A World Without Colors

Chronicles of Nature

Adult Great Horned owl image captured near owl nest in the Phoenix metro area.

Though the vast majority of my published portfolio is in color, I enjoy working in black and white as well. Color photography began to overtake the market in the mid – 20th century and has effectively left black and white photography as essentially a niche market for photographers who use this medium for artistic purposes. Most professional photographers today would agree that creating an appealing black and white photograph requires much more effort than one in color. Thus the market has been shaped by the influx of color in our profession and changed public perception in ways that few ever anticipated. In 1935 the Eastman Kodak Company came out with its Kodachrome film, a product that revolutionized the photographic industry. Before that time those wishing to capture color images had to deal with heavy glass plates, tripods, long exposures and a painstaking development procedure, despite all this work photographers were left with unsatisfactory results. After dominating the market for decades, Kodak announced in 2009 that it would be discontinuing it’s production of Kodachrome as it now accounted for less than 1% of the company’s revenue. Ironically enough, Kodak is now all but obsolete in the world of digital photography.

Wild Morning Glory found growing along the banks of Oak Creek in Sedona, Arizona.

Composing images with the absence of color demands that one be even more mindful of photographic principles. Suddenly things like subject matter, composition, contrast, textures, tones and shading take on a whole new level of importance. In the world of color photography it’s often all too easy to become lax in these areas and rely on colors to persuade the viewer’s eyes into appreciating the image they are looking at. Thanks to our culture of rampant visual stimuli, creating compelling black and white images that will appeal to the general public has become increasingly difficult. A widespread popularity for photos that demonstrate a misuse of color saturation has led to images that rival Lisa Frank’s graphic art, and this can be discouraging for some. However, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t exercise ourselves in the discipline of working in a black and white medium.

Winter landscape shot of an Aspen Grove shot near Greer, Arizona.

 

 

 

It was Ansel Adams that said, “A photograph can hold just as much as we put into it, and no one has ever approached the full possibilities of the medium.” If one of the greatest black and white photographers could make such a statement we should take it upon ourselves to see what work we can contribute to this end. Some have said, “A picture is worth a thousand words”… If the greatest poets were able to paint pictures with their words, how much more ought we as photographers be able to create pictures without colors? I encourage you to challenge yourself by composing images in black and white; I’m confident that it will assist in making you a more skilled photographer and help you create in ways you never thought possible. See the world in black and white and throw away those colorful crutches for a while.

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

Nathaniel Smalley

Black and White landscape image taken off Hwy 89 in Montana near Glacier National Park.

Black and White landscape image taken off Hwy 89 in Montana near Glacier National Park.

‘Photoshopped’ – The Great Misconception

Chronicles of Nature

No doubt most of you have heard it before and in all likelihood will hear it again, “Yeah, that’s a great shot, but you ‘Photoshopped’ the image to make it look like that”. In most cases, when ‘Photoshopped’ is used as a verb, the implicit accusation is that something unfair, devious or amiss is at play. These unsolicited accusations from the uninformed observer create a delicate situation. Acknowledging that you used image processing software in their mind only confirms their erroneous perception, but to deny the use of it is rarely accurate either. What they fail to understand is the difference between the JPEG files that their Point & Shoot camera records, and the RAW files captured by the vast majority of professional photographers today.

I’ve had multiple people accuse me of ‘Photoshopping’ the Blue/Green color into the wings of this Magpie. Under most light Magpies appear Black & White in color, however when lighting conditions are just right these iridescent feathers become washed with color. The wing colors you see represented in this JPEG file are just as vibrant in the RAW file from when I captured this image.

JPEG files were named after the committee that created them in the mid 1980’s, known as the ‘Joint Photographic Experts Group’ (JPEG). This group was given the task of creating standardized image coding that would allow photo quality graphics to be displayed on computer text terminals. When an image is captured in a JPEG file format the settings selected by the user on the camera (and/or those that the camera has selected in one of the ‘auto modes’) are in a sense processed and rendered, but defined by the restricted number of colors of an RGB color space. This color space is greatly limited when compared to the full spectrum of colors seen by the naked eye. With a RAW file there is minimal processing in camera. The camera simply stores the data allowing the photographer to process the image at a later time. This allows the photographers of today the same ability to develop their digital files as was possible when working with film negatives, but with even greater and more dynamic control as RAW is in a digital format. One could in essence think of RAW as the digital negative and JEPG’s as the print or ‘finished product’.  The only way to process the information captured when shooting images in RAW is to use image processing software such as Lightroom or Photoshop. Just because a photographer’s work stands out as spectacular certainly doesn’t mean that there is trickery being employed or that images are being altered with software. In understanding digital photography, one realizes that there is no camera or equipment that is capable of duplicating the myriad of colors, tones, hues and detail that the human eye can see. A photographer goes through all the post process work to bring out in their digital image files the elements that they saw when they clicked the shutter, elements that the camera cannot record. Granted, some photographers go way overboard in their post processing work, overusing color saturation and creating an image that does not accurately reflect the original scene. Sometimes this may be done as an artistic rendering of a shot they captured, however I’m pretty sure we’ve all seen an image before and thought to ourselves that the color intensity looked as though a bag of skittles and a box of popsicles had a baby! As a photographer I view it as my personal responsibility to process my RAW files as close as I can to represent what the scene looked like at the time I captured the image. Often the most beautiful spectrum of colors is able to be seen during the ‘The Golden Hour’. Sometimes when we see images with spectacular soft light and colors this was achieved by capturing the image in the proper lighting conditions. At the end of the day the decision is quite simple really, do you want a machine (the camera) responsible for rendering the scene as it was, or the photographer who was there and captured the image? This is typically (but not always) achieved by the photographer getting to their location before the sun comes up (or sets) or even sleeping at the shooting location the night before, both of which require a lot of work and planning. The next time someone criticizes your hard earned image by telling you it was faked with processing software, smile and remind yourself that unfortunately they’ve probably never been awake to witness that kind of light before.

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

Nathaniel Smalley

One of my images that I am repeatedly told “must have been Photoshopped”. I took this sunset image in the Lofoten Islands of Norway. This image accurately reflects the colors I witnessed that evening and captured in my RAW file.