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  • William Hunton

I Went for a Walk in Black and White

Just another summer day on Cheatham Hill. The split-rail fence guides you down a different path. Next time, maybe.

Part of my program to keep myself fit for the next decade, if God is so gracious to give me time, is to enjoy a strenuous walk in the woods up and down hills.

When I go, I take one of my cameras, usually a Canon point and shoot variety, the G11 which has an optical viewfinder or the G7X. The G7X is newer and records a whopping 20mb image. Images from both are excellent. The Canon G11 is a better street camera than the Canon G7X in my opinion because of the optical viewfinder. If the lens is set wide to “normal”, the optical viewfinder allows me to bring it quickly to my eye and shoot without having to pull out the screen.

Back to the walk. I have had black and white on my mind lately, thus these monochrome images. Used to be, in ancient days, monochrome was the only game in town. Color negative film from the 60’s was okay, but the photographs faded pretty quickly and got that yellowish-orange tone. Photoshop can take it out. Kodachrome color slide film was great for retaining color and detail, but the film speed was slow, like 25 and 64. Late in life, Kodak released Kodachrome 200, but I did not like it much. I have a lot of Kodachrome slides that are still near perfect today. Ektachrome dyes were not as stable as Kodachrome, and eventually they would get a bluish color cast. Fuji, Agfa, and others had similar products.

All in all, digital color is superior to color film in fidelity and detail, and it will last as long as you periodically re-save images in the latest digital media standard. Black and white film (silver halide) is still a good archival choice.

There I go; I geeked out again. Returning to the images of the walk. I think I ran into the same doe I photographed a week earlier. She was in about the same location, same trail, same reaction to me. She has not yet learned to be afraid of Man.

I saw more runners this time than last. Mostly teens, both boys and girls. At one time I could have easily kept up with them. Not my job.

Walking dogs, sky, clouds, natural rock gardens, pine needles, and grassy details. Take a simple point and shoot camera to the woods. If it is capable of photographing in black and white in the camera that is preferred for an exercise I’m suggesting for you.

Set your camera to monochrome. Don’t set it to color and then later covert the image to black and white. Setting the camera to photograph the original image in black and white, with no other option, forces you to think differently. You then are concerned with details, contrasts, patterns. You see that blues and greens and grays, even Georgia red clay, all sort of look the same. You figure out how to differentiate them in the image. The mind interprets the “color” because we have experienced the reality. Now color is in abstract, saturation is at zero. But if the shades of gray are not distinct, the the photograph looks unnatural.

Observe. Pay close attention. Practice patience. Work with the breeze or wait until it is still. Either way – the grass’ sharp detail or blurred by the wind; is it a good photograph? Follow the butterfly. (Sounds a little funny… “Follow the butterfly, young apprentice.”) You’ll learn the best time of day to photograph them.

Edward Weston said, “Good composition is merely the strongest way of seeing.” Think about composition. Try to take the photo so you do not have to crop it later while printing. However, cropping an image later seems smart if you get a stronger composition. Why impose an arbitrary constraint upon an image, by keeping it full frame, as some schools of thought espouse, and then lose the point of the photograph? Crop during printing with the cropping tool, or crop it during creation with a lens.

Here’s an exercise. Take a photo. When you process the image, crop it. Save it. Copy it. Re-open the copy. Crop it some more. Save another copy. Repeat. So what if you are only using 5% of your digital file. Get the image to the point where you cannot crop it anymore or you will have nothing. Is it finished? You tell me. Enlarge it and repeat until you only have shades and patterns.

Practice the Zone System – think Ansel Adams. In my opinion getting 10 shades of gray in a print are much easier to accomplish in digital than with film, especially if you shoot in RAW mode; Nikon NEF, Canon CR, etc. Learn to use Photoshop Color Curves. See this brief article from Alan Ross, one of Adams students regarding the Digital Zone System. (I have a print of his. ) I wasn’t trying to demonstrate the Zone System here, but I took off down this path.

On the other hand, DON’T practice the Zone System; that is, don’t try to get smooth gradations from pure black to white, with detail in at least 8 out of 10 zones. Shoot nature in high contrast, as high as you like.

Print big. Print small. What happens to shadow detail and highlights in your clouds from one size to another. Viewing it on your phone is not the same as viewing a 20×24 inch print.

Just play and enjoy. You will hit on something that grabs you.

Dead wood detail

Woman walking her dog

Fuzzy grasses

Black-eyed Susans

Rock Garden

#EdwardWeston #AnselAdams #photographicexercises #ZoneSystemPhotography #Kodakfilm

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