Sunday, August 28, 2011

Black and White Thinking

"To visualize an image (in whole or in part) is to see clearly in the mind prior to exposure, a continuous projection from composing the image through the final print."

Ansel Adams, The Camera

With the help of some new software I’ve begun seriously thinking in black and white again. It’s taken some time to start thinking that way after a couple of years of shooting digital color almost exclusively. It may sound funny but when I shot film, I could more easily visualize the end product. I could look through the viewfinder and visualize the composition in black and white without distraction. I couldn’t see the results until I developed the film and made contact prints.  I’d have in my mind the b/w images I wanted to see in the final prints; wouldn’t even think about the original color scene. In the darkroom, with a little work (sometime lots of work!) the image would become my reality in the developing tray. It was a total b/w “workflow” uninterrupted by color images popping up anywhere.

I actually used this “imaging” technique to good advantage with whatever film I was shooting whenever I was shooting it. I could spend a Sunday morning thinking in Tri-X about the city grit and evaporating fog wandering the streets of San Francisco. Later in the day I’d be thinking in Kodachrome as the sunlight slanted across an August afternoon at Land’s End. It worked well for me, this compartmentalized thinking.  I know photographers who carried two cameras – one with color film, one with black and white; shooting both at the same time. To me, this was photographic schizophrenia and would have driven me over the edge.

With today’s amazing digital technology the image pops up on the back of the camera in full color in an instant! This was very disturbing to my b/w vision quest. Yes, I know I can change the camera settings to make the instant image b/w but it’s still distracting. It’s not the b/w image I would see in my mind’s eye and just confused the issue even further.  When I was shooting I found it hard to think in b/w and was too distracted by the ease of shooting spectacular color. To muddy the waters even more I wasn’t happy with the results I got converting color to b/w in Photoshop.  For whatever reason - my lack of software skills or limitations of the product, I just couldn’t get what I wanted.

Lately I’ve managed to start “thinking” in black and white (and shades of gray) and with some new software tools I can realize my vision. It’s very satisfying (and more than a little ironic) to get “old fashioned” results with new technology.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011