Our own Cat Humphries muses on monochrome photography…
This week I was invited to judge a monochrome competition at one of the local camera clubs. Being asked to comment on images is always and honour and so I decided that I should do a bit of homework in advance of the competition to make sure I was up to the task.
The club chairman had given the advice for their members to “feel free to experiment, not only with black and white images, but also sepia, cyanotype or shades of any other colour.” This echoes our own club’s rules on the Andrews Cup for prints, so I was in familiar territory.
Looking back through my own competition entries I initially thought “I don’t really do monochrome” but then I realised that although my camera club images are usually in colour, I’ve been producing mono conversions for theatre rehearsals since the 90s. Removing any problematic chroma noise in low light shots and toning down the often-colourful notice boards in community centres and rehearsal rooms.
As Stewie Griffin will tell you “Ooh you took a black and white picture of a lawn chair” and you think you’re an artist! Well, the 17-year-old me certainly thought so, and she had the film enlarger to prove it. Maybe the winter lockdown is the perfect time to look through the archives and see if a monochrome conversion can bring some life to my other images?
Monochrome has been used since the dawn of photography and since the young upstart of colour came along, mono has been used by authors to distance their subject from the “real world” we see around us. Presenting the viewer with an image where form, texture and pattern take centre stage. It’s probably most well-known for street photography or photojournalism, but it can be used to great effect on almost any subject.
The grand master of the monochrome landscape Ansel Adams’ once said that “the negative is similar to a musician’s score, and the print to the performance of that score. The negative comes to life only when ‘performed’ as a print”. Not averse to the odd bit of dodging and burning myself, the equivalent today is the Raw colour image file being interpreted as a black and white photograph. As authors we can choose how we process monochrome images to produce our own unique view on the world.
Using Photoshop or Lightroom to adjust the lightness of a colour in a monochrome image can help us darken blue skies, change the tones in a grassy landscape, or lighten the red on a stop sign. If we need more help as a starting point we can use presets or specialist plug-ins like Nik Silver Efex that have a range of conversions to try on our images, fine-tuning them to our own tastes. The 2012 version of the Nik Collection is available to download from the DXO website for free and there are tons of freely available Lightroom presets like these from On1 (https://www.on1.com/free/lightroom-presets/), so it’s easy to give it a try.
How have I got on with my experiments in mono? You’ll have to wait for the next few club competitions and see.