Monday, 6 October 2014

Black & White Photography

Black & White is NOT easy. Colour however, IS easy.

Yet most people think it's the other way around.

But we see in colour, not monochrome. And to take or 'see' a good image that will work in monochrome takes practise. Simply desaturating a colour image will NOT work. A good trick is to screw your eyes up into as tight a slits as you can while you look at a promising scene. This will give you two advantages which are:

One, you will have lots more space to take your shot as people will rapidly move away from a crazy looking person.

Two, the reduced light shows any scene in its simplest form of form and shapes, losing the colour distraction. Try it. Of course, putting your camera pre-view into monochrome will give you a good idea as well... but I like being a crazy.

With colour you can get away with murder photographically speaking. The colour makes the picture pretty. Ahhh, cute. You can mostly disregard shape and form if the colour dominates, which of course it usually does.

So, you have to look harder. Much harder. Look for the graphic shape or angle. Always consider scene contrast and textures and use contre-jour, which is just a fancy way of saying shoot into the light. Black and white photographers like to think of themselves as 'arty' and dropping in a little French helps. Wearing a stupid beret doesn't. At least in my experience.

Then, once you have your screwed-up eyes in place and have found the right angle, the good shape and great textures, you have filters to consider, for TONE.

Monochrome is simply shades of grey. 256 shades of grey in digital terms actually, which isn't a lot. So, the tones have to be adjusted for added impact or subtlety. These digital days, subtlety has for the most part left the building. That's because digital cameras are so good at getting a pretty great-looking shot right off the bat because the designers have built into their algorithms super contrasty, saturated colours as the norm. So people who want their shots noticed, tend to go for HDR and other super-impact type shots. Pictures that blind you with zinging amazing colours, kapow!

As a result others have gone retro, and buy Instacrap filters to give you the bad photography of the past. (I spent years learning how NOT to take the shots they promote and people crave). You can have black and white filters too, using different filters to give different tonal curves. And they work pretty damned well actually. But hey, we're artists who want real quality, huh? In that case dump the zoom lens and all the toy-camera filters and get raw.

Remember those squinty eyes you tried and now are stuck with? Lost a lot of friends too, have you? Well, stick a toothpick and open up those lids, because you'll need them wide and bright and you won't need friends as you stare at a computer screen for hours, and hours, and hours...

Editing.

It used to be called darkroom work which was lots more fun, especially if you had a lady friend (or man friend as you prefer) to help you fumble about while getting wet and friendly in the dark. Now you just have a mouse for company. That's progress I guess.

Anyway, once you dump all the camera algorithms you'll just have the data and it's then up to you (as it should be and not some Japanese fella) to go and make this raw data worth something looking at. At least to you. Most people can't give a rats arse about your art, despite what they might say for politeness sake. Screw them. Make it a bit special. Make it YOURS. When you've had a few drinks, ask them to show you what they've created. Only a hole in the sofa from watching EastEnders in all probabilities. We photographer anoraks have to stick together.

Think back to your squinty-eyed peek at the original scene that prompted you to take the picture, remember that? Well, try and recall that as you peer at the screen and force the damned pixels into something resembling what you think you saw. This is the second important bit of taking a great black and white, interpretation. You can make it sing or drown in a muddy puddle. It's up to you.

Here is one shot I took with the three stages above outlined. What three stages? sigh.
One: Pre-visualisation.
Two: Capture.
Three: Editing.

Oh, and there's just one more: Smug satisfaction. (or rather more usually, despairing frustration).




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