black and white

Five day black & white challenge

©Neil Turner, November 2014. A young woman jogs along the promenade near Portman Ravine in Bournemouth with a child in a pushchair.

©Neil Turner, November 2014. A young woman jogs along the promenade near Portman Ravine in Bournemouth with a child in a pushchair.

A couple of weeks ago I was nominated by another photographer to take part in a Facebook Five Day Black & White Challenge. The idea was simple: to post a new black and white photo every day for five days. I have to admit that I was a bit reticent at first and posted pictures that I’d already taken in the previous few weeks. Then someone mentioned that they found the discipline of having to go out every day and shoot something new invigorating and so I started the challenge over again and shot specifically for it every day. My second challenge ended yesterday but it wasn’t until I was out shooting again today that I remembered that the challenge was over. What to do with the pictures from day six? The answer was to post the chosen frame to Facebook anyway and then to post it here too – as another “just because I like it” frame.

Technical stuff: Canon EOS6D with a 28mm f1.8 EF lens (cropped slightly). 160 ISO and 1/1250th of a second at f11 RAW file converted and desaturated using Adobe Camera RAW CC 2014 with a 5% bronze tint added.

After the storm

©Neil Turner, November 2014. A pensioner walks along the beach near Bournemouth Pier.

©Neil Turner, November 2014. A pensioner walks along the beach near Bournemouth Pier.

Following on from my post about zoom and prime lenses I was out with just the primes yesterday – walking along one of my favourite bits of beach in wild winds and failing light. I was just out having some photographic time before getting into the car for yet another drive up the M3 for work. This one was shot at 640 ISO at 1/1000th of a second at f4 with an 85mm f1.8 Canon EF lens on my rather lovely little Canon EOS6D – a camera that I am becoming increasingly fond of. When I’m doing personal work like this I tend to set the white balance to daylight and accept whatever colour cast I get and in this case it wasn’t far off of what the naked eye saw.

You learn something new every day

It is one of the universal truths of photography that you never stop learning. Almost every time you pick a camera up something happens that you squirrel away in your memory banks that will make a difference to how you shoot something else at some time in the future. Normally these are small things but this week I was shooting the wonderful Talvin Singh performing at an arts festival and something happened that made me scratch my head because I’d never experienced anything quite like it.

©Neil Turner, October 2104

©Neil Turner, October 2104

The two pictures above were taken within a fraction of a second of one another under ‘exactly’ the same lighting without flash and with identical settings (manual everything apart from focus) on the same camera with the same lens and have been processed through Adobe Camera RAW identically. So why are they different? The answer seems to be LED stage lighting. You might conclude that both pictures are ‘quite nice’ and move on but that’s not really an answer when you are shooting something that has a moment that you absolutely have to capture. I’ve had issues with un-balasted HMI lighting and of course strip lights but this was in another ‘issues league’ entirely.

It appears that these brand new lights installed in a state-of-the-art theatre are an absolute nightmare for stills photography. Now that I’ve experienced this, I have been reading up on it and it seems to be a known phenomenon where the lights cycle between the red, green and blue LEDs in the light at a speed that the human eye chooses not to detect but that a camera shooting at shutter speeds of 1/125th of a second or higher has a real problem with. The higher you go, the worse it gets. Of course you could shoot at 1/60th of a second and all would be reasonably well – apart from any movement being a little/lot blurred.

Being a complete anorak I decided to shoot a series of tests at an even higher shutter speed (having first racked the ISO up a way) to see what happened:

©Neil Turner, October 2014

©Neil Turner, October 2014

That makes shooting under these lights at the kind of shutter seeds you need to freeze action nigh on impossible. Once I had realised that there was an issue I dropped down to 1/100th of a second and then to 1/80th and shot lots of frames. The first five frames above were shot at 1/400th and the last one was at 1/100th – what a difference.

Most of what I have read about LED stage lights concerns white balancing – well that was the least of my worries here. It was almost as if shooting with shutter speeds in excess of the cameras maximum flash synch speed (the highest speed at which the entire chip is exposed at the same moment) was part of the problem. The LED stage lights in this theatre were effectively pulsing or flashing and the only way to get a consistent image was to work with that pulsing and use shutter speeds below the maximum flash synch. I have read something on what appeared to be a well-infomed website which implies that this only happens when the lights are dimmed – which makes some sense. I haven’t got enough experience with this to work out whether the speed thing is a coincidence or whether it is directly related but I now know how to shoot in this one venue with these lights.

