Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Triumph Over The Color Cast
B&W Saves The Day • Composition And Content • Assembling Gigascapes • Keeping Track
B&W Saves The Day
I recently spent a few hours photographing from a small plane, flying along the eastern escarpment of the Cascades in Central Oregon. The weather was gorgeous, and the volcanic peaks were covered with fresh snow. Unfortunately, it wasn't possible in this plane to remove the doors or open the Plexiglas® windows. When I reviewed the captures later in the day, I was very disappointed by their distinctly cyan cast, even though they were otherwise of good quality in terms of sharpness, tone and content. While seeking solutions to this problem, I became aware that the image, with the exception of the dark blue sky, was fairly monochromatic in reality; that is, color wasn't an important factor in the scene. It wasn't a difficult decision to convert these captures to black-and-white, but it did require care to retain detail in the white snow, black lava outcroppings and massive forest areas while keeping the tone of the dark blue sky.
Composition and Content
Q I shoot exclusively digital color files. How do I determine which images would make good black-and-white conversions? Is there a way I should be photographing that would facilitate black-and-white images?
A What's the essence of a good black-and-white image? Composition and content. These are important factors in color images, also, but with color you have...well, color, to carry the day if the other elements of the composition are weak. With black-and-white, it's all about the tones that point the viewer to the story.
A promising black-and-white subject stands on its own merits; color can't be the reason for being. If the subject is defined mostly by its color, it's probably not going to be a strong black-and-white image. An obvious example would be a bright red blossom. If the structure of the flower is very interesting, with a range of lights and darks, shadows and highlights, you might emphasize these qualities with a black-and-white conversion—thus bringing the viewer's attention to elements of the blossom that may have been obscured by bright color.
A sense of movement, such as a curving road through a landscape or a strong repetitive design, can be very effective in black-and-white renditions. As a final note, tones set a mood, and if the mood lends itself to a low-contrast capture, then the grays will work for you in the black-and-white conversion.Another example I like to use when talking about color vs. black-and-white interpretations is the Palouse area of eastern Washington State. Here, the rolling hills for many miles are dedicated to grain crops, mostly wheat, that in early spring and late fall offer amazing green or gold striped patterns that swirl and move with and across the contours of the land. If the gold is there, the image is about fall and the harvest; if the green is there, the image is about spring planting. But in black-and-white, a photograph of the Palouse fields is about the sky and the land and the farmer who made the patterns with her tractor. The image becomes more basic, reduced to elements of design. One of my favorite photographers of the Palouse area is Darrell Gulin, who has a gallery of Palouse images at his website, gulinphoto.com.
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