Saturday, February 1, 2014

Black and White Book Club: week 2

Welcome to the first full-length week of this month's Black and White Book Club study of Michael Freeman's The Complete Guide to Black and White Digital Photography (or the pocket-sized Black and White Photography Field Guide). Be sure to read the overview and week 1 posts if you are just joining in. Everyone is welcome to participate, even without a copy of either book, but if you do have the book, you will have more to draw on during the month.

Week 2 (Feb. 3rd-9th) will focus on Black and White Photography as Normality and the photographic styles and subjects of still life, landscape, street, portrait, architecture, and journalism or documentary photography. We will be covering pgs. 24-45/22-43 (optional processing pages: 69-81/66-79).

Black and White as Normality

In these chapters, Freeman presents an historical overview of the progression from black and white to color in photography and focuses in on this counter-intuitive notion that black and white became seen as the normal representation of events and the world, persisting in newspapers through the 1980s.  "How and why this happened is worth considering, because the decades of black-and-white 'normality' impressed the monochrome image with a particular strength and legitimacy" (pg. 24/22).

He includes a variety of quotations from famous photographers at the time concerning their thoughts about black and white vs. color photography, including Walker Evans' adaptation,  "'Color tends to corrupt photography and absolute color corrupts absolutely'" (pg. 27/27). Looking backwards from our colorized present, do you agree or disagree? We can flip the question from last week and ask, "When and where it would be better to shoot color" (pg. 29/28). Is your default thought color photography or black and white photography? How (or does it) influence how you shoot?

Later chapters continue to push this issue of conscious choice and the perception of what is or is not better suited to black and white compared to color. Freeman presents several side-by-side comparisons of images in both color and black and white to allow a direct comparison. Consider posting a color comparison this week in an extra album so that we can compare the two and think about the relative merits of each.
Here, I prefer the black and white version as it minimizes the distraction of colored coats and allows your attention to focus on the lines, form, and repetition of people.

While the focus of these chapters is on 'normality' and styles of photography such as street, documentary, and journalism photography, you can also take these ideas and apply them more broadly, encompassing topics such as still life, landscape, portrait, and architecture photography. Spend time this week thinking about how your perceptions of 'normal' are influenced or even tricked by the use of black and white for such subjects.

Delving in to "Digital Monochrome" chapters

Based on an informal survey of book club participants on, it seems like many of you are planning to post-process your images into black and white (rather than just shooting monochrome in-camera). Section 2: The Digital Monochrome is a section of the book that is not officially 'assigned' for any week but contains a plethora of useful information about digitally manipulating images for black and white output. I will include a few thoughts each week about chapters within this section then for those who post-process.

Initial big ideas from the first few chapters (pgs. 69-81/66-79) include a look at the three different color channels that make up a single image (blue, red, green) and how each channel alone renders a very different version of the image in black and white. Additionally, you can use highlight recovery tools with RAW files to attempt to reconstruct missing (clipped) information in one channel by using information in another channel. One channel can also be prioritized to avoid the digital noise more visible in other channels.
Elements, like the red sign and flag, appear very differently in the different channels.

Are you using the three channels differently when you are processing your images? If so, consider sharing which you used (and why) in your image caption or in the comments. This could be a great opportunity for all of us to learn new skills in our processing as well as in all the other aspects of our photography.

Multiple Ways to Join the Book Club

Want to participate? Post a comment with your thoughts or a link to a picture you have taken for the Book Club and an explanation of how the book influenced your image. Or, you can post pictures and contribute to the discussion by joining the Photography Book Club Group on Flickr.

Parting words for the week, from Robert Frank, "'Black and white are the colors of photography. To me they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which all mankind is subjected'" (pg. 29/29). Read more about Robert Frank and see examples of his black and white images at his Artsy page.

Click here to read the post for Week 3.

Boost Your Photography: Learn Your DSLR is now available from Amazon. Get the most out of your camera with practical advice about the technical and creative aspects of DSLR photography that will have you taking beautiful pictures right away.
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