Shooting with shutter speeds that are a long way below “ideal” some of my pictures were sharp and many weren’t – but the job got done. Constant reference to the screen on the back of the camera is frowned on by a lot of people but this case proves that there are times when it is exactly the right thing to do. Imagine having had to shoot this on film with no LCD…

Presumably more and more theatres and venues will use these lights and the problem will grow. Maybe there’s a solution out there already?

©Neil Turner, October 2014.

©Neil Turner, October 2014.

Techie stuff: Canon EOS5D MkIII with a 70-200 f2.8L IS Canon lens. 1/100th of a second at f3.2 on 2000 ISO. WB set to daylight but adjusted in Adobe Camera RAW removing quite a bit of magenta and adding a small amount of yellow.

Tonality – the black & white conversion app

Screen grab from Tonality 1.1.1

Screen grab from Tonality 1.1.1

I was intrigued by a recommendation that I read from a colleague for Tonality. I rarely go outside Adobe Camera RAW these days, even for black and white conversions, but I was tempted to have a go at something new and so I went to the Apple App Store and bought it. After a few attempts at fiddling with it I dismissed it as a very interesting application that I would master one day when I had the time. A few days ago I was asked by a client to convert a lot of images supplied to them as colour Jpegs into mono Jpegs with a slight tone over them. In the past I would have gone straight back to the RAW files and started again but I had the idea of giving Tonality a go.

Like so many of the corporate jobs I shoot, the client would rather I didn’t show they images on my personal blog and so I grabbed some other interesting pictures from my ongoing personal work and applied the same sort of presets to them. It had taken me less than five minutes to become familiar with the sliders and controls and probably another five minutes to create the ideal and very subtle split toning effect that the client had been asking for. The two versions of a photograph taken on the beach at Bournemouth that you see below were a quick test for this blog post. The colour image is a Jpeg converted from a Fujifilm X20 RAW file in Adobe Camera RAW and the black and white version underneath was converted into black and white using the “adaptive exposure” auto setting in Tonality from that Jpeg.

©Neil Turner, September 2014. Bournemouth.

©Neil Turner, September 2014. Bournemouth.

©Neil Turner, September 2014. Bournemouth.

©Neil Turner, September 2014. Bournemouth.

 

I don’t know what you think but I am really impressed by the job that the auto has done and, whilst I could fiddle and get it even better, I am more than happy with it. I can hear you saying that this is also easy to do in Photoshop (and quite a few other apps and plug-ins) but the point is that it was done in Tonality and it was really easy. The application is capable of a lot of good stuff as well as a lot more completely over the top special effects that I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole.

When I get more time, I’m going to get right under the skin of this application. Until then, it will be used on my personal project work. If a client asks for toned mono images again, I will definitely look as using Tonality for that too.

The UK price is £13.99 – which is a little bit dearer than most Apps that I would buy just to have a play. It’s a very simple app that achieves its goals.

Out Walking

Ever since I started using the EyeEm photo sharing site I have been trying to shoot more pictures “just for the fun of it”. The platform allows you to add your pictures to albums and one of my favourites is entitled “Out Walking”. I often shoot with my Fujifilm X20 with and Eye-Fi card in it, convert the RAW fils to Jpeg using the neat film simulation modes before uploading them to my iPhone and going through the process I described in my Eye-Fi Workflow post a week or so ago. I also vowed a while ago to get better at black and white. I’m not sure that’s going quite so well but I often combine the two. It’s great fun and even mildly addictive!

Anyway, for no other reason that I want to share them, here are some of the images.

© Neil Turner, January 2014. Man holding sign offering tattoos an tattoo removal touts for business on the pavement just outside one of main areas of Camden Market

© Neil Turner, January 2014. Man holding sign offering tattoos an tattoo removal touts for business on the pavement just outside one of main areas of Camden Market

© Neil Turner January 2014. Cold and bored stall-holder selling keep calm t-shirts at Camden Market.

© Neil Turner January 2014. Cold and bored stall-holder selling keep calm t-shirts at Camden Market.

© Neil Turner, January 2014. Bored shop keeper outside his open hat shop just outside one of main areas of Camden Market

© Neil Turner, January 2014. Bored shop keeper outside his open hat shop just outside one of main areas of Camden Market

Back on the beach

In another “just because” moment I thought that I’d post this picture I grabbed on the beach today. I’ve blogged about my near obsession with shooting dogs on the beach and today I was at my favourite part of my favourite beach when the combination of light and subject matter came together meaning that all I had to do was compose, wait and click.

