Ah, just flip it to black and white.

If I’m honest, this is usually my approach to black and white photography.  If I take a picture in color, and it doesn’t work for some reason, I’d always try flipping it to black and white to see how it looked.  In retrospect, this is a fair way to start exploring black and white imaging, but as we do this, the next step is to start asking the question, why did this work in black and white and not color, or why does this image just not work at all.  It is definitely not the case that if an image doesn’t work in color, it will work in black and white, and this is something I wanted to better understand when I started my color sabbatical.  To help answer these questions for myself, I actually set my camera to monochrome color space, I used live view on a regular basis so I was “seeing” in black and white, and then set my Lightroom to import the images ‘as shot’, so from the moment I clicked the shutter to the point I was done developing the image, I never saw it in color.  This forced me to never consider the colors in a scene, but only its textures and tones, which is ultimately what black and white photography is about anyway.  I have to say this was a fun little experiment, but frustrating at times.  In many ways I was almost starting over with my photography until I started getting the hang of what worked and what didn’t.  Interestingly, one of the things I started noticing was that I was shooting on days I wouldn’t typically.  For example, with color photography, I’m always looking for grand sunrises… but as I found out, those are much less meaningful in black and white because… well… there’s no color there!  It just looks like a cloudy sky!  Conversely, on I’d never go shoot sunrise on a crystal clear morning because there would be no clouds to catch that early color… but in black and white, I liked the stark rays of light shooting over the mountains, generally later than I would have been shooting had it been a colorful sunrise (this was great because I could sleep in a little longer!).

This is also true for this week’s image.  I love fog, but sometimes you can have too much fog. This particular day was especially gloomy and rainy, and with no leaves on the trees, a color image here would have been basically shades of brown.  Not very appealing to me. However in black and white, the scene works, because it’s varying tones, and the bare trees with the low hanging clouds almost gives the background a spooky look. 

Now, I didn’t set out to photograph kayakers (by the way, his outfit was bright orange, if you were wondering), but sometimes a situation just plays out perfectly.  I had setup on this spot to capture the Tellico River, with Baby Falls in the background.  On this particular the day the river was raging after some heavy rainfall the day prior – perfect for kayakers.  As I was shooting, I saw this guy coming down the river above the falls, and so I stopped taking pictures to watch him go OVER the falls.  Pretty nuts.  I quickly noticed his direction of travel and realized in a few seconds he’d be right in front of me, so I started clicking away.  I had been using a slow shutter speed to let the water blur – something that’s not conducive to action / sports photography – but as luck would have it, when he popped up out of the water the current held him in position long enough that you could tell it was a kayaker, and not just a dark smudge in my picture.

More next week!

–Dan Thompson

Title Address Description
Tellico River
Tellico River, Vonore, TN 37885, USA

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