Black and White Experiments

One of the first pictures I ever took in black & white was this one:

My daughter, Mae. Taken in mid-June, with the B/W mode on my camera (a Canon EOS-M).
My daughter, Mae. Taken in mid-June, with the B/W mode on my camera (a Canon EOS-M).

Now, it was just chance that this came out looking decent! I did like the way it was framed when I took it…so it wasn’t entirely a random piece of luck. But still, I was just messing with my camera (which I’d just purchased and was still getting to know.) The point is, I wasn’t actively thinking about setting up a nice B/W shot. I actually didn’t really know how to set up a nice B/W shot.

I’m not sure that I know now either! Two months later, I remain most definitely a beginner.

But I have been experimenting a bit lately.

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So, a week or two after I took the above, I tried some more B/W shots.

This one of my son, Henry, at the playground.
This one of my son, Henry, at the playground.
And another of Mae.
And another of Mae.
This one of Henry, too - on my parents' kitchen floor.
This one of Henry, too – on my parents’ kitchen floor.

Of the three, I realized, photographically, that I liked the kitchen floor shot the best. So I started trying to figure out why (looking for artistic insight.)

I realized it had to do with the lines. The light and the contrasts also…but mostly the clean lines.

The first picture, with Mae on the sidewalk, appeals to me for the same reason. The sidewalk in that shot delineates the space in a way that pleases me.

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So then I started to get a little interested. What makes a good B/W image? I started thinking a lot about this – even going back, mentally, to my college years, as little factoid tidbits and analytical tools started creeping out of wherever they’d gone to hibernate in the last decade+.

(Note: Back in the day, I graduated with a B.A. in Art History. To be perfectly honest, I actually have an M.A. in Art History too…though I don’t often volunteer that because it tends to make me sound more knowledgeable than I actually am in the subject matter. In grad school, I studied Early Medieval English art…which wasn’t in fact a whole lot of actual art. [That’s a topic for another post!!])

I can’t say I took any very impressive black and white shots in the next weeks. But a few color pictures that I didn’t like when I took them translated very well (I think) to B/W.

This one, for instance.
This one, for instance.
And this.
And this.

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Black and white started to be something I turned to before wholly chucking a shot. It wasn’t always a cure-all….but it sometimes (I realized) could make things interesting.

Here's a selfie I took.
Take this selfie.

I took this shot the day of the amazing reflections (as you can see in the background.) Unfortunately, it’s essentially a worthless picture, with myself in the foreground so very dark.

Brightening helped - though I lost the intensity of the reflection in the background...which took away the interest of the picture.
Brightening helped…but in doing that, I lost the intensity of the reflection in the background. This took away the interest of the picture for me.

Then I tried switching it to B/W.

Changing it to B/W didn't fix the issue of capturing the reflection adequately...but it did make the picture more interesting, I think. Maybe "interesting" is too strong?? I like this one better than the brightened-up image, at any rate. It has a different character.
Changing it to B/W didn’t fix the issue of capturing the reflection adequately…but to my surprise, it did make the picture more interesting. Maybe “interesting” is too strong?? I like this one better than the brightened-up image, at any rate. It has a different character – gleaned from the B/W. I like that.

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I’m such a novice! And I’m still totally reliant on PicMonkey for editing (it’s on my agenda to learn GIMP – the open source version of Photoshop – next month.) But even with those limitations, it’s interesting to play with the format.

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Well, I actually didn’t delve too deeply into the B/W stuff at this time – tempting as it was. As I said, I was still getting to know my camera, and was getting increasingly interested/distracted by the drive to wean myself from automatic mode. So I basically gave in to that competing urge.

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But I’m writing this post because the little B/W bug bit me again last week.

I was (again…and as usual!) messing around with my camera. My parents were extremely generously letting me stick my camera in their faces (for like a couple of hours!) to practice taking portraits.

When even I got tired of that, I started to give some thought to WordPress’s Weekly Photo Challenge. That week’s topic was “Silhouette.” And exploring that led me to this picture:

My mom, at her living room window.
My mom, at her living room window.

