Saturday, February 15, 2014

Black and White Book Club: week 4 (Feb. 17-23)

Welcome to the fourth week of our Black and White Book Club study of Michael Freeman's The Complete Guide to Black and White Digital Photography (or the Black and White Photography Field Guide. Be sure to read the overview and week 1, week 2, and week 3 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 4, Feb. 17-23, will focus on Creative Choices in Exposure – exploring over- and underexposure, high key, low key, high contrast, and low contrast. We will be covering pgs. 138-165/140-165 (optional processing pages: 104-121/104-119).

Black and White Receding Wine Glasses | Boost Your Photography

Creative Choices in Black and White Photography

This week we are jumping ahead to section three, Creative Choices (section two, you may remember, we are covering in optional chunks each week). Freeman starts the section by explaining that, "Possibly the greatest difference between photographing in color and photographing in black and white is in expression" (pg. 139/140). This week we will be exploring the limits of creative expression in black and white by looking at the two extremes of low key and high key images.

Freeman begins by comparing and contrasting several different photographers and their styles of black and white photography, from Ansel Adams and Edward Weston with their focus on the range of tones, to Paul Strand and his attention to the middle range of grays, to Bill Brandt and Don McCullin and their high contrast shots with extreme blacks and extreme whites. Each of these styles is a valid approach to black and white, and the chapters focus on ways to achieve these different looks and styles.

Low Key Black and White Photograph of Hands | Boost Your Photography
Low key image, showing the classic left-heavy low key histogram.

Think about picking a favorite photographer and style for the week and try to spend the week shooting and processing in this style. Or, take the opposite approach and try a different style each day and see which one better fits your needs for your given scene and subject. Consider sharing in your description the thought process behind your style and processing choice.

Freeman also provides a lot of varied examples of processing options for the same image, looking at the ideas of high contrast, low contrast, low key, and high key. Do you always agree with his choices about which image works 'best' for each scenario?  If so or if not, why?

For those without the book, here is how Freeman describes each style:

  • High Contrast: "increasing contrast is a particularly good way of emphasizing structure and form …" (pg. 150/150). A high contrast image tends to reach towards both ends of the histogram as well.
  • Low Contrast: "some picture situations are obvious candidates [for low contrast]. Fog, mist, rain, indeed any softening effects to the atmosphere, has a certain evocative appeal … low-contrast images like this tend to sit well inside the scale, with no blacks and no whites" (pg. 154/154).
  • Low Key: "the setting is a dark interior, with weak side-lighting that reveals enough of the subject to make it obvious, and a background that can easily go to black" (pg. 158/158).
  • High Key: "For high key to work visually, it demands high contrast with a few remaining dark tones …" and "there usually needs to be some smaller, darker elements that are integral to the image" (pgs. 160-162/160-162).

Low Contrast Black and White Foggy Morning with Heron | Boost Your Photography
Example of a low contrast subject - a foggy morning - and some space on both ends of the histogram

Think about trying and exploring each of these different approaches to black and white photography this week, or choose one to really focus in on.

Delving in to "Digital Monochrome" chapters

This week's optional section on digital processing takes a look at the process of converting color images to black and white using colors and hues (pages 104-121/104-119).

Freeman explains how we intuitively 'see' colors as having certain values in black and white, and so there are conversions that make more 'sense' to our brains when we are trying to translate what we see in black and white. There is a brief discussion of the use of color filters in black and white photography, which fits in with what many of us have been discovering when exploring the differences between different color channels and how colors and hues are recorded.

High Key Overexposed Photograph of Thai Temple | Boost Your Photography
More of an overexposed image than traditional high key, but you can see the high key histogram.

Freeman then explores several different processing examples, looking at how differential treatment of the different hue sliders can have a dramatic impact on the final image. There are some suggestions specific to how to increase or reduce contrast in an image, which might be of interest to those exploring high contrast or low contrast images this week.

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, "'Full' black-and-white photography means anticipating, selecting, and composing monochrome right from the start. And the only way to do this is to train oneself to think and see in black and white" (pg. 140/142).

Agree or disagree?  Is the Book Club changing how you think in black and white?

Click here to read the post for week 5.

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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