I know that black and white is not to everyone’s taste but I started photography with rolls of Kodak and Ilford black and white films so its a natural thing for me. So I wasn’t surprised when I woke up yesterday morning and decided I would like to try to produce a video (should I call it a VLOG?) in black and white.
I don’t know about you but I can’t function properly in the morning without at least one mug of black coffee and another of black tea and in order to get started as soon as possible I decided to record the operation . I filmed the sequence on a tripod-mounted Fuji X-T20 using the Acros film simulation with a yellow filter. That kettle is actually bright red and the mug a nice shade of blue but it was noticeable how close in tones the two were in black and white. It’s that sort of understanding that is one of the keys to successful black and white imagery I think. After putting together the tea sequence I stayed at the computer and ended up pulling together an entire sequence using an old blog post for inspiration and a hard drive full of unused video clips, time-lapse sequences and finished black and white images.
The Romantic artists and poets of the late 18th century were inspired by the forces of nature to create an art of the sublime. Photographer Michael Freeman described it as ‘how to enjoy a perfect storm’ and that was very apt stood on the beach at Elgol in November 2015 as the rain lashed down and the wind whipped with such fury that I genuinely feared that even someone of my size might just be blown away by the force.
Joseph Addison wrote in 1712 about scenes that were “… at the same time, as Dreadful and Harmless; so that the more frightful Appearance they make, the greater is the Pleasure we receive from the Sense of our own Safety”. I’ve rarely been as pleased to retreat to the safety of the van that’s for sure.
For me, black and white is a far better medium for portraying this sense of drama, especially when you consider that, digitally at least, the photographer can get away with adding a level of contrast in a black and white image that would destroy the integrity of the individual colours if he wasn’t working in shades of grey.
Modern digital cameras do make black and white photography more accessible I think. Shooting with film requires an understanding of how different colours will render in shades of grey, think back to the red kettle and blue mug. By setting a black and white picture style on the camera the user can instantly see how the scene will reproduce without any colour. I shoot in RAW which means that whilst I can view a black and white version on the camera, the image file retains all the colour information too so I can make my own conversions later. I prefer to do it myself rather than rely on the cameras algorithms to do the work, although I must confess to a weakness for the Fuji Acros film simulation on my X-T20.
Black and white isn’t just something that can be used for making dramatic landscape photographs though although it is pretty good at it! I use black and white a lot for many different subjects, for portraits, street scenes, urban photography and some days it’s all I shoot.