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Seeing Monochrome

August 13, 2011

“Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.” –  Walker Evans


    I fell in love with photography in 1975 when a friend of the family loaned me an old Mamiya 35mm film camera and showed me how to use the darkroom he had in his basement. Black and White (monochrome) was all that darkroom was set up for so that’s what I shot. I rolled my own film spools from bulk Tri-X, developed and printed my images and dried them on an old drum dryer for that “glossy look”. The smell of the chemicals, watching the image slowly appear in the developer bath…I loved it.

   I still took color photos with an insta-matic and took the film to the drugstore for prints, but the opportunity to make my own prints kept me shooting some black and white. I noticed that monochrome images were more than just lack of color. They were different. They were more about the light and the shapes. They were an abstraction (learned that word yesterday). All photos lie, but black and white doesn’t claim to tell the truth.

   Then I moved away and my world became all color for 30 years. But I never forgot my first love (couldn’t resist awesome cliché line opportunity). But what makes a good color image is usually different from what makes a good monochrome. My ability to “see” in monochrome when I am shooting is rusty to say the least. Luckily the makers of Photoshop have decided to name many of the tools after darkroom techniques (dodging, burning, masking etc.). So the results are the same, just the process is different.


   Below is a shot of a dashboard (50 Studebaker, ya know I love those things) that was taken specifically with a monochrome image in mind. (The dog in the previous post was not).


Good things in monochrome images are deep blacks, bright highlights and high contrast. Tight shots and abstracts usually work good because monochrome is itself an abstraction.

 Here I liked the shapes and the light falling on the dash and reflecting from the chrome. I did not like the difference in whites between the speedometer and the (50 years newer) tachometer, but I hoped I could balance this in the digital darkroom.


So here is the shot I had in my head.  You can see the emphasis monochrome places on light and shapes.


   Any digital camera file can be converted to monochrome. Most of the techniques are fairly simple, but there are many paths to the same result in the digital darkroom, so finding what works for you is harder than learning the techniques themselves (at least for me it is).

   Back to the books fer me, I gots some lernin to do. I’ll post if I git anything figured out.



One Comment
  1. Becky Stone permalink


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