photography from the ground up

Black and White!

Forty years ago when I purchased my first SLR camera-a Nikkormat FTN that I still have-I immersed myself in the world of black and white photography. Naturally, one of my heroes was, and still is, Ansel Adams. I learned how to develop film and make acceptable black and white prints from the negatives. I was hooked.

Fast forward to the present day: Photography has changed in ways no one could have imagined in that long gone time when a computer was still a large room-sized machine with unknown purpose and potential. Most of my work since switching from film to digital has been color landscapes. The portraits I have made are also (mostly) in color. Why? The answer is twofold: First, I lost that connection and, with it, the ability to visualize the scene and the image in the frame of my viewfinder in black and white. And, I just could not make a black and white print that matched those that slowly emerged from the developer under that red safelight. Granted, some of the shortcoming was due to my lack of expertise, but much of it had to do with the inability of the available technology to make an acceptable conversion

Recently, however, I have been re-connecting with that which I had lost in terms of visualizing my images in monochrome, and, with the ongoing development of new and better software, I find that I can once again produce a black and white or toned print that lives up to my expectations. Once again I can get excited about a black and white image the way I used to.

This image was made on a lonely highway in northern New Mexico. A storm was rapidly approaching from the south and the heavy clouds added to the feeling of desolation in the scene. The arrow-straight road with the mountains in the distance suggests a lack of any creature comforts. Even the rough texture of the road and the dark silhouette of the tree compound the sense of total isolation.

I did not pre-visualize this image as a black and white photograph. I like the way it looks in color, but I decided to experiment with it. I used Silver Efex Pro to do the conversion and I am very happy with the results. I think stripping the color adds even more to the bleakness of the scene. It lays bare the basic elements and structure of the image. Sometimes making a change in your pattern can help you to revitalize your passion and creativity. Even something as simple (or as complicated) as returning to your roots can breathe new life into your work.

This final image was made in the Mesa de Cuba badlands in the San Juan basin of northwestern New Mexico. It is a three image exposure fusion which I then converted to a sepia toned image in Silver Efex Pro. What caught my eye when I first happened upon this scene was the almost visceral appearance of the erosion channels. It had just snowed and the thirsty ground was sucking the moisture from the newly-fallen snow emphasizing the tonal contrast between the channels and the surrounding earth. At first I was concerned that it may be a little over the top in terms of the tonality, but I realized that I was merely presenting the scene as I had interpreted it. In the end, that’s what matters. Be true to your vision and you will evolve as an artist.

7 responses

  1. Gorgeous images. Truly. Your conversions are beautiful. I still like the first on in color though, and as barren as the scene could be, your composition just fills up the image in such a beautiful way. Love these images. But then again, I live in Northern New Mexico too. 🙂


    March 4, 2012 at 8:22 pm

    • Jim

      Thanks Katie. I’m kind of undecided on that one. I’ve printed a 20×30 canvas of the color version though. 🙂


      March 5, 2012 at 9:26 pm

      • Oh, that’s wonderful! I love the color one! Take care!


        March 5, 2012 at 9:32 pm

  2. Scott Stahl

    Very nice work. I am glad that you have recaptured your MOJO. Black and white is also beautiful but color treatments can be amazing as well. Thanks for the post and your artistic viewpoints


    March 7, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    • Jim

      Thanks Scott. I still work mostly in color, but there are some images that just need to be B&Ws


      March 7, 2012 at 7:16 pm

  3. I’ve fallen a bit behind in following your blog, so my apologies for all the notifications in your email today. Both these B&Ws were great choices for monochrome. The textures and broad range of tonalities really lend themselves well to the B&W treatment. Great shots!


    March 14, 2012 at 1:28 pm

    • Jim

      Thanks. I’m a little out of practice with black and white. That’s why some of these images had to be revisited several times in their color versions before I realized their potential as B&Ws.
      I normally like to pre-visualize my photographs, but I’m looking at it as a learning, or in this case a re-learning process.


      March 14, 2012 at 2:14 pm

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