Ever since I shot my first roll of black and white film back when I was teenager I have been striving to master the art/science/alchemy of good monochrome. Many of my early photographic heroes were all brilliant in black and white and my own struggle with getting close to being good at it is a subject that I have blogged about before. Over the last two years I have become much better at it and I thought that I’d show a series of images here that demonstrate how I go from an original colour picture to a toned monochrome. I sometimes use Tonality for my conversions but this one was done in Photoshop CC.
Colour photo converted from a Fujifilm .raf file in Adobe Camera RAW
Straight ‘desaturate’ from the colour photo using Photoshop’s Shift Cmd U on a Mac (shift Ctrl U on a PC)
Contrast added using levels in Photoshop.
New layer added and a tone applied across the image using the paint bucket tool at 12% before the levels were adjusted to re-introduce a black.
Once you get the hang of it, this is a simple process which could be automated for batches. I prefer to do it by eye because the re-introduction of the blacks after the tone was added is something that benefits from subtlety and which changes from frame to frame.
I’m 99.9% sure that there are ‘better’ ways to do this but it appeals to my taste in monochrome for the web. It chimes with my taste in printing papers back in the days when we hand printed our portfolios on specialist papers with their own signature tones. Mine was Agfa Record Rapid which, when developed in the requisite chemistry, had a very pleasing warm tone.
I’m getting close to having a style that I like for this kind of work – my personal work – and I am looking forward to putting a better edited body of work together using this style or at least a development on it. In the meantime, there’s a large collection of assorted personal work on my Pixelrights gallery.
As photographers we have got used to using a range of web-based technologies to deliver our work to our clients. Most of the time it works and nobody notices how amazing these technologies are. Over the years we have come to expect more and more in terms of bandwidth and speed and we have come to rely on getting good connections to easily accomplish what would have been regarded as time-sensitive alchemy only a few years ago.
On an overseas job last week the client wanted a lot of high resolution Jpegs delivered to them very quickly and their chosen method was WeTransfer. It’s a very good and reliable system in itself but it depends on a half decent internet connection. Sadly we didn’t get that connection and out of sheer frustration I did these screen grabs:
Yes that’s right: one million, two hundred and one thousand, seven hundred and thirty hours to complete a transfer that should have taken about half an hour on a half decent network. In case you are interested that is fifty thousand and seventy-two days or one hundred and thirty-seven years and sixty-five days. A bit slow. The second screen grab says less than a minute but that was also wildly inaccurate as no further data moved.
In the end I had to abandon the ethernet and wifi networks that the client had arranged for us to use and head outside where I could pick up a great 4G mobile signal by tethering to my iPhone and use my roaming package to send the pictures – which took about 44 minutes (by then I has 1.2Gb of pictures). The point here is that now we have come to reply on the internet for almost all of our image delivery it has become crucial that we have multiple ways of connecting to the internet.
Interesting evening light plus some fabulously brutal architecture makes for some interesting photos. Whilst walking to meet up with a friend and colleague at the National Theatre yesterday evening I was drawn to this section of concrete staircase and shot a few frames in one of those “just because…” moments.
Over the last few years I’ve posted a few pictures from my own filing cabinet when they have had some relevance or when there is a specific anniversary. This picture was taken twenty-five years ago today as I went for one of my regular wanders around bits of London that were near Metro – the 24 hour laboratory where we all got our E6 transparency film processed. It was about a mile and a half from our Hoxton office (before it was trendy) and it took about twenty minutes to walk there or five minutes to drive. Sometimes there would be other photographers around and we would adjourn to a local cafe for a cup of something and a sandwich and at other times I’d take myself off for a walk around one of the many fascinating side roads and markets that made up the Clerkenwell/Farringdon/Smithfield area and take a few personal and/or stock pictures whilst the film made its hour and three quarter journey through the system and the ‘soup’ at Metro.
On this particular day I went to Whitecross Street with a couple of cameras and a couple of rolls of Kodak Tri-X film. It is amazing what you remember when you start to think about a day and a place and my memory of this day is that I was half an hour into the walk when I bumped into another photographer (there were three or four agencies close by) and we had a coffee anyway!
The man in the photograph (who said his name was Frank but I’m not sure he was being 100% honest judging by the cheeky look in his eye) had been a stall holder at the market selling books and a few magazines for many years. Trade was brisk as the workers from the many offices on the edge of the City of London were having their lunch hours and I didn’t really finish my conversation with him.
