roadside are always interesting and sometimes even stimulating.

This spring I was unsuccessful in my attempt at photographing the geese and their goslings, but I easily pointed my camera in a different direction and had a good time photographing turtles instead. I then (driving along the same road) decided to photograph my way to work on a rainy day.

This week staying dedicated to Duck Range Road I dusted off the camera I had converted to infrared some years ago.

My previous trip around the countryside with it was in September of last year, so it was about time to create some images in a different light.

Infrared is always fun, and this time I’ll be able to compare four versions. I’ll have those I made last week that were colour and black & white, and then this weeks colour and black & white from infrared.

The first time I drove and photographed that route was back in 1977. I had just moved and had hooked up the electricity to a 20’ X 9’ trailer on a couple acres of heavily wooded land, I didn’t know anyone and was curious to see what I could find along the dusty dirt road.

I loaded my Pentax Spotmatic II with a roll of Ilford black and white film, jumped in my yellow 1962 International Scout 4X4 that I had recently changed the California licence plates to British Columbia plates, and slowly drove along the bumpy road in search of photographs.

Well, here it is 41 years later. I no longer reside in that cramped trailer, or use film for that matter, and there is no longer need of that 4X4 because the road is paved. However, I still slowly drive along that road in search of photographs.

I don’t need infrared to keep me excited with the photos I make along that road I know so well, but as I wrote in my title, “Infrared is a refreshing change”.

I thought about reusing last week’s quote by Elliott Erwitt. However, I wanted to find words by a photographer that described how I feel about pointing my camera at subjects I have photographed (hundreds of times?) before.

I searched some and found this quote by German photographer Helmut Newton.

“Look, I’m not an intellectual – I just take pictures.”

Composing a photograph includes eliminating the irrelevant   

 

 

 

 

Years ago the Hasselblad camera company published a series of photography pamphlets. While I had my Hasselblad I collected and studied the information contained in them.

Recently I thumbed through one titled “The Eye, The Camera, The Image”.  Although meant for medium format film cameras it’s filled with information that is still appropriate for digital camera users.

I skimmed over topics like Using the focusing hood magnifier, Colour film and colour balance, Types of exposure measurement, Double exposure and Polaroid film, all are interesting reads if one is concerned with photographic history, however, not practical or useful for those searching to be a better photographer in our modern digital age.

However the topic, “We see far to much” caught my attention and it said,

“The eye is our organ of sight. It’s lens has a focal length of about 17mm and covers a 150-degree vertical and 120 degree horizontal field; the binocular vision provided by our two eyes gives a 180-degree angular field. We seldom have any need for images encompassing so wide a field. The wealth of detail in such a field would be rendered small and insignificant when reduced to images formed in a camera when composing a photograph outdoors or elsewhere. We always need to crop our field of view.”

In my experience, most successful photographers want to “tighten up” on their composition, by that; I mean they only include those elements that add to the visual discussion of a photograph. Beginners are apt to aim with only the excitement of their subject in mind and don’t pay attention to other additional features captured by the sensor.

Photographers printing or posting their photos are surprised when they look and find a picture filled with irrelevant and disruptive items they wished they hadn’t included.

Hasselblad continues, “This elimination of irrelevance is vital. The trick often involves excluding most of what you see. Making a selection is a basic feature of all art, whether it is painting, drawing or photography. Art consists of picking out the most interesting, most illustrative, most instructive, the loveliest or most emotional components among a myriad of components in a subject.”

Photographers should train themselves to be specific with a subject, only showing the viewer what is important. How do we slow down to do this in an age of auto focus, auto aperture and rapid-fire shutter release? I have an easy answer – get a good tripod!

I know many photographers have never owned or used a tripod and some have only experienced rickety, inexpensive models. Using a sturdy, well-made tripod makes one slow down and pay attention to the subject in the viewfinder or LCD. In addition, the process of setting up the tripod and attaching a camera gives photographers time to think about composition.

I agree with Hasselblad’s contention that “we see far to much” and need to eliminate irrelevant items in our photos.

When an interesting subject is seen, stop the car and get out. Don’t be lazy and merely hunker down against the window to take the shot. Get that sturdy tripod out of the trunk; and as you do that think about, or “previsualize”, the photograph about to be made.

Set up the tripod, attach the camera and look through the viewfinder. I suggest making several shots starting from a narrow, limited view and zooming the lens out to a wide-angle view. That way there will be several choices for that picture.

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To sum up, eliminate those elements inconsequential to the picture and compose for only those items important to the final photograph, not by looking at the subject and snapping away in a hurried fashion to include everything seen in the viewfinder, and take my advice, use a tripod.

