Sunday, April 29, 2007

Black and white

This is more a rant at photographers who love technology over photography, so you're excused if you want to click back and surf on to other Web pages. I was reading several posts on Photo net's forums where people ask about black and white images, now called monochrome in the digital camera age. It's funny how many, almost all really, will respond to say you "have" to shoot color and use all the color to monochrome conversion tools in Photoshop to produce black and white images.

While I agree there are a lot of tools to produce black and white images, this argument overlooks several points. First of all is that it won't make you a black and white photographer, in my view, which I've touched on briefly in another column. It makes you someone who produces black and white images. Why? There is a difference when you shoot black and white in the field, which has been done for over 100 years of photography. It changes your perpsective from color to tone, texture, shadow, light, form and so on.

The other side has a fair argument that digital cameras capture in color so converting to black and white in the camera isn't the best way of producing black and white images. And while I agree many photographers today produce some excellent black and white images from original color, it misses the point of seeing when you're holding the camera. Seeing in black and white forces you to make judgements about dynamic range and about shadows and light. You have to translate your thinking.

Anyway, my rant is with people who espouse technology over photography. Photography isn't about the technology, but about the images, and about the tools the photographer chooses to use for their images. And if they're comfortable with traditional methods, so be it. After all they've worked for over 100 years producing a lot of images people have loved for the same time. So let's not throw tradition out simply because it's simplier and easier, and still produces excellent images. Technology is available if you choose.

And technology won't make you a better photographer. It only forces you to learn more tools, some for the better but many to simply take your time when you could be doing real photography, like using your camera. I've always said it's a choice between where you want to spend your time, behind the camera or in front of a computer. Good photographers learn to balance the two, great photographers go for the camera and add the production tools later, sometimes to be better in the darkroom than behind the camera.

Remember, in the end, it's about where you want to spend your time. And so I'll stick with shooting black and white with the camera, whether with film or digital. I make my choices based on my interests than fads or what others think is better. It's not. Tradition has value when it's expressed in your work.

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