Archive for Black and White Photography

Further Adventures In Black and White

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 29, 2019 by johnbuckley100

A few weeks ago I wrote about my revelation — honestly, it was an epiphany — that the way to think about “black and white photography” was to ignore the description of it as “monochrome,” and instead to press down really hard on the blacks and the whites. Simple stuff, obvious to many, an eye opener for me.

My rediscovery of taking black and white pictures, as I have mentioned before, came when Leica introduced, in 2012, the Monochrom, a digital camera that records images without adding an array of reds, greens and blues to the initial capture of blacks, whites and grey. Prior to the introduction of the Monochrom, seven years ago this coming September, I had not understood that digital photography is based on an initial imprint of black and white on the sensor, and that a gazillionth of a second later, what is typically known as a Bayer array of color is pressed down upon it. (Engineers and sensor experts may have a more exact description, but that’s the way most people should think of this process that takes place in tiny fractions of a second. Color is, typically, added to the black and white picture first pressed upon the sensor.) And yet the Monochrom, with its reference to monochromatic photography, really is a misnomer, given everything we’ve learned.

If you follow street photographers on Instagram, surely you’ve noticed images like the ones above and below, where there is almost a chiaroscuro effect, deep blacks next to bright light. It’s a thing. This approach bears a relationship to all of the black and white images we’ve looked at over the years. Yet the actual strategy of capturing contrapuntal blacks and whites — with entire regions of the image blacked out — is, I think, something that has at least been emphasized in the digital era, and championed by a new cohort of amazing street photographers.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had gone to a photo workshop taught by the estimable Alan Schaller who is, in my opinion, the strongest exemplar of this approach. Instagram seems to agree, given his hundreds of thousands of followers. In the previous post, I alluded to his technique of dialing down exposure compensation so that images are radically underexposed, thus enabling darks to get darker, with what remains in the light intensified. It is, to my eyes, an attractive approach. Practical, if you shoot a Monochrom, which is brutally punishing if you overexpose what’s in the light. But as attested by all these pictures you’ve been seeing taken in subways and tunnels, where the light/dark juxtaposition can be, and often is, stunning, this is not a trick, a gimmick, a fad. It’s not even a trick like emphasizing bokeh with fast lenses (or a clever iPhone), which can get tiresome if overdone. This technique is simply an intensification of timeless black and white photography — itself a timeless art form — and in many ways its apogee.

There is drama in black and white photography if what is dark and what is light are each dialed up in opposition. Polarization is terrible for society, but man, does it work in photography. In the film and darkroom era, much of this manipulation of darks and lights took place when the enlarger was burning the image onto a piece of treated paper prior to its chemical bath. In the digital age, we’re given more leeway to capture it this way inside the camera, in these malleable, deeply forgiving files, with the picture’s actualization coming in post-processing in Lightroom. (Gary Winogrand once casually talked about how photography lets you make mistakes, and things could still look good, but digital photography offers an entirely wider permission structure.)

Penumbral photography, as Nabokov would probably call it, is when the counterpoint between light and dark falls in shadow. And so we go out into the street searching for shadows, for the drama of light falling in grids and patterns. We don’t really know why this is harder to achieve in color, given that one reason we all so love Caravaggio is because of the color that emerges from the gloom, not just the light. But the answer is, I guess, that in photography, it is just easier to make this work within the limitations of black and white.

When photographers typically are complimented by civilians, the nice, easy thing they hear is, “You have a good eye.” In recent weeks, I’ve been going out into the city seeking places where there is the clearest possible delineation between light and dark. That’s what I’ve been looking for. It’s not just a function of seeking out content and subjects that matter, though of course they do. The desire is to find light, and dark, in a formation where a human emerges from that meeting place.

Along the way, we’ve made pictures that would, six weeks ago, still have been fun. But by newly emphasizing what is black, things have, to our eyes, simply gotten more interesting. The picture above is something I would have enjoyed taking anytime over the last few years. I probably would have been pleased with the composition. But because it is now not taken as a “monochrome” image, but as black and white, I think it moves higher up in my own list of favorite images.

I would have been happy to have taken the above image because of the way it simply captures the baby looking at the camera, the little fella with the beret standing to the right, the reflection to the left. Yet because I went into the process thinking anew, because each of the 10 zones of black, white and grey have at least some representation, the picture comes out, to my eye, more interesting.

One of my favorite photographers, Rene Burri, is perhaps most famous for his pictures of people taken from above, freezing them in time. I love the idea of standing unseen and capturing the drama within the diorama before my eyes. Emphasizing the light and dark, though, opens up new possibilities. And of course, the little girl in white going down the steps makes the picture.

