Black and White Experiments, Part 2

My interest in black&white photography continues to grow – and was massively accelerated a few days ago when I came across some examples of the work of photographer Kevin Saint Grey.

His images encapsulate everything that appeals to me about shooting in B/W: When texture and line, light and darkness, and form are allowed to take center stage, without the distraction of color, everything strips down to the barest essentials. I’m fascinated by this!

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Now, it’s true that I don’t necessarily think this always makes for a superior image. It depends on what you’re trying to express with the image – and I’m trying to get a better handle on that right now.

I mean, I can’t imagine Kevin Saint Grey’s work being the slightest bit improved by color; his photos are incredible. But a lot of the things I tend to be drawn to photograph – or that I end up photographing, because it’s what’s around me – are often enhanced by color.

There are exceptions, of course. These images I took of my ex and our daughter are, in B/W, pure in a way they simply aren’t in color:

In B/W, they become artifacts of a father-daughter bond…whereas in color they’re just cute pictures.

I think that’s interesting.

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But most of the time, my usual subject matter seems to require color.

This picture I took at the zoo last weekend, for example, of the "elephant footprints," looked too cold in B/W. It needs color to get anywhere near the charming character that led me to capture it in the first place.
This picture I took at the zoo last weekend, for example, of the “elephant footprints,” looked cold in B/W. It needs color to get anywhere near the charming character that led me to try to capture it in the first place.
This one too is more appealing with the green leaves and the colored cast of the turtle itself.
This turtle shot too is more appealing with the green leaves and the subtle hue of the water. It was flat in B/W.
The shot of this turtle too (found in the parking lot of the apartment complex...on his way here to be released at the pond around back) really needed color to have any kind of impact at all.
This one too (of a little turtle found in the parking lot of my ex’s apartment complex) really needed color to have any kind of impact at all.

What’s particularly interesting to me right now are the images that seem to work well both ways. Then it becomes a really pointed artistic choice, which one you go forward with.

This for instance (taken at the zoo; I don’t think this guy was supposed to be there…right next to the wolves’ pen! I think he might have wandered in. Though he didn’t seem particularly skittish about having his picture taken…so who knows?):

I think I like the color shot better…but it’s by a very slim margin.

This one too (of my daughter, at the zoo.) I like the color better…but I like the B/W too:

I’m finding it so interesting to experiment with this!

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I wrote once already about my explorations into B/W photography. To be clear (if it’s not already,) I’m a complete beginner! I’m most certainly a very long way from being capable of producing work of the caliber of Kevin Saint Grey’s.

But B/W is just so compelling. I’m feeling really driven to understand it better. So the experiments continue!

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To this end, some of the pictures I took at the zoo last weekend I either took intentionally in B/W, or I took with the idea that I would convert them to B/W later.

That's how I ended up with this one. The texture of his skin is really interesting in B/W!
That’s how I ended up with this one. The texture of his skin is really interesting in B/W!

These panda pics, too:

This guy was particularly interesting in B/W.
I like this guy!
I liked this one a lot in B/W. I think it has something to do with the architectural lines.
And I liked this one a lot, too. I think it has something to do with the architectural lines…
...while this one was, I thought, a bit drab. It's better in B/W than in color. But it's just an un-interesting picture to me. (I think it's the composition that's the problem.)
…while this one is, I think, a bit drab. It IS better in B/W than in color. But even so, it remains a non-compelling picture to me. (I think it’s the composition that’s the problem.)

It was an interesting thing to note, though, that most of what I took in the primate house – with the exception of the B/W above, with the nice lines – I preferred in color. B/W tended to suck the feeling out of the images for me.

This one, for instance:

The B/W is okay here, but the warmth the color brings draws the image closer, emotionally, to what I wanted to capture in my rendering of this guy.

I guess it comes down to your artistic intent.

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The more I practice with B/W, the more I find myself thinking about it – and then I practice more and think more. And I guess that’s how you start to improve, right? I’d really like to improve in this area.

I’m particularly intrigued right now by the possibilities inherent in post-processing. Starting next week, I’m jumping into an extensive study of GIMP (the open-source version of Photoshop.) I’m really interested to see what a solid understanding of GIMP/Photoshop principles does for my B/W explorations. I’ve been reading here and there that just stripping the color out of images (as I do now in PicMonkey when I want to convert something I took in color to B/W) is inferior – by some accounts, greatly inferior – to using layers,etc in Photoshop. So that’ll be interesting to explore.

I also just read about some inexpensive photo-editing software that’s just come out that was created specifically for working in B/W. This sounds like something I’d like to try…but I think I’ll focus on GIMP before I go purchasing anything.

When I take in-camera B/W images, it’s with a setting called “grainy black and white” – which isn’t always, or even often, what I’m looking for in a finished image. That’s my only option in-camera (I use a Canon EOS M; I don’t know if fancier DSLRs would have more extensive options or not) – so it’ll be really useful, if I continue to be interested in B/W (which I think is extremely likely!) to get some dexterity with a more powerful photo-editor, like GIMP.

I’ll definitely have to do a “Part 3” post about my B/W experimentation once I’ve gotten my arms around GIMP.

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