Friday, July 29, 2011

Nature in Black and White

Summer color in Wisconsin is boring.  There, I said it.  Yes, yes, yes, we have colorful sky, and water, flowers and sunsets and sunrises (more on that in another post), but really-Wisconsin in summer is green.  Wayyyy too much green for a photographer at times.  While travelling out west, we can marvel at  all the variety of color our cameras are faced with and choices we have in what to shoot.  Sadly, here we are stuck with landscapes of mostly green and blue.  Of course, I'm being half way sarcastic here-I love Wisconsin, but summers here would not be my first choice as a time to photograph landscapes.  Fall-of course, spring is.... okay; winter? Great.  Winter....really?  Well that probably falls into my lap because I do love black and white photography.  When the "crutch" of color is taken away, what we're left with is composition, texture, lines and other elements of art.  Yes, color is an element of art as well, but I've come to realize that if color doesn't help a photograph-doesn't help tell its' story, then why have it included?
Sayner Bog Snapper near Frank Lake Road
I may be reaching out there a little too far into photographic philosophy here, but for me there is some truth in those feelings.  Color can be a distraction in some cases just at a time we may want to simplify an image instead-strip it down to it's most important elements.  That said, maybe color in some photos is it's most important element.  I do love color, so as a photographer-I really can be messed up!
The Black River (MI) near Conglomerate Falls
On my recent venture to Northern Wisconsin and the U.P. visiting waterfalls, bogs and extreme ends of the day lighting, color became a huge factor, as in whether to leave it in or remove it.  In the workshop, we took hundreds of photographs and our daily routine would involve editing them down to the best ones, then making whatever adjustments we needed to to improve the image.  I usually would knock down the highlights on the water, lighten the shadows a hair, bring up the mid tone contrast and sharpen it slightly.  Almost always, if there wasn't an interesting color scheme going on, I'd replace it with a black and white preset in Aperture.  Which preset to use was a quick decision I'd make on the fly and live with it.  In some landscapes, the textures or patterns just begged to be black and white, so I acknowledged that and did the conversion.

I realized when picking select photographs out for this post, I ended up with mostly images from the Black River in the U.P.  Most likely because besides the green of the trees and foliage, the river rock was all iron red of course.  The lack of contrast in the stone and river bed lead me to a lack of interest in the color here, so black and white fit the landscape much better in my mind.
The Black River has Stones.
On the technical side, I found the best way is to shoot in RAW (and full RGB color), make any adjustments to the exposure and light balance, then convert it to black and white.  After that, I could tweak contrast and any additional adjustments for impact.
Black River Chute
Little John Lake (WI) Dragonfly
Deep woods U.P. falls near Wakefield MI.
Black River Cut

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