Anyway, another ‘archive’ picture that brings back happy memories and brings a smile to my face. This was, quite literally, half of my lifetime ago and I still love the photograph.
Techie stuff: Nikon FM2 camera with a 135mm f2 Nikkor, Kodak Tri-x film.
A few months ago a colleague whose work I know and love said that it took him a little while to get used to electronic viewfinders and now that he has been using them for a while he cannot remember why he had been so resistant to them in the first place. Resistant to electronic viewfinders? That summed up my attitude until a couple of weeks ago too. After carrying my beloved Fujifilm X20 around with me I decided that it was time to give an X100S a run out. The lack of a zoom lens and the small jump in size and weight is compensated for by a big increase in the higher ISO quality (which isn’t to be sniffed at during the winter time) and a few more megapixels (allowing a bit of judicious cropping here and there) and so for the last few weeks I have been shooting my personal work with the X100S. The idea hit me that now I had the option of using the electronic viewfinder (to be known as the EVF from here on in) instead of the optical viewfinder (known from here as the OVF) and that’s what I started to do.
For the first few days I was getting annoyed by the EVF to the extent that I had to have a few days off from it. During that time I shot some photographs that I really liked and I had to force myself back to using the EVF with something of a heavy heart. That was just over a week ago and I am now really pleased to announce that I have got the hang of shooting using an EVF. Welcome to the twenty-teens, welcome to the world of the EVF enthusiast and welcome to a wide world of possibilities I hear some of you saying. Not quite.
The current situation is that I am perfectly capable of shooting with an EVF and that I can see why some photographers have made the switch but not me. I still prefer the OVF to the extent that I don’t want to use the electronic version and to the extent that the kind of work that I have been doing with my Fujifilm cameras isn’t as fulfilling without the old-school optical set up. If I were tempted to buy a Fujifilm XE-2 or an XT-1 I’d have to forego one of the main pleasures that I derive from using kit that, despite some huge flaws, makes me want to go and just shoot pictures.
I’m not going to tell all of the EVF enthusiasts I know that they are wrong but I am now in a position where my choice to carry on using OVFs and DSLRs is made from knowledge and not from ignorance. There, I’ve said it.
Carl Djerassi, the chemist widely considered the father of the birth control pill, has died aged 91. I photographed him back in 1999 sitting in what I thought was a very ‘egg-shaped’ chair in his London apartment. If you want to know more about him, The Guardian’s obituary is worth reading but my very clear memory of being there was that he was one of the calmest people that I had ever met. He was confident without being arrogant and his understanding of my job and the job of the reporter who went with me was absolute. He had, obviously, been interviewed and photographed hundreds of times before but I still believe it to be true that most people who have had that kind of media exposure still don’t ‘get it’ in the same way that he did.
It seems that almost every week now I see an obituary in the press of someone that I photographed earlier in my career and it has two distinct effects on me. The first is quite predictable – I feel that bit older each time it happens. The second effect is to make me realise how amazingly lucky I have been in meeting the people that I have met and having been able to make what I hope are portrait and feature images that will stand the test of time.
This particular photograph lived in my folio for many years. It was unusual for me to have shot quite such a reflective portrait at that time. I was busy trying to make a reputation for myself as ‘the guy’ who used strong lighting and strong compositions to compliment that lighting. Like most phases of a career, it passed. I can still shoot the strong pictures when the situation calls for it but this portrait is far closer to my current favoured style than almost anything that I shot in those early days of digital. When I look back at the more memorable images that I shot through the late 1990s – the period of transition from scanned negative film to 1.9 megapixel digital cameras – a lot of them have this kind of feel and that surprises me because my memory is of lighting everything in slightly over-the-top ways.
Technical stuff: Kodak DCS520 camera with a Canon 28-70 f2.8L lens. Ambient light, 1/160th of a second at f4 on 400 ISO.
The light on the beach is almost always interesting and whilst out walking this morning I shot a few frames of a small bunch of flowers tucked behind a memorial plaque to four young local surfers on Boscombe Pier. I guess that I would call this a documentary image and it is yet another different way for me to shoot a beach picture. For me the photograph is a great deal stronger for having the back of the gentleman in the frame.
Tech stuff: Fujifilm X100S, 1/170th of a second at f11 on 320 ISO. RAW file processed through Adobe Camera RAW in Photoshop CC2014.