Assignment Three: Black and White

Part three of the course taught us image processing with a large portion devoted to conversion to black and white. I haven’t used black and white since I packed away the darkroom many years ago and have never touched it since I went digital. I am an unashamed colour photographer and considered the discarding of colour information unnecessary and wasteful! This meant I was starting from scratch in learning the adjustments involved in the conversion and what made a good black and white image.

I thought a suitable subject for black and white would be something around abandonment. The thinking was that this would be a subject for which the removal of colour would add to the mood of the image. My first ideas were abandoned or empty buildings or discarded items (the kind you see by the side of the road for anyone to take when people refurbish their houses or disused pieces of equipment being thrown away).

I finally settled on this set from our local vineyard. Denbies in Surrey is the country’s largest single vineyard and one of the largest privately owned in Europe. It’s output accounts for about 10% of wine produced in the UK. There is also a small bed and breakfast cottage. It is a well managed, well kept and successful vineyard.

But they have a small collection of farm equipment lying unused by the side of the path surrounded by unmown grass! The contrast between these and the well kept vineyard with the prim bed and breakfast should make a good subject for what I wanted to show.

As suggested by my tutor, I looked at the work of Simon Roberts (see separate post) and Edward Burtynsky. I related to the former (hence he gets a post to himself) and whilst I found the ship-breaking pictures of Burtynsky useful, they did not speak to me in the same way that Roberts’ work did.

My aim when processing these images was to produce a set with a timeless feel to them. The first wine was thought to have been produced about 9000 years ago, the world’s oldest known winery was probably established about 5000 years ago and it was possibly the Romans who defined the process. I don’t imagine these pictures will conjure up images from such ancient times but I wanted to convey a sense of unchanging rural peaceful France, a country now associated with the craft.

Processing steps were firstly to process the colour files in the RAW editor to correct any exposure errors. I wasn’t concerned with white balance as any colour cast would not affect the final result. The file was then opened in Photoshop for the conversion to black and white. My version (Elements 7) only allows adjustment of the blue, red and green channels. It was a sunny day so one of the first editing decisions to make was to darken the sky where appropriate. This was achieved by darkening the blue channel, this had to be compensated for by lightening the other two. Green had a tendency to make the foliage look unnaturally light if used to excess so I was careful to watch for this.

I worked up two or three versions of each image, each time starting from scratch with RAW file and each one was slightly different, with some subtle variations of tone between the same parts of each version. I admit to resorting to some cutting and pasting from one version to the next on a few of the images.

I have noticed many successful black and white pictures have punchy contrast. One thing I wanted to avoid in the submitted images was turning in pictures which were a dull muddy grey. With this in mind, I experimented also with making them lighter using the levels control.

Here are the photos:


1 – The Hay Wain

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 28mm, f19, 1/45 sec, ISO200

2 – The Footpath

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 28mm, f19, 1/45 sec, ISO200

3 – Bed and Breakfast

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 28mm, f19, 1/60 sec, ISO200

4 – Vines and Wire

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 28mm, f19, 1/45 sec, ISO200

5 – Untitled

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 70mm, f19, 1/60 sec, ISO200

6 – Surrey Hills

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Canon EOS 40D, 28 – 135 mm at 65mm, f19, 1/60 sec, ISO200

Reflection

The assignment brief asked us to discuss to what extent I achieved what I set out to. In one respect I think this set is successful. I find an element of timeless peace in these photos. One person I showed them to commented that they could have been taken in France (they had just returned from a trip touring the Champagne region). I put them on the OCA Flickr web site and someone commented that there was something Constable-esque about some of them. This was pleasing.

How do they measure up as a black and white set? I said at the start that I am not used to making black and white imagery, I don’t really know how to shoot and process a picture for best effect in black and white. I think this shows to certain extent here and it shows more in the way I arrived at these. Whilst this is to a certain extent successful, I arrived at it in a very haphazard and non-repeatable manner. There are no accompanying notes to the pictures explaining how I arrived at the final result; this is simply because I made multiple versions, each with multiple iterations; I cannot describe the ingredients that went into the final mix.

Time has prevented much work outside the course material. I have finished reading the anthology “Photography: A Critical Introduction” and started on Susan Sonntag’s collection of essays “On Photography”. My copy of the DAM Book by Peter Krogh has just arrived so I am dipping into that. I continue to monitor the Guardian’s online photo pages and the BJP site, I dip into dpbestflow and I have started to appreciate 1000wordsmag.com.

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