Nov 24 2009
I got serious about photography just about the time that black and white was fading away. A few old guys still clung to the past—one of them was named Ansel Adams—but color was the future. All the film ads said so. Then I got a part-time job helping out the local school’s art teacher, who was hell-bent on starting up a photo club. Soon I was working in the darkroom, developing black-and-white prints.
It was a revelation. I was already doing a lot of pen-and-ink illustration, and black-and-white photography seemed a natural complement. But this idyll didn’t last long. The art teacher moved on, my part-time job ended, and I had to give up my key to the darkroom. Soon I was back outside, shooting color. And that’s where I stayed for nearly a quarter-century.
The digital revolution changed things, however. Now I had a virtual darkroom at my disposal. I could shoot in color and convert the resulting image to black and white in seconds, with no more spilled chemicals and no big bills for paper. In short, I rediscovered the beauty of working in monochrome.
What about you? Have you ever considered how the world looks in black and white? Here’s a sampler for your consideration:
Whatever the subject, black and white can shed new light on it. Without the seductive distraction of color, you can concentrate on core values: contrast and composition. Here are a few more shots, by way of illustration:
By playing with depth of field, you can encourage the viewer to see things as you saw them. But that’s just the start. Did you grow up measuring chemicals and timing exposures? Now you can do everything you used to do under the red light in the darkroom right on your computer desktop. No muss. No fuss. And very little bother. One hint: Start with a color image and desaturate it, rather than beginning with a black-and-white original. And another: Always work with a copy of the original, never with the original image itself.
Want to know more? Then get hold of a copy of John Beardsworth’s Advanced Digital Black & White Photography. It’s a beautiful world out there. And you can put that down in black and white.