Visualizing black and white winter images
“If you go as far as you can see, you will then see enough to go even farther.” – John Wooden
I am having a blast trying to visualize my world in black and white. When the conditions for a great color image present themselves as they did in my previous blog post at Bow Lake in Banff national park, I can’t ignore them because color images still move me. Seeing in color comes naturally to me or maybe it’s because I have been shooting color for so long, over forty years that I have learned what works for me and what doesn’t. This increases the chances of taking a photo that I will keep and process.
Black and white is different from color but it is also in many ways the same. The same rules of composition apply. Colors in an image carry weight in the same way that tones do in black and white. A large wash of blue can balance an image the same as a large area of black or dark gray.
When I “see” in color during the winter the snow is an integral part of the image. Shooting during the early or late parts of the day give me broad washes of color on the snow. The snow isn’t actually colored but is reflecting that color from what is overhead in the sky.
When I “see” in black and white I am looking not at colors but at shapes. Unless you are doing high key photos where white or very light shades of gray predominate I try to minimize the amount of white that is in the final image.
Landscapes force the photographer to work with what is in front of them. You are to a great degree at the mercy of the elements. The weather has the final say on how I take pictures. Give me a foggy and overcast day and my images will probably be very bright or high key. Give me a sunny day and I will be looking at dark or low key photos.
One of the major differences for me between black and white and color is that with black and whites there is greater freedom in manipulating the image. For example, the foreground in the above image was too bright for me. Way too bright. Maybe because we have been conditioned from an early age to accept visible burning and dodging in black and whites that I could darken the snow field and not make the image seem contrived. How bright was the snow? If you look at the strip of white separating the dark trees from the foreground, that is how bright it was. Again most of my “visualization” with black and whites occurs in the post processing. I experiment going lighter then darker and taking direction from how the image feels. It is seldom that I have a concrete idea in mind as to how the final image will look when I release the shutter. So the visualization really happens twice, shooting and then post-processing.
When visualizing a scene before I shoot I don’t make a conscious effort to think about the rules or decide that this area can go light or this dark. Instead, I see the scene and simply go by the feel of the image. Is it balanced? Does it lead the eye around the frame? This happens very fast. In the blink of an eye I will know if I want to shoot or not. I never over think this process. When I get home and later edit images in camera they often look different again and photos that I thought would be keepers are deleted, some iffy images are kept and end up being favorited.
You can never over shoot a scene during the winter. It is better to have an abundance of photos to work with and later delete than to be super critical in the field and come home with one or two shots.
Fresh snow is forecast for the weekend. Maybe it will be time for a few high key images?