To shoot black and white, you’ve gotta think black and white
The first year curriculum in photography school was mainly black and white. Ewww! I hated black and whites. Well, not really hate but I loved color. I had grown up poring over the books of Elliott Porter and David Muench. Both color photographers, each very different in the way they approached it. Porter was a master of subtly using the laborious dye transfer process achieve great control over his prints and Muench was almost like Jackson Pollock to me. Wild, brilliant splashes of color.
Black and white seemed to me to be so boring. I never got the “art” photographers of the time that shot black and white. I’d sit in the library and be completely and utterly bored looking at these shots of weird people, photographed in a very flat footed, boring way and wonder what was wrong with me. Why didn’t I find those photos interesting?
Thirty years later I have an appreciation for black and white photography. Some of it makes me downright jealous. The tones and lines are exquisite in some of the better landscapes. Also thirty years later looking at some of the photography that hangs in local art galleries of places that I photograph I now say someone was a better, excuse my French, bullshitter than photographer. Some of today’s and yesterday’s fine art photography still baffles me. I am dumbfounded. I stop at the side of the road. Shoot a square photo of “nothing”. Make a five foot by five foot print and ask four thousand dollars for it. Oh yeah, I give it a creative title and voila! instant art. LOL
Back to photo school. In photo school they teach you how to crawl before you can run or even walk. The first months were about learning the most basic and simple of things. Depth of field exercises, how I hated those numbered cards. Major ewww. Worst of all, I wouldn’t get to shoot color until near the end of my first year. So I begrudgingly shot black and white. I even found photographers who shot black and white landscapes that I liked. That was my goal, to achieve the same look, tones and light that I saw in the photos that I liked.
Off to the mountains I would go with my school issued, heavy, it was made of steel I think, Calumet camera. That tripod must have weighed twenty five pounds, at least. I ended up buying a wooden 4×5 Wista view camera that weighed a couple of pounds. It made shooting outdoors so much easier.
By the end of my first year, I did develop an appreciation for black and white. It was more complicated than I had imagined. From the visualizing in black and white to the processing my sheet film to expand or contract the dynamic range to the printing. Once I started my second year and got into color, the black and white part was quickly forgotten.
Today color still gets most of my attention. Only when something is obvious to me as a subject for black and white do I even consider it. Sunday morning while taking photos and looking down a gravel road towards the sun I briefly saw something that I thought might make a good black and white. I’ve included a similar but different photo as a comparison of how the mood of the photo can change in the absence of color. The original color in the black and white was almost identical to the color one I’ve included here. Two completely different moods but almost the same scene.
I think that I could still get into black and white but when I see a fabulous sunrise and the colors of the rainbow splashing across the sky, eh, black and white, phoooey. LOL