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Photographic idea

This past week I got into a discussion with two local photographers about photography as Art. Their opinion was that photography has become mostly a point-and-shoot process that is really all about documenting one’s personal life.

I think defining Art has always been “in the eye of the beholder”.  

I remember a friend chastising me when I was too critical of a photographer’s image, by saying that all to familiar phrase, “I may not know about Art, but I do know what I like.” 

Ansel Adams, in the forward to his popular 1950’s book “The Print” said, “Photography, in the final analysis, can be reduced to a few simple principles…” and he continued, “Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art…technique is justified only so far as it will simplify and clarify the statement of the photographer’s concept.”

I remember the series of books by Adams when photography was about striving for the perfect negative and a good final print.

We don’t need to worry about a perfect negative any more, because even if the image file produced in-camera isn’t satisfactory it’s easily colour balanced, cropped, and sharpened later. Contrast can be changed and increasingly, the trend for many photographers has become to not make large prints at all. 

That said, I still think that Adams’ forward in “The Print” may be as worthwhile now as it was in 1950 for a photographer’s Art. Even with the changes of how an image is managed and finally used (whether print or electronic) the thought process is still important. Adams wrote about the technique of taking the picture, the negative, and the printing procedure. He might as well have been talking about transferring image data from a camera to computer, optimizing the files, and outputting to an online portfolio.

Adams wrote, “We may draw an analogy with music: The composer entertains a musical idea. He sets it down in conventional musical notation. When he performs it, he may, although respecting the score, inject personal expressive interpretations on the basic patterns of the notes. So it is in expressive photography: The concept of the photograph precedes the operation of the camera. Exposure and development of the negative…” He continues by saying, “the print itself is somewhat of an interpretation, a performance of the photographic idea.”

I have always liked that final sentence of his “…the print (image file?) itself is somewhat of an interpretation, a performance of the photographic idea.”   Those words remind me not to be as critical of other photographers work, if as Adams put it, “Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas.”

I think what my friend meant when he said, ““I may not know Art, but I do know what I like.”   Was that I should be paying attention to what a photographer might be saying with his or her image and remind myself to think about “interpretation” and the “performance of the photographic idea.”

That is why its good that I still have that somewhat out-dated book, and why I should regularly open it up. After all the prattle about the newest camera, or lens, or computer programs, I need to be brought back to what, in the end, photography is about for me personally.

Printing Your Own Digital Photographs    

Printing Photos

I had a good time this past week talking with a couple of long time photographers about printing photographs. It was a walk down memory lane as we talked about using film, and how we would spend hours in darkened rooms printing black and white photographs, and about the exciting, and enjoyable, shift to digital images and modern printmaking.

Just like those days when commercial photo labs struggled to match what, with a little practice, a photographer could produce in his or her basement darkroom, I have no doubt that today’s affordable high tech home printers allow us to produce fine art prints that can surpass what most big box commercial labs will give us.

In my opinion it comes down to a battle between visions: The Lab’s or ours. For example, imagine packing your camera equipment off to some isolated location, waiting for hours for the light to reach a colour and effect that matched the artistic vision you desire. Then setting your cameras’ controls with all the experience and skill that you have, and finally releasing the shutter.

Until recently when photographers shot in colour they had to rely on the skill of lab technicians who would hopefully process the images the way they wanted.

Lab technicians, even though well skilled, could only guess at what the conditions were like when the photographer released the shutter, and I suspect much of the time found it rather difficult to recreate and could only guess at the shooting conditions.

Sometimes a slight change in exposure or shift in color will make our photograph stand out, and only we can determine that. For example, those photographers that have bracketed the exposure values of an image know what I am referring to when they are frustrated because they got back several differently exposed prints all printed exactly the same from the lab. The vision in that case becomes the Lab’s; not theirs.

Yes, if we are unsatisfied we would return the film and prints to the lab for a redo. However, more often that not, we just give up and accept the best the lab can do, or try other labs till we get close to what we remembered trying to capture on our film.

I am not going to get into a discussion of printers and papers right now – I’ll save that for another time. I want to go back to where I talked about what happens after we have captured that image we took at that isolated location.

We look on our digital camera’s LCD screen, and check the Histogram to make sure we have captures from which we can work. Now, instead of leaving our vision to the choices of an unknown technician and waiting for the photographs, we download our memory card into our computer, enjoy immediate visual feedback on our photographs, and by using whatever post production software we have we can follow our vision with precision to the final outcome: a photograph that shows exactly what we want it to show; our personal vision. How exciting is that?

With today’s digital technology we can follow our photographic vision from start to finish, from idea to finished print in a way that is far better that ever before possible. And, by using quality photographic printer equipment, photographers can make spectacular enlargements that will give their photography another dimension of control and creativity.