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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black and White as a Photographic Medium

1. Cameras  2. Ghost town  3. Kamloops fence & hills  4. Quick turn at the rodeo  4.Chuck the rooster  5. Flower  6. Bailea  7. Monica  8. Church lantern  9. Headwaters

Lois Lane, Kelowna

Black and White as a Photography  has always been my favourite photographic medium. I recall when I first began pointing my camera at different subjects, and started making photographic prints, that I didn’t think too much of colour photography. Yes, colour was fine for documentary work as found in “National Geographic” magazine, or making snapshots of some family, but in the 1970s creative photographers seemed to be working in black and white, not colour.

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 always (and still do in my opinion) seem to create moods and convey an almost tactile quality.

During the period of film photography, photographers had to decide whether their subject would look best in black and white print film, colour print film or slide film and most photographers trudged around with at least two camera bodies weighing them down. However, today that decision to make a black and white image is best left to the computer and some exciting post-production software. And there is no need pack around another camera. (Well, unless one is worried about camera failure.)

Thankfully post-production is no longer contained to dedicated, darkened rooms. I still have an 11×11 foot room in our basement, complete with a six-foot stainless steel sink and custom cabinets. However, it’s mostly used to store photo equipment and for washing my chickens’ eggs. Now my lab is on the main floor of our home and instead of chemicals, the image and print production has become an intricate combination of computer programs, quality printers, and papers that easily rivals the quality of chemical-based, traditional, black and white photography.

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 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, 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 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 monochromatic (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. I don’t really like using that, as it does nothing more than de-saturate an images colour data file, excluding control of the different tonal values that make up a black and white image. I 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: “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.”

I welcome any comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

A photographer’s musing on Black and White photographs

beach fog Chase Falls Coast silhouette

This week there were two things that made me start thinking about black and white photographs. The first was a discussion with a fellow that stopped by my shop, a film shooter, who announced that, in his opinion, the only way to get high quality photographs was to use black and white film and to make prints with chemically processed, black and white photographic paper.  The second was a notation in facebook advertising an exhibition that for some reason selected out black and white photographs as their own medium separate from photography, i.e., two exhibitions – a black and white exhibition and the other was photography.

I don’t agree with those long time photographers’ that belief that only film produces high quality images. That is now a discussion long past its time, the technology has changed, and in my opinion, for the better with improvements in camera sensors and programs like PhotoShop.

When I used to spend hours in my black and white printing lab I had the best enlargers and enlarging lenses that I could afford, and searched and researched the different manufacturers’ chemicals to obtain the most control I could get over contrast and density of my negatives (film) and printmaking paper.

I would work for hours in a darkened room to make the final images more than they would be if I just printed the straight negatives, as they were when they directly came out of the camera. These days I search out computer programs that give me the most control over my digital files and instead of expensive enlargers and lenses, I have a computer and 30 inch monitor. And I still work, although no longer in a darkened room, to make my final images more than they are directly out of the camera.

I know most modern photographers like to talk about cameras, lenses, and of course sensor megapixels. Not much has changed. It seems like only a few short years ago that photographers were talking about cameras, lenses, and film. And many of those that I spent my time with were discussing how to get the best image out of a black and white roll or sheet of film.

A few short years ago I thought all this had been lost.  Digital technology arrived and with it a new and exciting way to produce my personal photography, but I was disappointed with the quality of printmaking, especially black and white.  I believed that manufacturers were only interested in selling mega pixels and cheap inkjet printers.

Colour photography was getting better and better, but not so with black and white. I was disappointed with the in-camera presets for B&W images.

Many photographers, and I include myself in that group, wanted to produce black and white photographs that matched those we used to print in our chemical based darkrooms. That took a bit of time for software makers to catch up, but these days I am seeing lots of excellent black and white photographs.

An understanding of PhotoShop is important, and with program’s like NIKsoftware’s Silver Efex, producing those film-like black and white images of time past is relatively easy and if one has a pigment ink printer, making a high quality B&W print, once only available in a chemical lab, is now absolutely possible.

I like black and white photographs and to me there are some pictures that just look better that way. When asked, I’ll say something like, I like the mood created by processing this image as B&W.  Now we can look at different versions of any picture and choose the one we think says the most about our personal vision and has the best impact on viewers.  I think a photograph is a photograph and don’t agree with those trying to describe B&W as a different medium than colour. I suspect those may be the same people that like to say any image that has postproduction work is not a “real” photograph.

Some pictures look better as B&W and some look better as colour. It depends on what the photographer is trying to say about the subject. As for B&W, I admit that lots of my images end up as B&W.  I’ll finish with a quote by famous Canadian photojournalist, Ted Grant.

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

I always appreciate your coments.

my website is at www.enmanscamera.com