Draining the world of colour

The new cameras I bought arrived in the week, but what with them being film cameras, although I’ve started to shoot using them, I’ve not yet got more than halfway through a roll of film in the first one I decided to play with yet. So I don’t have any images to show you from my experiment, but I thought I might write this week a little about my approach to photography with these cameras.

To further my aim of slowing my photography down, and thinking more about how the technical process of photography affects the creative approach of the photographer to his art, I’ve decided to start off using the cameras with black and white film.

In colour the pinks and yellows of this rose would distract from the wonderful texture on its petals.

My logic is that when you shoot in black and white -whether because you are forced to by film choice, because you have set your Digital SLR or compact to its black and white mode, or because you plan to convert the image later – you have to strip your consideration of photography to its most basic tenants – composition, tone, contrast, and texture are vital.

Of course, composition, tone, contrast and texture in images are vital too in colour photography, but it is very easy to get distracted by the colours in the viewfinder and forget what matters most when you shoot. Have a look at this picture of Bill Brandt’s (which I first saw over a decade ago while studying photography – how time flies!) Snicket In Halifax. The combination of texture (in the cobbles), contrast (between sky and street, and the textured street and blank building) and light (particularly the reflections on the wet cobbles) are absolutely stunning, and I’m guessing, would not work at all in colour.

Because we naturally see in full colour (visual disorders notwithstanding), it can be very hard to look at a scene and picture how the tones will interact with one another in a monochrome image. I certainly have trouble with this, which is why I’m trying to test myself to get it right more frequently. If you know that you can turn any image black and white, or keep it in colour, it’s easy to just hope for the best when you shoot and not think the process through. By forcing myself to consider much more deeply the relation between tone, shape, texture, contrast and shape before I take a picture I hope to retain the consideration when I revert to using modern technology and colour film.

If you think your photography might benefit from the same type of process, or you’re interested in a new challenge – there are two easy ways to mimic what I’m doing without the need to buy a fifty-year-old camera and process and develop film.

This mono landscape is far from ideal in many ways, but it does illustrate how light and reflection can work in black and white with the reflections on the wet sand and strong tones and textures in the rocks and sky.

If you’re using a DSLR, make sure your shooting mode is capturing both JPEG and RAW images (generally you should be doing this anyway, but that’s another blog), then switch the mode to black & white, monochrome or greyscale depending what your camera calls it. That way, the preview image that you see on the LCD will be in black and white allowing you to much more easily get a sense of what happens when the is world drained of colour and understand how different blocks of colour interact in black and white. If you’re using a compact camera, it’s actually easier to do, simply switch to black and white mode and use the LCD screen to compose and consider how the scene works in monochrome. Then either take the image as it is, or revert to working in colour ready to use Photoshop Elements or another program to convert it to black and white.

As soon as I have some results from my shooting, I’ll be posting them here, so please check back… and if you have any questions, or comments about this post or my work in general, I’d love to hear from you.

Posted in Blog by Nic Stevenson on June 25th, 2011 at 11:52 am.

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