As a maker of black & white photgraphic images, I need to be highly aware of color because the quality of light that is illuminating my subjects will affect the appearance of the final image. To achieve natural gradations of gray, I may have to filter out blue light, for instance, when capturing an image of something in shade under bright blue skies.
As I have gone along working on monochromatic pictures, I have become more aware of color, better at seeing colors. Usually, making color photographs does not appeal to me. Color in my mind just seems to muddy the result. It seems to hide the plays of light and shadow, composition and meaning that are elegantly displayed in shades of gray.
However, recently, I’ve had a little fun bringing out the colors in some infrared captures and applying a solarized style in Photoshop. The images remind me of psychedelic poster art from the 1960’s and early ’70’s.
I like photography as a camera and printmaking activity more than being a user of software, so I work pretty simply and quickly as a rule in Photoshop. Let me share a little of my process here. Once I imported image files from my infrared converted camera I followed a few steps to get my solarized color prints or image files for display.
Reduce noise. I use Topaz Labs DeNoise plug-in with Photoshop.
Adjust exposure, clarity, vibrance, and saturation in Photoshop Camera Raw Editor.
Make any further adjustments as needed, usually adjusting curves.
Apply Unsharp Mask.
Apply Solarize style.
Make any last adjustments as above to please my eye.
Color is for me a kind of play, an exotic place for my mind to travel for a brief vacation.
Right side: a treatment of the same image as above developed as color infrared without the solarization style applied.
Making photographs, thinking of new projects, just feeling like picking up the camera, I am not a mere machine purring along. Habit can carry me through low points, but sometimes life stops me in my tracks as when last month (while my continued search for a job was getting to be a drag) my kid brother unexpectedly and suddenly died. I had been struggling, and now life screeched to a temporary halt while I grieved with my family and friends.
Slowly, I began to process my emotions and thoughts about the event by talking with my surviving brother and two sisters, my wife, my nephews who had lost their father, and close extended family members and friends; I wrote a few thoughts down in haiku form; I edited some photos and took a few new pictures that seemed to connect me with my feelings of loss, and memories of my brother.
My life paused when tragedy struck. I did not take pictures, then I did. I did not write, now I do. Creativity at this time is not a sentimental process, making lemonade when life gave me lemons; its cessation is the hole I fall in; its work is stones I grip to pull myself up again.
Moe and I were in Washington viewing the cherry blossoms on an overcast spring day. That evening my brother passed away. Something about this image felt like what was going on inside me: the grayness of the day, the diffusion by clouds of the light…
The cherry blossom
And the cold spring afternoon
Are now always one
Spring and cold belong
Not together, but alone
One alive, one ghost
I studied photography and the camera, but I’m not a studious photographer. When I’m out in the field I think a little, perhaps change a few camera settings; then I’m done thinking. When what I see on my camera LCD or in the viewfinder feels right I click. It is as though in my mind I’ve closed my eyes to trust the world to show me what apprehended my eye that I could feel but not in that moment comprehend. I trust the world to give me time.
Having your camera configured to save in camera raw file format is like having a negative from which to work. All the data from light that reached the sensor is recorded in your file. JPEGs are smaller, but some data and development or editing latitude are lost in the process of compressing the files.
Here are some fixed lens cameras that can be found online for under $500 with the capability of saving in raw format.
Canon PowerShot G16
Canon PowerShot S120
Canon PowerShot S110Olympus SH-2
Fujifilm FinePix HS50XR
Nikon COOLPIX P340
Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX7
Panasonic LUMIX DMC-ZS40
Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FZ70
Sony Cyber-shot RX100
There are higher priced fixed lens cameras out there if you need more from your gear. Interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras or DSLRs, will as a rule offer raw file format capability also at higher prices.
Want features at lower prices? Look for earlier model versions, but check specifications for any feature changes. Discontinued new, like-new, and refurbished cameras can often be found, sometimes with significant savings.
The naming scheme for digital camera sensors is derived from old television camera sizes expressed as the diameter of the tube through which light enters to strike the sensor at the end of the tube. The sensor’s diagonal measurement is about one third less than that of the tv camera tube so camera sensor diagonal measurements are smaller than you might expect from their names.
Here are a few film and sensor dimensions, and their relative sizes compared to 35mm film and full frame digital sensors.