©Neil Turner, October 2013. Bournemouth

©Neil Turner, October 2013. Bournemouth

I actually saw this picture as a mono image too and anyone who has been following this blog will know that this was a major step forward for me in my quest to be able to truly see in monochrome when I want to. To add the final piece to the jigsaw of this image, I love a good silhouette too.

The picture was shot on a Fujifilm X20 at the fullest extent of its 112mm equivalent zoom and it shows a dog with its owner having something of a difference of opinion about what should happen with a ball. You don’t expect to get such beautiful weather in late October – especially less than 36 hours after a massive storm had lashed this part of the English coast. Within a minute or two of shooting this picture I did a RAW conversion in the camera before using an Eye-Fi card to transfer it to my iPhone 5S where I used the Photogene 4 app to optimise and caption the image before uploading it to EyeEm (in colour). The version shown here is the more considered black and white image converted in Photoshop CC on my Mac at home.

Monochrome and me

I was asked by a good client of mine to have a look at a set of black and white photographs that a new photographer had shot for them. They quite liked them but couldn’t see why they weren’t enthused by them because they fitted the brief. My answer was that if they had been in colour they’d have been seriously dull but that in black and white they were elevated to mediocre because black and white has impact. I tried to find the words to say that for monochrome to work really well you needed the light to contribute to the finished picture in an even more compelling way than it has to for good colour images. That wasn’t to say that great light doesn’t make for great colour pictures – far from it – but by this time my explanation was foundering and I was starting to sound less than coherent. At that point I cut my losses and simply said “to sum up, the light isn’t very interesting and without colour all you have is light and shade”. Wow… nailed it right at the end!

I drove home thinking about my own long and chequered history with shooting black and white: from the first frames I ever shot as a young kid through the exercises in light and shade, focal length and depth of field and movement that I did as a student to the hundreds of rolls I shot as an emerging professional photographer I have never been all that pleased with my ability to consistently shoot interesting black and white images  – ones that I didn’t privately think would look better in colour.

  • Photographic heresy alert – I’m a better photographer in colour and so are 90% of my fellow photographers.
  • Photographic jealousy alert – I envy those who can just “see” in terms of black, white and shades of grey
  • Photographic honesty alert – I have decided to do something about it, 27+ years into my professional career

Thinking long and hard about monochrome and me has been an interesting experience. I’ve found myself examining the way images look through the viewfinder and asking whether the picture I’m about to take relies on colour, light, both or neither. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a clipboard or a mental checklist to hand – it’s just a momentary thought that pops up a few times on each job. I’m definitely making progress. I’ve been shooting a lot of events during the Bournemouth Arts By The Sea Festival over the last three weeks and on more than one occasion I knew that some of my pictures were destined to be monochrome, better in black and white.

©Neil Turner, September 2013. The vesry first frame I shot during the Bournemouth Arts By The Sea Festival 2013 - a man reading the programme a few minutes before it all started.

©Neil Turner, September 2013. The very first frame I shot during the Bournemouth Arts By The Sea Festival 2013 – a man reading the programme a few minutes before it all started.

©Neil Turner, October 2013. Mark Kermode playing bass with The Dodge Brothers at the Bournemouth Arts By The Sea Festival

©Neil Turner, October 2013. Mark Kermode playing bass with The Dodge Brothers at the Bournemouth Arts By The Sea Festival

©Neil Turner, September 2013. Violinist Jack Maguire warming up in his makeshift dressing room

©Neil Turner, September 2013. Violinist Jack Maguire warming up in his makeshift dressing room

It isn’t that I’ve never shot anything good in black and white it’s just that most of the time I wasn’t ‘seeing’ without colour. The market for black and white isn’t huge right now anyway and I haven’t had to develop myself in that direction. The funny thing is that it is the explosion of social media and sites like Instagram and EyeEm that have made me experiment more and, more importantly, it has been my love affair with the Fujifilm X20 that has pushed me into shooting pictures that bear little resemblance to the suff that I do for work – often monochrome fits that bill rather well.

Monochrome and Me… it’s been a long and weird relationship. I like to think that it is maturing nicely and that it is now entering something of a golden era. There’s still no money in it but that isn’t really the point.

©Neil Turner, September 2013. Pensioners walking out of the Pleasure Gardens, Bournemouth

©Neil Turner, September 2013. Pensioners walking out of the Pleasure Gardens, Bournemouth