The Colour and the Monochrome

I have a philosophy. See your final image before you take the picture.

When starting out this was a simple idea, I had my Ilford 400iso film in my Nikon Camera and a 50mm lens. I did not have anything else to distract my mind. I would go out with the camera with ideas of images I wanted to take E.g. “Billboards at night”. As I developed, my kit it got larger and I had more choice of what to use. I learnt about film speeds and the effect of grain and how the lens can distort an image and then colour. I was still using film so I had a choice when loading film into the camera of the kind of shots I could take. Sometimes I would even take two cameras out with me.

Digital photography for I believe has changed the way some photographers think, or has set up young photographers minds to reason a certain way.  Even in the age of digital photography my philosophy still works.

There was an art trade show where a photographer was talking to a buyer and the buyer was disappointed that a Photograph was in colour and wanted it in black and white. The photographer then said we can do that. For me this is was strange, shooting an image in black and white is very different to colour.

I can understand this photographer’s rational, he wants to sell his image, but does he owe anything to the image that he has created, to keep his vision as he wanted it.

I was also reading a photographers remark about their image, they said they chose to convert the image to black and white because it was shot on a high ISO and they didn’t like the noise and the noise in the black and white image would give the impression of grain.

Reading this I was stunned and lost all interest in their work. I wanted to ask, Why did you shot on a high ISO? It sounded like the black and white image conversion was a backup plan as the colour image did not come out as intended

The saturation line

Black and white photography is concentrates on the tone of the image and the detail in the different shades of grey, about the texture of the subject and the contrast between the light and dark.

Colour photography is similar but not at all the same. The detail is not in the shadows but in the tones of the colour and of different colours merging together. Colours affect the mood of an image, the saturation of colours contrasted against those that are less saturated, colours working in harmony and making conflict by using opposite colours in the image. In Colour photography the effect of your white balance can have an overriding feel in the image with blue tones making the image feeling lonely and cold and orange being the opposite.

The images below come from the same shot. One has had a Black and White conversion one a Colour. Which image was the one I intended to take?

The answer is the colour one.

When setting up the shot I knew I would have a lot of silhouettes from the statue on the fountain to the buildings surrounding it. But I wanted a warm image and in black and white I didn’t feel I would get a translation of warmth as well as I could in colour. The detail in the buildings would also be lost in black and white as the buildings need to be as dark as possible to frame and guide the eye to the statue. The colour image the movement of the light across the buildings gives more detail and light guides the viewer’s eye to the main focus the silhouetted statue and the fountain.

Does the black and white conversion work? Yes

Is it as strong as the colour? I don’t believe so.

The idea does help with colour images too as well. Thinking about how much saturation you want or lack of it, if you want one colour more prominent that another. The question I tend to ask myself is, what do I want from the image? And what do I want to say?

To work and flow

Digital photography is a versatile tool, images are captured in colour and then you must if you want a Black and White image convert it. Some digital cameras have a black and white mode though I wouldn’t trust using it as the image is a basic grey scale conversion ( and black and white conversion is a bit more than changing the image mode to grey scale) of a captured colour image.

Your work flow can help you.

My main work flow is; Camera raw basic tonal and colour edit small corrections opened as a smart object in Photoshop localised tonal and colour edit, noise reduction and sharpening.

With proposed black and white shots once I have downloaded the images I have a preset in Adobe Camera Raw of a basic black and white conversion. I open Adobe Bridge and set the presets. When you are then combing through your files deciding which ones to keep and develop, and which ones not to (I use a labelling system), you can see the image as a black and white image making it easier to see its potential. It makes it easier than trying to judge if a colour conversion will work.

I use similar presets to manage noise reduction for images shot at different ISO settings.

Your work flow is there to save time and to make the editing process smooth. There is work need to create presets and to find the work flow which is best for you, but in the long run in can replace a lot of trial and error editing.

Philosophy is just a theory, not a belief.

If was to say that I use my philosophy when I take all my images lying. It is a guiding hand and I would say how I work 80% of the time. Sometimes I am just playing or practising a new technique and seeing what kind of images it works best on. When shooting I do think about the final image or have a theme that I am trying to photograph. I don’t go out saying today is only black and white or today is only colour.

But I don’t think it is good for your work ethic to become lazy with your photographic mind and think just because it may be underexposed or the ISO was too high, Black and white or cross processing conversions are the fall back plan.

This image of the TV Tower in Berlin works well in black and white. The contrast between the light and the dark create strong geometric shapes. When positioned at an angle it works compositionally, as it is not natural and forces the viewer’s eye. In the colour capture there were different coloured lights on the TV tower which did look good, but with the light pollution of the city changing the nights sky form black to an orange glow did not for me seems a good choice for colour.

This image could work well in black and white because of the soft ness of nature and the hardness of metal juxtaposed against each other. I was not trying to pass that message on with this image. This image was more thinking about age. How manmade objects with age can start to blend with nature. In shots of long grass and flowers you will find greens, yellows and sometimes red which makes an orange hue. This rusted orange water hydrant at first glance looks out of place with nature because of its unnatural shape but the colouring almost makes it look natural as it blends with the hue of the horizon.

Let Me Know Your Thoughts, I Know You Have Some

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