“Good things happen when light meets dark” is an aphorism for photographers, whether they shoot in color or black and white. Thinking of this in a wholly new way, thinking in the binary of BLACK and WHITE with shades of grey the connective tissue, the emollient; understanding that, as Schaller put it, there is no bad light, if you just think in terms of the contrast between shades of it, is liberating. We are seeing the world in a new way, and we find that thrilling.

If you wish to come along the journey with me, my Instagram is @tulip_frenzy. And if you’d like to see more work, my photography site is entitled John Buckley: In Black and White and Color.

Understanding Black and White Photography In a New Way

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 5, 2019 by johnbuckley100

All photographs taken with the Leica Monochrom

When I was a young photography enthusiast and learning to take pictures with an SLR camera, I loved black and white photography principally because I could develop and print photos in my school’s crude darkroom. I had no real appreciation of black and white per se, no consciousness of tones of grey, or to “thinking in black and white.” Black and white was the medium of journalism, and we all saw pictures every day in newspapers and magazines. I didn’t trouble to think about monochrome photography in the great tradition of an art form I barely understood. I was aware that if photography was “art,” surely its greatest artists all shot in black and white, and the classic pictures I saw — Paul Strand lived one town away from me — looked better than what was on the front page each day of the New York Daily News. Naturally, as soon as I was in a position to take pictures and pay to have them developed, I began shooting Kodachrome. And when many years later I got serious again about photography, I exulted in Fuji Velvia film, with its deep blues and reds.

It was only relatively late in the process of rediscovering photography that I recaptured my early love of black and white images, only this time for a completely different reason. I had begun studying in earnest many great photographers, ranging from Cartier-Bresson to Ansel Adams. For the first time, I became conscious of tones, of the minute differences in what Adams divined as a 10-point scale between white and black.

If there was one thunderclap moment, an epiphany when my life as a photographer changed, it was when Leica did the craziest thing, producing, in 2012, a camera called the Monochrom. The Leica Monochrom is digital, but it does not record photos with color. Walking out the door with it is like leaving home with only black and white film in your camera. Once I began using a Monochrom, more and more, I began visualizing images in black and white, began to focus on luminance values, not chromatic information. About half of all the pictures I took were now in black and white — street photography, landscapes. It didn’t matter. I began instinctively to understand the concept of tonal values.

Although there is a wide range of color photographers whose work I love in part because of their color palate — Alex Webb, William Eggleston, Steve McCurry, and in particular, Saul Leiter — the photographers I wanted to study were the ones who shot in black and white. Sebastião Salgado was an inspiration not only for his humanism, but because the pictures he took, even scenes of jungles and flora and fauna, looked so much cooler in black and white than they ever would have in color. I became a huge fan of a local D.C. photographer named Astrid Riecken whose use of chiaroscuro on streets I knew filled me with inspiration and awe — how did she do that? Through Black+White Photography magazine I learned about a young photographer from London named Alan Schaller whose work is simply extraordinary. When the Leica Store DC hosted a two-day photo workshop with him in February, I went.

It would be unfair to Alan, from whom 12 of us learned an enormous amount, to relate what he taught us here. Study his photos. Attend one of his workshops. I’ll say only this. He got me to understand in a way I never had before that black and white photography is just that. Black and white. Blacks. Whites. Shades in between. Accentuating any of those elements is one key to making a memorable photograph.

I know this sounds obvious. And it’s not precisely what he taught us. He had very specific advice for us on both how to take pictures and how to process them in Lightroom. I don’t think I’d ever previously understood how using exposure compensation to amp up the darkness in an image puts emphasis on what is in the light. And of course, once I thought that through, I went back to photographs I’d collected, to work I’d worshipped, and I began to get it, began to understand “black and white photography” specifically not as monochrome photography. B+W as the combination of intense blacks, intense whites, and shades of grey in between.

Since that workshop, the weekends have been rainy. I haven’t been able to test the techniques I learned at that workshop at the magic intersection of bright afternoon sunshine and the shadows caused by buildings. Nonetheless, I’ve been out there, exploring. Taking some bad photographs. But also photographs that astonish me because I can see things in a way I never did before.

I’ve had to take a number of photos indoors. In so doing, though, I’ve gotten a much better understanding of the magic you can create accentuating the blacks and the whites in an image. And new ways of exploring tonality: the range of shades that Ansel Adams would think of as Zones 3-7 are all the more satisfying if you anchor them with Zones 1 & 2, and Zones 8-10.

I’m just getting started. Learning how to see in black and white, which is what I thought I’d begun to do when I purchased a Monochrom six and a half years ago, is just the beginning. Learning to see in BLACK and WHITE is an incredible discovery, and I’m grateful to Shaller for having gotten me to think this way.

John Buckley is a photographer and writer in Washington, D.C. whose images can be seen at John Buckley: In Black and White and Color.

