Monochrome Escapism

By Saturday, January 11, 2014 grafphoto

One aspect I have always enjoyed about black and white photography is the sense of escapism that comes with these types of photographs.   As many fine art photographers of the past have demonstrated, the removal of color tends to remove many of the confines of reality, at least as our human brains perceive it.

“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things that escape those who dream only at night.” – Edgar Allen Poe

Alaska black and white photography

Turnagain Arm area, Alaska | Nikon D700, 24-70 f/2.8 #SL-9827

As much as I also love color, I have wondered if I could limit myself to photographing only in monochrome for a period of time.   I even considered the possibility that I just force upon myself to shoot only B&W in 2014.  I was thinking that type of immersion and commitment could only be beneficial in my growth as a photographer.

Many people already make that their sole presentation of their work.  As they say, limitation often inspires creativity, and I am always looking for additional inspiration.   I wonder, if I could be out somewhere and have the most brilliant display of color in the sky, and then essentially blow it away in developing the photograph.   Tough choice in the pursuit of discipline, but obviously it has been done before by many others.

Of course, these days, you can have your cake and eat it too.   There are so many options available now in how we process our photographs that it is almost suffocating.  Clarity of choice arises conveniently in not having so many possibilities, similar to bringing only a single lens with you.

frozen lake photos

Ice Pond near Lake Huron, MI | Nikon D800, 14-24 f/2.8 #WI-9819

Scenes where color isn’t a significant factor seem like easy decisions to become black and white.  It offers a wonderful way to explore intimately the tones throughout a photograph that are normally overpowered by the influence of color.   But when color plays a significant role, I think that is where the rubber hits the road in your dedication.   I am not so sure I have it.   I am not sure I could be just a “black and white” guy.

So while I ponder such a “limitation” in future work and if I have the tenacity to be committed to it, I do have plenty of past work sitting in my archives that have never been processed either way.   In many ways, it is like seeing a scene entirely new again.   It is a luxury that the pioneers of the medium and those with only monochrome film in their cameras never had .





Join the discussion 18 Comments

  • I came across this video today and while it is promoting ho blessed we are by God to see color it is a great example of the difference between black and white and color. Each image is first shown in black and white and then it morphs into color. The quality is good and it does give a stunning example of landscapes in both black and white and the same in color. Thinking maybe someone photographed in Raw and processed the images in both as they are identical.

  • Howard Grill says:

    Love the black and white images in the post, by the way!

  • Howard Grill says:

    Why limit yourself Mark? I can see doing so in the film days……but now you shoot color anyway as a starting point to the black and white image. So if an image works well in color and not so in black and white, why force the technique? Might be a more useful experience to try to convert all the images to BW, and if it works then have that be the final photo, but, hey, if it works better in color then it just works better in color!

  • With what little time I have had this winter outdoors I have been converting nearly all my images to b&w, not really for the artistic value but because this winter has been so cold and snowy down here and I think it is just reflecting my mood lol.

    Great post and images Mark !!
    Bernie Kasper recently posted…Indiana WinterMy Profile

  • Sandra says:

    I have been a very keen enthusiast in the traditional darkroom and had lots of fun playing with different techniques, papers and chemicals. During weekends, I sometimes spent more time in the darkroom than outside and my husband only saw me for lunch or dinner 🙂
    When I switched to digital, I lost my interest completely because there is no fun involved in processing those images on a computer. It is all just a mouseclick away and the tension and I highly missed the fun of watching a print emerging in the developer.

    Only about 18 months ago, I started converting some of my digital files to monochrome and now I even know what version I will go for – colour or monochrome – when I take the shot. I know that dramatic clouds, storm or bad weather situations in general work well in B&W. But very often, the colours of early morning or late evening are so lovely that I don’t want to lose the colour (like Steve said).

    Both your photos look pretty nice in B&W but the landscape shot is a real killer – this is exactly what I meant with dramatic weather and B&W!

    Looking forward to more of your monochrome work!
    Sandra recently posted…Colour vs. Monochrome: ice teethMy Profile

    • Sandra says:

      Oh, is there a way you could correct this crap sentence and delete this reply please?

      “It is all just a mouseclick away and I highly miss the tension and the fun of watching a print emerging in the developer.”

