Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.

— George Eastman.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Seeing Black and White

In a B&W photography forum I recently asked, "How many of us 'see' in B&W? What does it mean to 'see' in B&W? How is it different from seeing in color? Is it simply a matter of visualization? Is it a state of mind?" So far the responses have been interesting. Initially it seemed it would become a discussion about color blindness. Then, when it came up tangentially in another forum, where it quickly lead to a film vs digital debate.

Here is what it means for me:

George Eastman said, “Light makes photography.... Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.” Regardless of color or B&W, film or digital, we must know light, and we have to think in terms of light, shadow, brightness and darkness.

For B&W, or monochrome, I do not physically see in monochrome. I can, and do, however visualize in monorchorme. I think this was enabled by learning photography with B&W film and being trained in the Zone System. Even if I am not using a spot meter to measure light and shadow, I am still calculating where black and white will be, what shadow and hightlight details will be like. Ansel Adams said, "To visualize an image (in whole or in part) is to see clearly in the mind prior to exposure, a continuous projection from composing the image through the final print.” This is what I have learned to do in 35 years of photography. So do I see in B&W? Not physically, but I certainly visualize in B&W, I "think" in B&W. The idea that one can only "see" in B&W when shooting B&W film is incomprehensible to me.

I think I also benifitted from processing my own film and making my own prints. There are a limited number of shades of luminosity that we can perceive in color or B&W and there is a calculation that takes place for me in how I will fit a given scene and its range of light into an image for eventual printing. For me, "In the beginning it is all about light, in the end it is all about the print."

These calculations take place almost subconsciously. I only shoot in manual mode and I always shoot RAW. I scout my environment first, evaluating the light and choosing my exposure, then having made those decisions, I concentrate on what I see in my viewfinder. For this point on, it is all about composition.
So, for me, "seeing" in B&W is a visualization and a state of mind. I do "see" in B&W.

Booth's Mill Bridge on Antietam Creek, Washington County, MD

1 comment:

  1. Visit trough a link via Linkedin Groups, beautiful site and love the black an white images, well done!