Tulip Frenzy’s Top 10 List Of Black and White Photographs We Took In 2016

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2016 by johnbuckley100

Funk Parade 2016Leica Monochrom-246, 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph

Last week, we published our personal faves among the various color photographs we took and published in 2016.  We understand that photographers tend to be known by a particular “look” and sensibility, that many feel the need to commit to either black and white or color.  We couldn’t if we tried.

We look deeply saturated colors — and the purity of monochrome.  We love going out some days with our Leica Monochrom in hand, viewing the world in black and white just as if we had a camera loaded with Tri-X Pan.  On those days when we are either deliberately shooting monochrome, or in the end, that’s the way we process them, we are just as happy, and in some ways even more so than when we shoot color.  We love grey scale, tonalities, the otherness and permanence of an image in black and white.

The one above is our favorite for the year.  Below, in no order, are our nine others.  And for those who like black and white photography, we think you’ll like the galleries on our sister site, Tulip Frenzy Photography.

Floating On Bubbles 3

Leica MP-240, 35mm Summilux

 

Pedestrian At Best

Leica Monochrom, 50mm Noctilux

Funk Parade 2016-5

Leica Monochrom, 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph

high-heel-race-2016Leica Monochrom, 50mm Noctilux

Funk Parade 2016-4Leica Monochrom, 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph

SL Example-2Leica SL, 50mm Noctilux

high-heel-race-2016-13

Leica Monochrom, 50mm Noctilux

SL Review-5Leica SL, Vario-Elmarit SL 24-90mm

Funk Parade 2016 Supplement-4

Leica Monochrom, 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph

On Using The Leica Monochrom On A Safari

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on August 21, 2014 by johnbuckley100

  TF Lion Portrait

 

Leica Monochrom, 90mm Summicron, all images w/ ND Filter, @f/2

A few days ago, we published in Tulip Frenzy a field report on using a Leica M-240 as our main camera while on safari in Botswana.  We took the M-240 as our main camera because it is, in fact, our main camera.  Some people have responded as if we did this out of some need to prove a point, or as a bizarre experiment, given that of course one would more naturally shoot with a Canon or Nikon — DSLRs made for this kind of photography.  In fact we used the M because Leica M’s are the only camera system we own.  

However, in addition to taking along our M-240, which at least has the benefit of being able to use telephoto lenses via an adaptor, we also took along our Monochrom, the Leica M that only takes black and white images.  We took it along because frankly we were determined to escape the bounds of cliche, to take photographs that aren’t typically what one returns from Africa with.  Moreover, we thought that taking along the Monochrom, and shooting either the 90mm APO-Summicron-Asph or the 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph (and quite rarely, the 28mm Summicron Asph), and as much as possible shooting wide open (using an ND filter), we might be able to come up with memorable images.  

TF Lion Tongue

Leica Monochrom, 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph

We have to declare that taking the Monochrom along as our second camera was a complete delight.  Thinking in terms of light, not color, in an environment with, at times, a hyper-abundance of both, was a conceptual joy.  And the images we took, in our own subjective view, are likely the ones we will print and put up on our walls, because they’re in many ways more compelling images than the color shots.

TF Leopard Portrait

Leica Monochrom, 90mm APO-Summicron-Asph

There was something about isolating the animal against its background — taking advantage of the bokeh inherent in shooting fast Leica lenses wide open — that appeals to our eye.  Admittedly influenced by the brilliant photography of Nick Brandt, whose shots of animals in Kenya and Tanzania are so unbelievably naturalistic — as if lions came to his plein air portrait studio — we knew what we wanted to achieve visually.  Taking along the Monochrom and using it as an alternative to the Leica M was like shooting in black and white film, with all that entails both in limitations and the liberation of simplicity.

TF Lion Teeth

Leica Monochrom, 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph

Those who read our post on using the Leica M-240 last week in Botswana will remember that I complained I had some trouble focusing with the EVF.  But after a dozen years using a rangefinder, focusing with the Monochrom was second nature, and I felt in some ways that if I really needed to focus quickly, this was the camera I wanted to use.

TF Leopard Grass

Leica Monochrom, 90mm APO-Summicron-Asph

But it wasn’t just ease of use that made the Monochrom such a delight to work with.  It was the conceptual possibility of what one could do shooting within the confines of black and white, and the simplicity of knowing I was only going to shoot wide open.  That if I nailed the focus, the contrast between, say, the leopard’s fur and the grass behind it would be pleasing.

TF Giraffe

Leica Monochrom, 90mm APO-Summicron-Asph

As always with the Monochrom, you go into taking the picture visualizing it in terms of light and form, not color.  Because I had both cameras within reach, I would make a conscious choice about which to use.  Yes, sometimes the matter was solved by the expedient of needing a telephoto lens, which meant using the M.  Sometimes I used both cameras and took multiple images in color and black and white, leaving it to later to sort out which was better.  But sometimes the matter was solved by seeing something and saying, That will simply look better as a black and white image.

