January 2, 2016: New Year Photo Thoughts

I’ve been leaning more and more back to black & white images.  In the “old” days I shot a lot of B&W on 35mm and 6X7 format as I liked the “look” and I could keep costs down by developing / printing my film and images.  I also shot color slides once I figured out how to develop my own slides as it kept the costs down but the down side in the 70s (and later) was that there was no easy way to print from color slides.  But my primary love was BW.

1977 - S-Bahn at Twlilight, Zehlendorf, West Germany

S-Bahn at Twilight, Zehlendorf, West Berlin 1977

This year I’ve decided to blast back to the past and focus on BW in both digital and film for the same reasons…I love the look and, while I no longer have a darkroom, I can print digital prints shot with a DLSR or scanned in if shot with film.  The biggest challenge I see in this venture is obtaining the “look” I love in BW images, whether scanned (film) or from digital raw files,  Both mediums require good exposures in order to have a good file to work with.  With film I eventually exposed with a “modified” zone system using a 1˚ spot meter instead of the camera meter.  I would meter the scene in two areas (shadows and highlights) where I wanted detail, average the two and take the shot.  No, it’s not remotely close to the Zone system developed by Ansel Adams and Fred Archer in 1940, but it allowed me to obtain better exposures on difficult lighting situations, whether BW or color, than using the in-camera meter. Many years later when I took a course on understanding and using the Zone system is when I realized how inadequate my “modified” two metering system was.  That Zone class changed my perspective on the possibilities on BW and look like and I’ve struggled since trying to capture that look with my digital images.

Mushrooms on a Lavender branch

Mushrooms on a Lavender branch

While I’ve researched and worked towards obtaining that “look” in my digital images it’s only recently that I feel as if I’m on the right path.  The image above was taken one evening in 1977 when I was standing on an overpass watching the S-Bahn rocket towards me.  It was a hand-held shot with the RB-67 and this was the most workable of the four or five I took.  For this shot I used a light meter (not a 1˚ meter) for an average exposure.

The image to the right was taken last month using the Nikon Df on a tripod.  Using a 1˚ spot meter, I exposed for the shadow and highlights, determined that I really wanted to capture the shadow detail and adjusted my exposure two stops to reflect Zone III.

The common denominator between 1977 and today is the “look” and how I was able to get there.  The 1977 image wasn’t the best exposure, the shadows were blocked up and the highlights weren’t where they should be; the 2015 image was much better exposed even though the light was flat.  In both examples it was a combination of exposure and post processing that enabled me to obtain the “look” I originally envisioned.

More about resources and post-processing in my next post on BW.

 

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