In high school, before digital, we shot black-and-white film. It was a meditative practice. Five years ago I took some photography classes and one of my instructors was an incredibly passionate and experienced photographer. No-nonsense, hard-core, bad-to-the-bone master printer, Jhanavi Lisa Barnes taught us the zone system and helped us understand highlights and shadows. How to accomplish these things in-camera (film), and later on in the darkroom. There is nothing like a print that comes from film and developed on paper. I do miss the luxury of it, and have a total respect and appreciation for the process. (Alas, I’m an impatient type. Also, the cost of purchasing film, paper, facilities rental, gas, parking, etc. just isn’t economical or convenient).
So, how do you visualize, take, and process an image so that it looks like it imbues the tonality and contrast of black and white film? I continue to hone and refine my skills in digital photography, and feel I have a good grasp on how to adjust tone, saturation, and highlights through the various color channels and tone curves. I push myself through the grey of an image. With the Zone System in mind, I work to keep, but not blow out, my highlights. I nudge my shadows, blacks, and exposure sliders to keep the shadows from becoming too muddy. However, if I’m going for a specific style, I will push the highlights and/or muddy the contrast if it communicates the feeling I want for it to radiate. Finding balance in the light is something I love to work with.
Here’s a little slide show of people and places where I’ve worked the light to suit the image captured; keeping in mind the feelings I remember having when developing black and white prints.