TF Elephant Trunk

Leica Monochrom, 90mm APO-Summicron-Asph

We said that Africa is filled with light and color, but perhaps it should be noted that where we were, many of the colors were muted — the grasses dry and the same tone as lions fur, surrounded by many dead trees.  But of course these conditions lend themselves to monochrome photography.

TF Lion Male Female

Leica Monochrom, 28mm Summicron Asph

Finally, there was one other reason we loved taking the Monochrom along: it limited us to shorter lenses.  This meant both that there was background in the picture — not just the lion’s nostril, but the fields behind it — and that ours was a more intimate view than is often the case when using tellys.  The picture above was taken with a 28mm lens, which we often use for street photography.  Being this close to a lion is a thrill.  We hope this comes through in the pictures.

Please note: if you like these photographs, in the days ahead, several of the ones above will be available for purchase through The Stephen Bartels Gallery.  

What We Learned Over One Year With The Leica Monochrom

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 1, 2013 by johnbuckley100

MonochromAnniversary1

The first full day we had our Leica Monochrom — which arrived one year ago this past week — we took the above picture and amazed ourselves.  Not that the photo was so good, but we marveled at the strange fact that, as a lover of deeply saturated color images, we likely never would have processed the picture in black and white; we would have kept it as a color image, and toyed with white balance and tones. If anything, we would have enhanced the color.  And in so doing, we might never have discovered that this was an image that would look better as a black and white print.

UrnCompressed

Over those next, early September weeks, it was as if we had discovered photography anew.  It had been decades since we’d developed black and white images in a basement.  We’d forgotten the joy of not simply capturing the world to see what things looked like as pictures, to paraphrase Gary Winogrand, but to see life transformed into something with more classical resonance.  We went to familiar places and, because we were thinking in terms of luminance, not chroma — light, not color — we could see shapes and patterns that once would have been uninteresting to us, and which now, because we were shooting with a black and white sensor precisely as limited as black and white film, could be seen in literally a different light.

MonochromAnniversary7

Those first few weeks with the Monochrom were magical, but the adventure continued throughout the late autumn and into the winter.  We learned that, shooting with a mindset that was determinedly focused on light and composition, not seduced by the garishness of color, the city that surrounded us could be seen in new ways.

MonochromAnniversary8

Portraits offered a completely different spectrum of possibilities.  The Monochrom had the effect of not just transforming the world we saw into black and white, it transformed the way we considered the world.  It transformed our approach to photography.  It sent us back to photography books, to see how all the great black and white photographers understood the world they set out to capture.   The history of photography became even more relevant.

MonochromAnniversary9

When out and about with our Monochrom, we were drawn to photograph very different people than we might ever before have asked if we could take their picture.

Smirk

We went out into landscapes we were suddenly excited to try capturing in monochrome, exploiting possibilities inherent in the season.  Once again, we saw familiar places and things anew.  Yes, dedicated black and white photographers might scoff at this journey we were on.  But, the point is, ever since we first took a picture with a Leica M7 and Fuji Velvia film, we’d been dedicated to color photography. This was something new.  It made us excited by photography all over again.

MonochromTetonWinterZF (1 of 1)

As we waited for spring to arrive, and the landscape to erupt in color, we weren’t stymied by flat light and a limited palette.  Photography had become possible in any light and season.  In fact, in some cases, flat light was preferable.

MonochromAnniversary3

In March, we were fortunate enough to acquire a Leica M (typ 240), which was a step up from our beloved M9.  But even as we went on vacation in the Yucatan, and and drank deeply from the rich colors available in that tropical light, we knew for certain which images would be better off taken with the Monochrom.  We retained that sensibility that black and white photography was a superior approach, sometimes.

Uxmal Portrait

As summer arrived, we went out with a different expectation of what we could record with our camera(s).  There were days when we deliberately set out to find images that lent themselves to a kind of classical photography that just a year earlier, we wouldn’t have considered.  Or would have taken in color and not have had the sensibility to exploit in the more dramatic medium of black and white photography.

Easy Ryder (1 of 1)

Our time out West this past summer was spent in a possibly schizoid contrast between taking photos of the natural environment with as much appreciation for the color palette as possible and then deliberately desaturating what we saw in our mind’s eye so as to capture timeless images in black and white.

MonochromAnniversary4

As the full year with the Monochrom came to a close, and an event like the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington arrived, we went out in the streets with our Monochrom, because now it simply appealed to us to capture such an event in black and white.

New Jim Crow

A camera is a tool.  But one year with the Leica Monochrom not only enabled us to view images in a wholly new way.  It opened our eyes.  It is more than a tool.  It is magical.

MonochromAnniversary5

 

Follow John Buckley on Twitter: @Johnbuckley100.

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