      Sorry 🙁
      Sandra recently posted…Colour vs. Monochrome: ice teethMy Profile

    • Mark says:

      Well, now you can at least spend all that time perhaps in the same room as your husband but on the computer. 🙂

      I’ll let your comment stand for now because I think you bring up a good point with it. I think in the digital age, many people not having that analog experience in developing may only consider B&W just another “filter effect.” But when you get deeper into it and really start to listen to and play with the tonal relationships in a photo, you realize that it is (or can be) so much more. You could send just as much time developing an image just without the smell and chemicals.

  • John says:

    Well, I don’t know about a full year, Mark. Maybe a full month is better – especially during this time of year when things are rather dull anyway (unless you live somewhere perpetually green!). I’ve done exercises like that with lenses – shooting all day with a 50mm, or maybe using only a lensbaby. It can be fun and challenging.
    John recently posted…Oranges, Lemons, Limes, Oh My!My Profile

  • Until a few years ago, I had never given shooting in Black and White much consideration. I had not been able to assess the tonal values in a way that would be well represented in other than color and even then I had a hard time doing the evaluation. I have recently been more open to looking for scenes that would be well rendered in monochrome but even with that I still approach each scene initially in color and then try to appraise whether it is suitable for conversion. Occasionally that is my sole intent from the start but most often B&W comes as a by product of my initial visualization. And as you mentioned, having the option for both when we capture in color and then convert is a great development in photography.
    I understand the idea behind limitation, but too often I find a subject that is so enjoyable in color that I could not make it very long without losing the resolution. OTOH, I have converted some lovely flowers to B&W with pleasing results.
    Steve Gingold recently posted…01.11.2014 Ice Ice BabyMy Profile

  • Placing limitations on ourselves, as you say, does inspires creativity. What is more, limitations provide us with a means of coping with the suffocation you mention when presented with all the possibilities that today’s technology offers us. As Earl points out there is a place for both b&w and colour but by limiting ourselves to one for a period of time as you are suggesting Mark, we are refining our ability to know when to shoot what. Often I see photographers on Flickr who post a photo in both colour and b&w, being unable to decide between the two. For me, this is an unfortunate predicament to be in. I won’t go into the whys and wherefores but suffice to say that setting limitations, over time, removes such uncertainty when a shot is made. And with that assuredness comes greater mastery over the act of capturing an image.
    By the way, this is not to suggest that you have not achieved such mastery Mark. Your photos prove the exact opposite. In your case I imagine setting limitations is solely for the purpose of inspiration. In this comment I am merely suggesting that for some of us, limitations do more than inspire but also help us mature in our chosen craft.
    Cedric Canard recently posted…Art’s inexpugnable pullMy Profile

    • Mark says:

      As much as I appreciate the vote of confidence Cedric – the only thing I have mastered is being able to put one foot in front of the other. But I’ll take the compliment, thanks. 🙂 I was looking at it for the purpose of inspiration, as well as the purpose of learning. I can only absorb so much at a time and then that sponge is saturated. But as expected, I was out photographing this morning and think I will have a hard time removing the color contribution from those photos.

  • Earl says:

    “There are so many options available now in how we process our photographs that it is almost suffocating.”

    I believe both color and B&W have a place and a voice — I would not wish to give up either. To have this choice between the two pushes us to understand where and when each “speaks” loudest. Perhaps it has even pushed us a bit further to understand our personal viewpoints, our artistic ways of expression and how B&W and color fit within us.

    These options, this technology, has made many things possible but choice more difficult for certain. Things were much simpler before but I doubt many of us would truly want to go back — not I! 🙂

    Lovely smooth, high contrast shots, Mark.
    Earl recently posted…Recent weather and photography as artMy Profile

    • Mark says:

      As always Earl, your logic prevails. 🙂 I really relish in how much is available to us today. I just often feel a loss of focus at times (no pun intended…. I think. ) because I am trying to be prepared for anything I might encounter. Similarly to that idea of just going out with one lens to really learn and understand its benefits and limitations, I think about the same as applied to color vs. B&W.

      • Earl says:

        I understand what you’re saying, Mark. There’s probably lessons to learn either way. It’s not easy to impose those voluntary limitation and I’m not so good with self discipline in this area. Oh, my “logic,” it often fails me! 🙂

  • I spent most of my photographic life shooting in black and white, processed and printed in my darkroom. Did a lot of shooting for weekly newspapers and real estate mags which were all in black and white back then. And there my true love lies, but to process every shot in black and white and lose those fantastic colors? I guess I’m with you. Not quite ready to go there with every shot.

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