Seeing the World in Black & White
Jul 26, 2017
Black & white photography takes you back to the origins of the medium, with a practical beginning in 1839 with the daguerreotype. While a commercial process for color film was introduced in 1907, it remained a niche market for only the most affluent until the introduction of Kodachrome film in the 1930's. While color photography dominates the genre now, especially in the age of digital, black & white photography lives on and continues to have its stalwarts. The simplicity of a world without color can focus attention on the other artistic qualities of your work: the interplay of light and shadow, the composition, and how you bring them together. While there are only a select few digital cameras that natively take photos in black & white, conversions to black & white in post processing programs like Photoshop is a fairly straightforward process. In this week's blog post, I'm focusing on working in monochrome, corresponding with a new gallery of black & white photography I'm launching on my website.
So what are some reasons to make photographs in black & white in today's world? The first answer could be that you just have a preference for it, and if that describes you you're not alone. You'll find plenty of aficianados out there, a quick search on Instagram or Facebook will net quite a few groups and curated pages dedicated to monochrome. But if you're not that dedicated to it, then what other reasons would you use it? In my chosen medium of nature photography, I work dominantly in color, but black & white still has its place in what I do. What if a scene before you has great compositional value, has good lighting, but the colors are all so drab that it doesn't seem worthwhile? This is where a scene can be redeemed by monochrome, like the photo above. Often these situations will arise in winter, when the landscape around you becomes mostly dead and if there's no snow to cover it then at first glance it can become a lot less interesting. Remind yourself that the opportunites are still there, and a change in your approach can spark your creativity. When the snow does come, it can bring an almost natural monotone feel to the world around you, sometimes even a "color" photograph won't have any color in it at all, just the light and dark of a snow covered landscape.
A sub-medium of black & white photography that I also have a lot of appreciation for is infrared photography. I was introduced to infrared by shooting Kodak HIE infrared film, even after I was doing most of my photography in digital. Infrared takes the contrasts of monochrome and pushes it to the extreme by having an extended sensitivity in the red spectrum beyond what we can see, and when shot with a deep red or nearly opaque infrared filter when using infrared film, reduces the sensitivity to the blue part of the spectrum. When used in bright sunlet, seeming counterintuitively the best conditions for this medium, foliage will render in bright whites, while clear blue skies will become darkened in contrast. It's definitely a unique look, as seen in this example. Infrared can also be used for portraits, creating what could be a very desirable effect. If you have a subject that is nervous about imperfections in their skin, instead of spending time in post processing infrared can make them virtually invisible. While color infrared film was also available, it definitely ended up looking quite a bit more wierd. Kodak's infrared film is now discontinued, and infrared film is hard to come by. While non-infrared films were designed not to be sensitive to infrared light, todays digital camera sensors are sensitive to all light, including infrared and ultraviolet. This has a negative effect on normal photographs however, so manufactureres place a filter over the sensor to block all but the standard visible spectrum. However, if you desire you can have this filter removed by a company such as Life Pixel, and a different filter that allows varying degress of sensitivity into the infrared spectrum can be put in its place. This will result in a camera that can only be used for infrared photography, but this could be ideal for a backup camera or that camera that you recently replaced with a newer model. Since I recently purchased a new camera body, I'm planning to do this conversion with my old camera myself. If you decide this isn't for you, the process can be reversed by swapping back to the standard filter.
I hope you've enjoyed this journey into the world of monochrome with me, and maybe learned something along the way. For a limited time, I'll be offering all the photos in my monochrome gallery at a special discount, so if you enjoy this style of artwork don't hesitate to make one your own. If you're enjoying following my posts here on my blog, don't forget to follow me on Facebook & Instagram as well. You'll often see my newest photos there first. Thanks for following along!