Black, White, and All The Shades In Between

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.

In converting this, I wanted to make sure most of the details of the coffee shop were preserved, and the edges of everything were crisp – a documentary approach.
Caught mid-morning, it was important to me to define the window shapes. I also wanted the light on the carpet, mat, and door to radiate in a glow, by slightly boosting the light on the grain and fibers. The slight vignette was used to not only help emphasize that glow, but bring about the feeling of the dark hallway environment.
I looked down and saw these logs and new I wanted to capture it for its texture against the sand. The metal of the fire pit added another textural element. The sand at the beach is probably closer to a middle-grey, but I wanted to darken it by sliding the appropriate color tones to the darker side, drawing your eye more toward the lines in the wood.
After a bit of a car ride and wait at the border, I almost missed seeing Non-Sign II at the U.S. and Canada border. I snapped this quick with my smart phone. It isn’t technically good, but I had this idea of processing it like an Andrew Wyeth painting, taking advantage of chunky texture, dramatic clouds above, and dry grass in the foreground.
Intentionally stark and high in contrast. I will probably add this to my abstract collection to show at a cafe near you.
It was a grey day at the park. While processing this, I was going for duller highlights and grain to have a Kodak TMAX film look. He had been running around, and had just dived into his cake before this was taken.
This red-head is a favorite. But why process that color away by making it black-and-white? Well, because it’s challenging, to balance fairness and red/orange hair. Her eyes are blueberry blue, so I did a spot adjustment to lighten them up to complement her complexion.
My current muse. Not mine, but so easy to photograph. I wanted to deepen this playful pose, bringing out the folds and wrinkles, and darkening the carpet to draw more attention to baby’s face.
Window light is the best. I think I was going for a People magazine portrait style.
I was asked to take some informal portrait for an online directory. Taken at dusk with no flash. I thought a light beige or grey would work well and wouldn’t be in high contrast with her skin tone. The texture in the brick on this very light grey wall was just enough to have that balance I was looking for. And I was further able to draw that out in Lightroom.
My head was thinking “Post-college 1990s by the beach”, but in black and white. I’m not sure I captured that here (It looks far too digitally sharp), but I do like how I worked out the various blue tones (sky and ocean), so it didn’t all blend together too much.
Selfie. This image is way more grey than it is here. I remembered how I felt this autumn day after just getting these new eyeglasses. Thick overcast gave me a diffused lighting in my car park. I blasted the heck out of the white while processing and I smoothed the noise out, considerably.
Complete opposite. I wanted to retain my mid-beige skin tone and make sure the hint of light from the skylight above me could be seen in hair. I darkened the carpet to help with framing, and wanted to retain the quiet and calm I was feeling but not going to extreme with contrast.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s