We welcomed back Paul Graber LRPS to Photocraft on Wednesday 16th October but this time, not as a judge!
Paul gave us a most interesting insight into why monochrome is still so much in use in these digital and colourful times.
We began with a (very) brief history of photography, taking us from the exclusively monochrome origins back in 1839 with Louis Daguerre and William Fox-Talbot, through the dawn of colour in 1848 and into the 20th century with Autochrome (1907), Kodachrome (1935) and Kodacolor (1942).
A noteworthy observation was that, almost from the start, there were tones introduced to black and white images, sometimes quite heavily. So we had the sepia and selenium that still today evoke thoughts of a bygone era.
The establishment of (mostly) black and white photography as the norm was hugely influenced by some of the most famous names in its history:
Ansel Adams and his Sierra Nevada/Yosemite images, Henri Cartier-Bresson and his “decisive moment” of capture, Robert Capa and his war photography and Edward Weston’s portrayal of simple forms in extraordinary lighting. Each of these produced black and white work that showed the viewer the textures and form in the image or simplified it to make the photograph that much stronger.
One of the most famous examples of the latter is Dorothea Lange’s image seen below – “Migrant Mother”. Paul told us that the woman in the image had requested the photograph not be used but it has become a modern day “masterpiece” evoking the US “Dustbowl” era of the 1930’s.
Paul laid out the key factors that are important to bear in mind when thinking of making your image into monochrome:
- Tones and Textures can be made stronger
- Colour distractions and clashes can be made to “disappear”
- Bringing drama to an image
- Invoking a feeling of timelessness or a period in time
He also looked at the types of photography that monochrome works well for:
- Long Exposure, especially with clouds/water/seascapes
- Portrait – look around today and still so many people are photographed in black and white. It works best with older skin and can bring out the lines and features of the face.
- Solitary Flowers – not a bunch but the one isolated flower which can look striking in monochrome
- Infrared – another subject worthy of its own talk.
It was interesting to hear Paul’s views as a judge on what he thinks when looking at a monochrome; It is a three stage process – why mono?; how well processed?; how good is it?
All these are very useful to help us for next week’s monochrome PDI!
There were also some important fundamental points made by Paul in relation to converting:
- Don’t be afraid to push the sliders all the way but…
- Don’t overdo the drama!
- A subtly worked atmosphere that is perhaps more representative of “reality” may work best for the image
- If possible, shoot in raw to capture all the date and then convert to mono.
We had a good discussion with Paul about the look of the sky in a long exposure monochrome image and by way of an example, he had several prints on show. Two of these were of the Buttermere Tree and were taken three years apart. One showed us an approaching rainstorm – Paul likes these – and the other was a long exposure with some clouds in the sky. The floor was split when viewing the PDIs and it was fascinating to see many of us change our minds when we took a closer look at the prints. It just goes to show…
Paul’s third part was to give us a look into the many software options out there that will make mono conversions work. Apart from Lightroom and its many “auto” features, Paul mentioned:
- Silver Efex Pro – part of the Nik Plugins collection – https://nikcollection.dxo.com/
- Tonality – not being marketed much now as its producer, Skylum, is pushing Luminar https://skylum.com/luminar
- Topaz Black and White – part of a collection of plugins – https://topazlabs.com/
In addition, there are now many features for profiles to be added to Lightroom/Photoshop. Many are free like here – http://fixthephoto.com/free-lightroom-presets
Paul also reminded all that any output from profiles or presets are effectively starting points for your editing. So do not be afraid to experiment and play with the many sliders and options available to you.
There was one main point made by Paul that I totally agree with – the print is the ultimate form of your work and here, we need to heed the following per Paul’s experience:
- Use the best photo paper you can get – your choice is vital.
- The paper will determine how bright your white is
- The ink will determine how dark your black is
- The subject should determine your choice of paper – gloss/satin/matt – think about what you want the image to evoke and pick the paper accordingly.
By way of bringing all the talk together, after coffee break, Paul showed us his take on converting images from those sent to him by a few members. Of just as much interest was when Paul said he did not think making a colour photo into mono would add anything. That was the case on more than one occasion but we had many fine examples of Paul’s editing and to see just how many small and subtle changes he makes was fascinating – we could not see on screen some of the finer adjustments.
All in all, Paul gave us a really good insight into why mono still commands the level of output that comes from the photographic community. It was really good to see the editing tools used by someone like Paul and I think the key point to take away is that you can simply experiment with your images till you find a look you like. Get the balance between drama and subtle changes to make your mono work look as good as you can make it.
It will be very interesting to see the images next Wednesday!
Thanks very much!