Revisiting BW

Why are we so drawn to the monochrome image? Color is dynamic; it stimulates the senses. There’s a reason the term “eye candy” is so popular when describing color photography. But there are scenes that demand the absence of color. The challenge is in knowing when to shoot black and white.

What are those things that draw us into a good color photograph? Tastes vary. The current trend is toward lighter, more pastel colors with even skin tones and clean backgrounds. The photographers at the other end of the spectrum favor a heavily saturated color palate dominated by reds and oranges: “hot” colors that sometimes butt up against each other to cause a dynamism akin to a lively political debate. My aesthetic falls in this area, though I do like to represent the colors as I perceive them, and hold back on pushing them too much.

When I’m shooting black and white I am leaning toward a similar visual language. I prefer deep shadows, and whites that maintain detail but pop against a background. Pale yellow will translate to a creamy white, and red will lend a rich late-to-midtone accent or anchor point to the composition. In the digital darkroom, I try to follow the same rules as in the chemical darkroom. Start with a good exposure, pay attention to the light and every image will have a conversation between a solid black tone and rich white highlights, and all the midtone grays fall into place.

I have spent a lot of time with the beautiful images of my students in the darkroom class, and I’ve been fortunate to accompany them through their creative process. It’s been several years since I have set out to shoot a personal project in black and white, and I welcome your feedback.

 

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The two “I’s” – iPhone and Instagram

A parent of one of my students once said, “Whatever camera you have with you right now is the best camera you have.” I took that to mean that if you see a picture, capture it any way you can.

For the past several months I have been shooting primarily with my iPhone. It’s portable. It’s simple. I like the distortion. I like shooting square format, and I can do that with the iPhone. I like the color. There are times when the final outcome is somewhat disappointing, but, honestly, that happens with my “real” camera too. I don’t like the pixelation that occurs when I zoom in. So I rarely zoom in.

I also like the convenience of the cloud. Every photo I shoot winds up there and is readily accessible. Since we all “converse” visually via Instagram, a lot of steps are eliminated using iPhone and the cloud. Both of my fancy cameras have wifi capability, but when I’m on a *serious* shoot, using that feature is distracting and drains the battery power.

One other thing: shooting with the iPhone takes away the pressure of “the shoot”. It’s a kind of daily record of my travels, my walks and explorations. It’s like how a writer takes notes of her observations and later culls them into a story. My iPhone pics (and I feel fine calling them that) sometimes lead to an idea that becomes a “series”. And then I turn to my big camera as the writer sits at her laptop to begin to put together her story.

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