‘Mono Moods’, a talk by Colin Jarvis MA ARPS

by Jan 28, 2024

Not everyone thinks monochrome deserves a special status in photography. After all, the world is in colour, so isn’t monochrome just another genre like architecture or glamour? Not in my opinion. After all, the various genres of photography can be portrayed in colour or they can be portrayed in monochrome. Monochrome is a sub-phylum of photography. For various reasons the club decided to drop monochrome as a separate competition category this year. However, to compensate, in the next few weeks, the programme has been given a little Mono Boost starting with this talk by Colin.

Colin lives in Preston Lancashire. He runs courses in architectural and landscape photography – visit his website for details of the latest courses and workshops he offers: Landscape Photography Workshops by Colin Jarvis Photography. He is sponsored by Kase Filters https://kasefilters.com/ref/colinjarvis.

He began his talk with a quote ‘The world is in colour, you have to work at Black & White’ (Andrew McLean). The fact that you have to work at it makes it all the more challenging and rewarding. Although he trained as an architectural photographer, for his own work, he prefers long-exposure monochrome images, the main subject of tonight’s presentation.

Much of this is done on the coast in the intertidal zone and Lancashire is blessed with a beautiful and varied coastline. Many of his photos are taken with his tripod legs firmly wiggled into wet sand waiting for the tide to reach a critical level to capture what he is after.

The subjects of his pictures are quite mundane: piers, railings, groynes, sewage pipes, usually emerging mysteriously out of a soft almost featureless seascape. Sometimes he will remove features like the horizon and distant hills in post-production in order to focus on the subject itself floating in an almost featureless medium. The overall feeling is strangely calming, and a little spooky.

These are minimalist compositions and for that reason, careful attention needs to be paid to the finer details of camera position and focal length. You have to be conscious of the negative space in the image and where the subject lies in relation to the edges of the picture. Small adjustments of camera position may be needed to avoid overlapping elements in the subject and to fine tune the balance of the composition. He thinks getting the composition to work is more important than being too much aware of conventions like ‘the rule of thirds’.

To get the required texture in the moving water, long exposures are required necessitating the use of 10 stop or 6 stop neutral density filters and perhaps one or more graduated filters to balance the exposure.

Overcast conditions help to produce soft, moody illumination of the scene. He uses back-button focussing to fix the focus so that the camera doesn’t try to refocus through a dense neutral density filter. Typical exposure times would be 50-60 seconds in cloudy conditions, 30-40 if cloudy/bright, and 15 when bright.

When checking the histogram, use the RGB one so that you can check that the blue Channel isn’t ‘clipped’.

When necessary, he may dodge and burn in Photoshop to balance the lighting. Zonal adjustments of contrast are achieved by selecting parts of the image with a soft-edged marquee tool and adjusting Levels. Finally, he often adds a dark vignette to draw the attention inwards from the edges.

Colin showed us many images using this minimalist approach taken in various locations giving us insight into the how, when and where of each one – all a delight to the eye.

Finally, he showed us some of his infrared work. He explained that simply fitting an infrared filter in front of the lens of a Canon camera doesn’t work very well because the IR hot mirror filter in front of the sensor stops nearly all of the infrared light reaching it. If you are interested in this kind of photography, the best way is to obtain an infrared-converted camera (on eBay?) or have an old one converted.

The hot mirror filter has to be removed and replaced with an IR filter of your choice. A number of different wavelengths are available depending on the kind of images you aim to capture. This conversion writes the camera off for any other kind of photography but capturing the infrared images is almost as simple as conventional photography.

The chlorophyll in plants reflects infrared light strongly and the amount present in their leaves varies from species to species. This often results in tonal variations in foliage that are not apparent in images taken by visible light. It means that a big advantage of IR photography is that you can often get beautiful monochrome images in the most atrocious weather conditions when straight colour or monochrome photography would be impossible. His general advice was not to trust the histogram on the camera, always underexpose the shots and use an aperture of about f 5.6. Small apertures can produce ‘hot spots’ in the image.

A great evening Colin and thank you so much for your time.

A selection of the images he used follows. More can be seen by visiting the Monochrome section of the Portfolio on his website: Portfolio – Colin Jarvis Photography

Blackpool pipe
Whitby mist
West Kirby
Sugar Sands fence
Mary’s Shell
Carr Mill infrared
Tarn Hows infrared

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