Last meeting Mark Stone , in a well attended meeting, took us through some editing options he uses on Light Room and Photoshop. Mark is a big fan of black and white, not to the exclusion of colour, but he has a strong affinity to the ascetic and opportunities that black and white presents, so it is this that we will investigate a little further this week.
Black and white photography happened first of course. Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s heliograph taken at his estate in 1826-27 gives a barely legible but still discernable image of a stand of trees, fixed in bitumen (Daguerre used copper plate, Fox-Talbot was the first to fix an image on paper), but since the invention of colour – which had a long gestation period – it has gradually receded to niche and specialist markets. To its fans and I am certainly one, it is too often overlooked (guilty), or most people who occasionally venture that way look upon as a fix for images that didn’t work but still have something but you are not sure what (“Taking the fifth” on that one, well shoot in colour and edit to black and white is my excuse). Incidentally that is a two way street. There is no doubt that there is a skill to looking at an image as a black and white one from the off.
Some people might think that there is a certain nostalgia attached to monochrome that is a bit off-putting and reeks of chemicals and cardigans and people (men mainly) sucking on their dentures and complaining that things aren’t like they used to be. Certainly they are not. It’s called progress. The darkroom and its arcane ways have fallen from popular use. Photography as a whole, with the digital revolution, has become far more democratic and personally I think that a good thing. This, however, is the science and we are talking here about the art. If, on the other hand, you have used a dark room over some time, then there is a pretty good chance that you keep a warm place in your heart for those processes, for the choices of paper and the effects they have on the final image (for the uninitiated it evolves mainly, but not entirely, around the question of how black is black) for the magic of the image appearing on the paper. Black and white was far cheaper and a lot less complex than colour. Not many people go back though, at least not exclusively. Digital can be just as good.
As I said, this about the art (you’ll remember that argument from last week), the perceptions, that the image creates in the viewer. In black and white contrast is king, but across a spectrum shaded in grey. Subtlety is the greater part of it. That is not to say that extremes don’t have a part to play, it is part of the process of selection that forms the backbone of the monochrome discipline – and yes that is something which can be about post production, but as with everything else, it can’t all be about post production; the initial pre-shutter decisions are still hugely important. Black and white is about texture, forms and contrast above all. When these are the most important things in an image then black and white is the medium of choice, but it remains a subjective choice. Primarily these elements become important because when you remove colour from a photograph these elements are what lead the eye.
Texture, the consistency of a surface in a photograph defined by its irregularities, provides us with basic information that we can use to comprehend what that object is or made of. It can be more important than what that actual object is especially in abstract. Form, the three dimensional representation of an object (shape is 2D), especially in the absence of colour, is probably the biggest clue we get to what we are looking at and contrast, of course, is important in all forms of photography. Black and white concentrates the eye on the intensity and differential qualities in light to a higher degree than in colour (colour, of course being the most striking and the most absent of the elements of design in monochrome).
So it helps to concentrate on lines, shadows and shapes, not ignore the basic rules of composition (master them before you break them), plan ahead and practice, practice practice! There are advantages to shooting in colour (you can always revert to it) and there are advantages in using a RAW format – as per the above plus there is more scope for capturing tones across a range of light and dark in the same frame. There is no particular reason why you shouldn’t use JPEG should you so wish, but, as always, you have lesser latitude to edit with. It also helps to know the effects of colour filters on the image, which can easily be applied post production, or by simply fixing one to the front of your lens.
We have another round of the ROC in the new year, so why not use that as a chance to get some feedback on your black and white photography? Better yet, black and white is December’s Flickr competition topic.
CONGRATULATIONS to our esteemed chair on his MBE collected Thursday last awarded for his work with youth via the Air Training Corps. Well done and well earned Maurice.
Time is running out but there are still places on the WOODLAND shoot. See Myk.
December 11th – The second round of this year’s Reflex Open Competition (ROC) will be judged tonight.
December 18th – Christmas social evening. To quote Mark S (again):
” Thursday 18th December is our Christmas Social. We’re planning on doing an American Supper style evening which means we’d like you to bring some food & drink. So that you don’t all bring in a pack of Scotch Eggs we’ve created a list that will be on the sign in desk each week up until the 18th. If you’d like to take a look at what is on the list just peek at the PDF attached to this post.
8TH January 2015“What Christmas Means to me” & Mounting Prints
See everyone’s images from our Christmas Challenge of “What Christmas Means to me” followed by a demonstration on how to mount your photographs.
I bet your wondering what this “What Christmas means to me” thing is as you’ve possibly never even heard it mentioned at the club before. Well now I’ve had it explained to me with a handy infographic I can explain it all to you. Well actually no I’m not instead you can follow this link and read all about it as that’s exactly the same way I found out what it was!
15th January 2015: Club Battle, Bristol Photographic Society (Away).