When I was a kid, somewhere in high school, I probably thought sixty-somethings were from prehistoric times; I also bought my first serious camera, a Mamiya-Sekor DTL 2000(?) 35mm SLR (Mamiya only makes medium format nowadays)–on lay-away from Denholm & McKay. Before recorded history cities mostly had local department stores; and Macy’s was in New York–you had to go there to go to Macy’s. My best friend got a Nikkormat. That was Nikon’s economy brand–a solid, quality SLR none the less. I usually tell people I have been a photographer since about 1973, the year I began learning to work in the darkroom, but that’s just a convenient time to label as my beginning.
It was a step up from a long growing interest. I enrolled in a continuing ed course in black & white photography at the Worcester Art Museum (worcesterart.org) for two semesters. Dennis Wixted was a patient, encouraging, and thorough teacher who, in addition to technique, taught photography’s history and the contempory scene. At his wake I was just one of many who shared their appreciation of his teaching and friendship with members of his family. I labored with the camera to do assignments and take personal shots, thinking about the camera settings, the light, the film… I think I thought more than I shot. It was a job for me to expose all the frames on a roll of film. Eventually, I started buying 24 exposure rolls of 35mm film, 36 exposures being the other common packaging, a little less challenging to finish.
For most of my later film photography before I changed to primarily digital cameras I used a Bronica ETRS. Here’s one of my images from that camera. The maple trees in the background were at the height of their blazing orange autumn foliage. I used an orange filter on the front of my lens to brighten the leaves that were in full sun to nearly white in my print.
Next time I go over to the dark side and start using digital cameras. Eveything is the same if you think about it.
As I wrote last time digital photography was on its way to surpassing the market share of film or analog photography when I got much more active in the first decade of this century. In my mind, at first, it was hard for me to understand digital black & white photography. Plus, there is an aesthetic to each as practice: one a craft working in all physical media, the other seemingly technological, electronic, office-work-like. One emerges gradually before the eyes, the other instantaneously from the camera, or with a change of settings or a few clicks of the mouse. This thinking took a few years to work out in my mind.
What finally made me happy with digital photography is a realization that the same full spectrum light arrives at the surface of the negative or the surface of the camera sensor. There are parallel choices in editing software to choosing contrast filters and the like. I can still choose my preference of texture and brightness and gloss in photo papers. I can make alterations by hand, hand cut window mattes, and assemble frames.
What is different, do I think? One thing is an historical fluke. Right now serviceable good quality film cameras capable of producing very high resolution “captures” (up to gigapixels in large format) are available at a fraction of the up front cost for their digital equivalents. Afterwards, film and processing costs accumulate, making analog a non-competitive choice in commercial settings where expenses must be controlled. For us ordinary Joes and Josephines, film can be very satisfying at least occasionally or for certain uses such as landscape and architectural subjects. A good thing about today, is the variety of choices a camera enthusiast gets. I can shoot film and print in the darkroom, scan and print from my computer, scan or use my digital capture to produce a transparency for alternative printing processes, such as cyanotype, platinum and many others. A variety of chemistries, tools, and materials can be had from websites such as freestylephoto.biz. Jumping into these processes is easier than before digital emerged.
Another is the physical work (or play) in analog photography. It’s just fun to choose and use various films, papers, developers in different dilutions, amounts of agitation, and more in the darkroom to alter the impact of processing on the negative or photo paper; and then to watch the result gradually darken in as it sits in a trayful of developer under a safe light.
I’m here because I have been a photography enthusiast for many years and my story includes years of shooting film and making a transition to digital cameras. Never a commercial photographer, I’ve mostly made pictures for my own pleasure and to fulfill the urge to create. Other than for social occasions like cookouts and holiday gatherings, I always shot black & white film; and mostly developed, printed, mounted, matted, and framed my own work.
I live in central Massachusetts, a place full of urban and suburban, rural, and (man-made) wild environments such as watersheds surrounding the Quabbin and Wachusett Reservoirs, and the Ware River any of which provide many subjects for the photographer.
In the early 2000s my passion for the camera greatly heated up. My mother was growing more frail. I joined the Worcester Craft Center and took some knife making classes as something completely different from the rest of my life to do for relaxation. Randi Laak, the instructor in the photo studio down the hall, once he learned I was a photographer invited me to take a class sometime. I did repeatedly for several years, taking advantage of the darkroom and the convenient time the courses were offered.
Film and digital shared the market when I began these classes, but digital was on its way to dominance. Digital hardware and software give me a great amount of power and flexibility for creating black & white, infrared, and color photographic images, although a much less hand crafted product in most cases. Next time, I’ll talk about my anxiety over that and how I wrapped my head around digital (but without completely abandoning analog) photography.