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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

#Photography: Black & White Photography

In the early 1970's I learned a lesson about depth during the “String Art” craze. It absolutely was so popular it was actually being taught in schools. Basically put, you created geometric shapes, placed a particular number of points on those shapes, and connected those points with various colors of thread. The outcome looked like a “Spirograph” drawing (another 70's classic), but these were more 3-dimensional. When I first learned this, the school had us poking holes in poster board and then stringing it. My children regularly attended arts and crafts shows.
We started doing something similar by utilizing wood covered with felt, then using ½ inch nails in the place of the holes. Gradually we tried bigger nails like 1 inch and 1.5 inch in size. We unearthed that by creating more depth physically, in addition, it created more visual depth.
Most “String Art” Kits only used the ½ inch nails and would only do five or six rows of thread. By the addition of more depth in the physical dimensions (the nails), we could create images with ten to twelve rows of colored thread. Eventually; I designed a coffee table that stood, three feet tall with inlayed glass. This creation was twenty four layers deep.
Recently students asked me the following question: “Color impacts both the mood and emotion of a photograph; yet some people still prefer black and white, how come that?”
My immediate response was this: “Those who learned B/W photography first, were taught more art concepts. A great photo has to complete more with leading lines, composition, and contrast when compared to a single color theme. Most B/W photographers learn to recapture the total range between black to white (the Zone System), most individuals who only see color rarely create as much visual depth.”
In pondering my reply; I realized that there's very possible a complete generation of photographers on the market who've either: A) Never heard of the Zone System or B) May have heard of it, but don't understand how it relates to images today. Allow me to see if I will simplify this.
If you listed the ten greatest photographers ever, Ansel Adams would undoubtedly be on that list. He and another man by the name of Fred Archer developed the Zone System in the past in 1941. Realizing the limitations of the media, they certainly were striving for ways to create more visual depth. “Expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights,” was the phrase that many photographers used to describe what they certainly were doing if they used the Zone System.
Imagine a couple of stairs. Underneath step represents pure black (Zone 0). The most truly effective step represents pure white (Zone 9). The step at the center (Zone 5) represents the 18% gray that cameras (traditional or digital) believe to be the correct exposure. From the mid-point (Zone 5), each step or zone (up or down) represents an alteration of one f-stop. Therefore, Zone 4 requires an exposure of one f-stop significantly less than your camera indicates. And obviously, Zone 6 requires an exposure of one f-stop significantly more than your camera indicates.
Since Adams and Archer were shooting mostly Black and White, the 2nd half of the machine had to complete mostly with “Pushing” or “Pulling” of development times. Most color films aren't that forgiving with changes in development times; however...digital media and digital photo editing software (like Photoshop) can literately put you in the Zone. If you figure out how to how use your “exposure compensation” on the camera, you too can expose for the shadows. If you shoot in “RAW” mode, the information you will need to pull out the highlights will still be there.
In a standard shooting mode, if you utilize exposure compensation to take the image at Zone 4 you will darken the whole image. But since RAW mode saves all the exposure data (both shadows and highlights) it will be similar the 2nd the main Zone System.
Let's say you want to photograph an appealing rock formation with an orange sky and fluffy white clouds. The rock formation is shadowed but has plenty of interesting textures. You wish to bring out as much detail because rock formation as possible. You meter the shadow aspects of the rock, which indicates a shutter speed of 1/60 with an f-stop of f/2.8. Then, you meter the sky, which indicates the same shutter speed but with an f-stop of f/16. Remember that in high contrast scenes, you MUST expose for the shadows if you want to show those details. You choose the shadows fall within Zone 2, (very dark, but not just a true black.) By making use of your Exposure Compensation Settings, you would stop down three stops and shoot at 1/60 at f/8. In other words: Zone 5 – Zone 2 = 3 stops less light.
If you follow the steps above, you get the facts in the shadows that a lot of people miss. The next thing should be to transfer your image for you computer and start having fun with the sky. Obviously, this may vary depending on which kind of software you're using, but by being both camera smart and computer smart you may have an advantage over 99% of the tourist that just point and shoot.
When I was young, I learned to exceed the basic principles by creating more depth. Creating depth by physically changing the principles is a very important factor; but once you handle a photograph, paper continues to be paper. To obtain additional depth in a photograph you have to boost the visual range beyond what most cameras want to provide you. Regardless; in the event that you shoot with film, or you shoot digital...the best way to accomplish more depth continues to be the Zone System.