I was excited enough about the way that turned out to continue exploring the B/W mode a bit.

Which resulted in these shots of Henry:

IMG_4536

IMG_4539

And this one of Mae:

IMG_4747

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Now, those two shots of Henry I took with my camera set to take B/W pics. But that last one (of Mae) was originally a color shot. I totally messed up with the light and settings (I’m on full manual mode now…and still learning!) It came out really dark. When I tried to lighten it, it destroyed the whole look of the picture.

It was in an attempt to salvage it in some fashion that I tried switching to B/W in editing. I was surprised by how much I liked the results!

 

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I decided to start exploring B/W in a more concerted fashion – both in the actual picture-taking process, and in the post-processing area.

So that’s been my photographic preoccupation for the last week+.

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It’s seeped over into exploring sepia as well.

That's how this one came to be. (That's Mae, with her stuffed lemur, Leemie, on her head.)
That’s how this one came to be. (That’s Mae, with her stuffed lemur, Leemie, on her head.)

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I’ve taken a couple of good shots.

I like this one of Henry, for example.
I like this one of Henry, for example.

And I’ve learned that it’s remarkably easy to get a nice non-color image of my dog (who happens to be black and white herself!) I take black and white shots of her now to salve my frustration when things aren’t going well, photographically – because they’re pretty reliably attractive.

She doesn't mind too much, so long as she can lounge in her favorite chair while I'm doing it.
She doesn’t mind too much, so long as she can lounge in her favorite chair while the camera’s pointed at her.

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Mostly what I’ve been doing though, more than trying to get great shots, is trying to reach a better understanding of what makes a compelling picture, when color isn’t part of the equation. A lot of that’s been via messing around with editing.

Clean lines do help; I’m certain of that now.

That's why this picture of Mae appeals to me more than, say....
That’s why this picture of Mae…
...this duck picture. I like the rocks here, actually - with the sun dappling on them. But overall, it's just too busy, I think.
…appeals to me more than this duck picture. I like the rocks in this photo, actually; I like the sun dappling on them. But overall, it’s just too busy, I think.
I tried making this one black and white, but I didn't like it at all - for that "too busy" reason, I think. There's a life to it when it has color. In B/W, it becomes cluttered and meaningless.
I had a similar issue when I tested making this one black and white. I didn’t like it at all! Whereas I like it a lot in color. There’s a life to it when it has color….while black&white renders it cluttered and meaningless.

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But not everything, I’m finding, is so easy to determine.

What I mean is, sometimes color and B/W (and sepia, for that matter) render equally interesting pictures. Then it becomes a matter of preference.

That’s a challenge – an interesting one.

This shot needs work, obviously. The reflection is kind of pretty, but the rest is just too dark.
This, for example, isn’t really the greatest shot…but it’s not too bad. The colors are maybe not entirely to my liking. (I didn’t do a good job dealing with the sunlit water and the kids in the tree shade.)
This makes for a somewhat interesting alternative, I think.
But this makes for a somewhat interesting alternative, I think.
This one too.
And then there’s this one too!
Here's Mae and Leemie waiting for a train.
And here’s Mae and Leemie waiting for a train.
And in B/W. I like both versions!
And in B/W. And I like both versions!
Same with this shot of my brother. B/W...
Same with this shot of my brother. B/W…
....and sepia. They're really different shots, emotionally (I feel.) But I like them both.
….and sepia. They’re really different shots, emotionally (I feel.) But I like them both.

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I don’t really have a point to this post! Except, I guess, just to note that I’m finding non-color photography more interesting than I expected to.

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Though I’ve put so many pictures into this post, I suppose its secondary function now is as a record of where I’m at, skills-wise, at this moment in time.

It’ll be fun to do an update in a few months, when I’m (hopefully!!) more accomplished in this area!

 

 

 

 

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5 thoughts on “Black and White Experiments

    1. What kind of dog is Bailey?? We’re always trying to figure out what our dog (Thursday) actually is. We’re pretty sure she’s part lab, part border collie…and possibly part elkhound. But it’s all guesswork!

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