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mandag 29. november 2010

Black and White and Sepia All Over

Why take shots in monotone ?

All digital cameras I have used ,or looked into in the last five years seem to have a black-&-white feature which takes the BW as the saved image. Most have a sepia function for this or to apply to images in camera.

Obvioulsy these are converted from the "colour"digital- info in the bitmap, which is extracted from a RGGB grid pattern on the sensor chip. With BW and a myriad of related monotone or tinted possibilities in software ("Post" as the anoraks call it for post photography processing) why set your camera for MONOTONOUS pictures?

Firstly, to avoid the monotomy.........or rather the mundanety. We are all used to so many colour images with very saturated skies, seas, neon signs and t-shirts that a BW image can truly stand out. Another reason is that the SUBJECT in the BW image has a chance to stand out.

Secondly, when you see the opportunity to use BW, then take it and don't waste time in the "light room" later.


Technically speaking, the advantage of taking BW sometimes breaks down into figure-ground effect and removal of colour noise: the two are usually present in good shots.

Figure-ground refers to subject:background separation: we DSLR owners like to think we are terribly clever by setting an open aperture and throwing the background, and sometimes forground if we are super clever. However especially on the Four-Thirds system, depth of field on some lenses like the 25mm pancake, is too deep to separate the figure from the background. Changing over to a longer lens helps in ranges of up to 200m to give a shorter DOF at a relatively higher f stop like f5.6 ( the 40-150 is very good at this: the 70-200 is an excellent semi pro lens).

Colour is more obvious for exposure shots.
There are different approaches in these situations of longer DOF than wanted in making the subject stand out and in the studio of course lighting : in the field this can mean trying different metering and bracketed exposures ( see earlier blog on spot metering and AE BKT) to get a contrast in lighting which makes the subject stand out from the fore-and back-ground. These two images use spot metering, and also Bokeh, but it is the exposure ( in "broad" winter daylight, with a low sun) which makes the subject ping out at you.

In terms of choosing to shoot BW ( or sepia as I have set defualt BW shots to be) is often a bit more subtle to interpret as an opportunity for setting the camera to BW. However it can be the "no go, nah, there is too much going on there....I can't get figure ground separation...the colours are clashing or unattractive. If you have thought this far about any potential shot, then something caught your interest, but your sense for composition realised there was something cluttered. Try monotone on a bracket.

Here is are some examples of subject emphasis using BW

1) "Lucifer "

It was cold and I didn't have time to rearrange the wings, but I saw the meaning in the image immediately and chose BW. The green clover and grass disappear to become a texture in a shot with no desire for any DOF effects.

2) As if by magical moonlight

This was in fact in full daylight, with a low winter sun, just after the title shot was taken. There was something very forboding and threatening in the trees with this light, very stark and I knew right away to leave the camera on BW. Colour would have been nothing in this shot, just woods.

The subject here is the vertical pattern of the trees, but the whole picture takes on an atmosphere driven by the lighting.

3) Dog

This is a very half to three quarter tone shot ( just above full shadow) and shows off the Olympus tonal depth and dynamic range. The background qould be just too confusing _ green brown, onto the beige dog, a reddish scots pine to carry the eye away....just a snap shot which took on a life of it's own, as the dog, a deer hunter, seems to be part of its environment and we are the ones looking into a darker nature lurking in the animal.

Now for some quick comparison shots'

A slight crop and this time in GIMP, BW with heavy contrast. Alklk the noise is gone: you want to look at the mans eyes and weather beaten face.

Back to the title image "flurry" : taken in colour it lacks some impact, although it is a nice shot you can "feel" the downy seeds almost.

In BW, in fact you almost get deluded to colour being side by side here, but it clears out the cluttered background and brings out the central subject with the crescent of compatriots around it.

The image on the left gives a nice figure ground separation when the 25mm gives too much depth of field, tending to the infinity focal legnth. On the right, a slight over exposure "lights up" the leaves and grass

I think one thing photographs should convey is a wish to be there, not just as if you are there, but that you would like to be there to feel what was going on in the frame and around. I'll leave you wiht an unremarkable shot which does a lot for that, perhaps reminding us of those moments when we see beauty in that which is purely simple.

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